Dreams and disasters to be timetabled

23rd November 2007 at 00:00

History, Geography and French are disappearing from timetables in favour of "disasters and dilemmas" lessons, "dreams" and "talk time" as a radical approach to the curriculum sweeps through secondary schools.

Bowring Community Sports College in Knowsley, Merseyside, is at the forefront of a drive to ensure pupils acquire the skills as well as the knowledge that staff believe they need to thrive.

Madeleine Cotson, the headteacher, emphasises that traditional subject content is still taught, with a particular emphasis on basic literacy. More than 36 per cent of pupils at the school have special educational needs.

However, the curriculum has been dramatically repackaged, with only English, maths and science surviving as discrete subjects, and they may go too eventually.

Other parts of the curriculum are taught through project-based sessions designed to teach several subjects and skills at the same time and improve pupils' confidence and motivation.

Bowring College's lesson names may be idiosyncratic, but the skills-based approach behind them is taking the secondary school system by storm.

Four years ago eight schools were piloting the Royal Society of Arts's Opening Minds competence-based curriculum framework that Mrs Cotson based her approach on. Today the number has grown to 200 and the RSA confidently predicts it will top 500 by next September, when a more skills-based 11-14 national curriculum is introduced.

"You no longer need to go to school to get knowledge. You can sit on Google and find out anything you want at the press of a button," said Mrs Cotson. "But what you do need to know is how to analyse that, how to interpret it, where to go for further information.

"You need to spend less time teaching the knowledge but more time teaching pupils where they can find it out."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, has a similar philosophy, which he describes as having "some of the values of the '60s and '70s but with a hard edge".

Such comments are likely to fuel Conservatives' fears that an "education establishment" is abandoning subject content and didactic teaching.

But Mrs Cotson claims that since she introduced the new approach - to be extended to the entire 11-14 curriculum next year - she has noticed a marked improvement in the communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills that employers demand. Bowring College is working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority on developing ways to assess such skills, which is often missed by traditional testing.

There is also an international dimension to the approach, leading to Microsoft selecting Bowring College as one of 12 "innovative schools" globally that the software giant wants to help develop ways to "drive a competitive knowledge economy". The scheme gives the school access to worldwide educational expertise and advice, while allowing researchers working for Microsoft to learn about what works on the ground.

Grange Hill, page 18.

Imaginative lesson labels

- At Bowring Community Sports College, Year 7 and Y8 pupils are taught English, maths and science during core subject sessions.

- In Year 7, talk time combines English literacy with modern foreign languages, challenge time allows extended projects demanding skills from across the curriculum, team time revamps PE, giving pupils coaching roles to improve leadership skills, and tutor time echoes a primary approach allowing pupils to catch up on literacy skills with more cross-curricular projects.

- In Year 8, disasters and dilemmas covers the humanities, design and deliver covers technology, dreams explores the expressive arts and discovery time allows for more cross-curricular projects.

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