Shaping meaning

3rd March 1995 at 00:00
Professional officers from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority explain how the revised Order has responded to teachers' concerns. English teachers have probably had more changes to cope with than most. Now the revised Order gives the structure that helps English teachers to plan for a broad and balanced curriculum within the stability of a five-year moratorium on change. The consultation period gave very clear messages (8,000 of them) about the concerns of English teachers. Here we would like to illustrate how the revised Order has responded to the issues raised.

One important point to note is that although teachers will need to check their current planning against the revised Order, it is likely that, if teachers are currently teaching the full range of requirements, wholesale replanning of schemes of work will not be necessary. A second point is that the revised Order is to be taught according to teachers' professional judgments. There is no implied methodology and, as the general requirements state, no implied hierarchy or teaching sequence in the presentation of the Order. Third, the revised Order represents the minimum requirement beyond this statutory entitlement, it is up to teachers to develop the English curriculum as they see fit.

There were concerned about a perceived under-emphasis on information technology, media and drama, and references to each of these areas were strengthened. As well as the reference to the development of IT capability in the general requirements, there are now references in the reading and writing programmes of study at all key stages. There will be non-statutory guidance available this month to support the development of IT capability, a booklet aimed at IT co-ordinators with subject-based case studies, and a pamphlet for secondary teachers with case studies.

Media now constitutes a separate category of reading at key stages 3 and 4. Drama has a stronger place in the revised Order. Many of the references to drama will be found in the speaking and listening programmes of study. However, the requirement that English should be taught in an integrated way means that drama, like other areas of English, should be taught with reference to all the sections of the programmes of study. The same principle applies to the teaching of grammar. References to grammar appear mainly in the writing programme of study. However, grammar shapes meaning, so it is vital to teach grammar through reading and speaking and listening as well.

A major issue emerging from the consultation was that of the prescribed reading list. It may be helpful to set in context the reading requirements across all key stages, pupils are required to read poetry, prose and drama. The categories and criteria for choosing texts demonstrate a progression in demand across the key stages. At key stages 3 and 4 all pupils (including those working within levels 1-3) are required to read texts from four categories of literature: from other traditions and cultures, from the English literary heritage, non-fiction texts, and media. Of these four categories, it is probably the English literary heritage which has attracted most debate. In the revised Order, post-1900 prose, poetry and drama have exemplary lists only. Pre 1900, in prose, there are 18 authors from whom across key stages 3 and 4 teachers will have to select two; in poetry, teachers will have to select four poets from a list of 22. At key stages l and 2, lists of authors have been removed altogether, although categories and criteria for choosing texts remain.

There has also been some reorganisation of the Order. Some of this has been in the interests of "slimming" and ensuring consistency across Orders, with a view particularly to supporting primary colleagues with the task of reading across 10 subjects plus RE. The aims boxes and the statements about progression have been removed (the former to the common requirements section). The ordering of the programmes of study has been changed. All programmes of study now begin with the Range statement. This is the context in which key skills and Standard English and language study should be taught. This should address the concern expressed in consultation about the balance in the Order between skills, knowledge and understanding.

The characteristics of Standard English in the general requirements have been reworked to emphasise, for example, the differences between written and spoken Standard English. These characteristics are picked up in the programmes of study through the Standard English and language study paragraphs. These state the need for the teaching of Standard English to be approached sensitively. There is also the requirement that pupils should be taught to reflect on their own use of language, including dialect.

The contribution that other languages can make to the learning and use of English is recognised more positively through the paragraph in the general requirements: "The richness of dialects and other languages can make an important contribution to pupils' knowledge and understanding of Standard English. " A further change from the consultation document is in the level descriptions. These now have levels 1-8, with an exceptional performance level to recognise outstanding achievement at the end of key stage 3. Key stage 4 will be assessed through GCSE criteria. There have also been some changes to levels 1-3 in both reading and writing. There has been a consequent raising of standard compared to the existing curriculum. Levels 1-3 now represent a more even distribution of requirements. In writing, the requirement relating to full stops now reflects a recognition that pupils at this level need to develop an awareness of the function of full stops.

The principle of "best fit" underlying the use of level descriptions obviates the need to see assessment in terms of hurdles and tick boxes. It is the teacher's professional judgment which will guide the assessment of pupils.

By and large, the move to level descriptions has been welcomed. However, SCAA recognises that, particularly for primary colleagues, new demands are being made. In order to support the use of level descriptions, SCAA will be producing exemplification materials to illustrate a range of work for pupils achieving different levels with a commentary on how judgments were made. This is due out in June.

The consultation proved very helpful to SCAA, and we would like to thank everyone who responded.

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