07 Dec 2019

The Curriculum: What to Cut?

The curriculum: it’s top of everyone’s agenda right now. And that’s a good thing because the quality of what is offered to pupils is worth thinking about, reading about and talking about.

However, in order to do this work well, we need to think hard about how we are going to make the space and the time for it to happen properly. And that means taking a hard look at anything which is not adding value to learning and being prepared to cut it. There are three main areas which need to be addressed: school feedback and marking policies, the use of data and performance appraisal.

First, feedback and marking. Feedback needs to be as close as possible to the action, in other words, in the lesson. Carting truckloads of books home doesn’t provide timely and helpful feedback. So we need to stop doing it and use whole class feedback forms – these are better because they provide more precise feedback and secondly, they save teachers’ time which can then be used to work on the curriculum. Adam Boxer has summarised the research on why feedback works and marking every page of every book doesn’t and Andrew Percival has written about how his school has developed whole class feedback.

The second area that needs to be cut right back is the gathering and inputting of data. It’s worth noting that Ofsted will not be considering this during inspection. The issue with internally generated school data is that it is neither valid, nor reliable. Most tracking systems in primary are still linked to levels or points rather than whether pupils have been taught something and whether they have learnt it or not. And most tracking systems in secondary are based on GCSE numbers. How can pupils be given these numbers if they aren’t being taught GCSE material at key stage 3? Instead, we need a much more nuanced and accurate way of gathering evidence about standards – the paradox is that we know what good work looks like, but somehow think that we need to add a number to justify it. This is not the case, as the work on comparative judgement shows. We need teachers talking together about the features of high quality work and how to support all pupils to get there. As opposed to dodgy level descriptors which don’t tell us anything meaningful about standards.

Finally, to performance appraisal. The biggest professional development need in the sector right now is the development of subject knowledge. Surely, making time for teachers to read up on a topic, summarise their thoughts and use this to plan units is the best way to fill the subject knowledge gap. And in order for this to happen, reading and planning should be part of performance management. And for this to happen, we need to take out performance targets. Because these are mostly based on the dodgy systems mentioned above. And it’s good to see that ASCL have arrived at the conclusion that performance related pay does not result in improved outcomes and has a number of negative side effects, including teacher workload. ‘What we find six years on is no evidence that performance-related pay (PRP) improves pupil outcomes, whilst there is growing evidence that it has other negative effects.’

So, let’s do fewer things in greater depth and chop anything that does not add value to pupils’ learning.

I am running courses on the curriculum across the country, click here for more details.

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