Thinking out of the box

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Revolutionary study replaces conventional subject teaching at KS3 with theme-based approach.

SECONDARY SCHOOLS are being encouraged to replace conventional subject teaching with cross-curricular work which could lead to history, geography and citizenship lessons disappearing.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has been working with a handful of secondaries for nearly a year on radical approaches to timetable design and teaching.

The schools have this month been presenting their work to managers of other secondaries at QCA-sponsored conferences showing the possible curriculum of the future.

Case studies, published on the QCA website, include that of Wombwell high, an 11-16 comprehensive in Barnsley, south Yorkshire, which has designed an integrated curriculum for Year 7.

Instead of separate teaching in geography, history, citizenship, ICT and drama, a third of the week will be devoted to cross-curricular lessons of up to three periods. Teachers will work together in teams of three to plan the lessons, some of which would involve four class groups beginning their work together in the assembly hall.

Other innovations among the seven QCA case study schools include two which have suggested Year 11 pupils could help with teaching: one school even suggesting they could be paid for it.

At another, Queen Elizabeth's in Crediton, Devon, pupils are taught by a single class teacher throughout most of Years 7 and 8 rather than subject specialists.

Tolworth girls' in Surbiton, south-west London, has published a timetable under which "English" is listed as "communication", although the school says the subject of English is continuing. It also plans to fast-track some pupils into AS courses in some subjects two years early.

The degree of innovation in different case study schools varies, with some sticking to a fairly traditional menu. But the overall approach is to move towards more themed-based teaching, under QCA attempts to break down traditional subject barriers and design teaching according to a holistic assessment of pupils' needs.

Bill Marriott, the deputy head at Wombwell high, said: "I have been teaching for 27 years and for the first time I feel that the QCA is investing in teachers, encouraging us to think radically, to be creative.

"I believe this will have a real impact on our learners."

John Bangs, the National Union of Teachers' head of education, said: "There are a number of schools out there, with the encouragement of the QCA, who are really thinking out of the box. It's very encouraging."

However, he said the case study schools generally had good Ofsted reports.

It was not clear if those with only satisfactory reports would feel so liberated.

He said questions would be asked about the suggestion by Admiral Lord Nelson school in Portsmouth that Year 11 pupils could be paid to help teachers in the classroom. Children who were not paid could be resentful, while pupils might end up being used as cheap labour, he said.

The school said only post-GCSE students could be paid and that would be for mentoring pupils.

The Historical Association is sceptical about cross-curricular work.

Heather Scott, the chair of its secondary committee, said: "We welcome innovative approaches to teaching. But I would be outraged if pupils are doing so much competence-based work in Year 7, and possibly Year 8, that their only specific history teaching is 39 one-hour lessons in Year 9. I'm sure that's not what the people of Britain would want."

The innovations, being promoted under a new secondary curriculum starting for all secondaries next year, are being overseen by Mick Waters, the head of curriculum at the QCA. Ten subject associations are to work with the Centre for British Teachers, a charity, to provide support for teachers in designing the new curriculum, it was announced this week.


Four Dwellings high in Birmingham, one of the case study schools, will suspend the Year 7 timetable for one day a fortnight for skill-based lessons.

Every month the focus will be on a different quality, from encouraging pupils to be reflective learners to being team players, independent inquirers and self-managers. In addition, each subject lesson will also cover one of these skills alongside traditional subject knowledge.

One lesson was based on a crime investigation, when Ela McSorley, the deputy head (above), discussed evidence in the case of the Four Dwellings murder with pupils.

Among other projects to be set, children will be putting together a proposal to go on an educational trip. Local business people will then be invited in to decide the best.

Photograph: Andrew Fox

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