DfE Meeting on the new primary curriculum – 8 April, 2014

This blog is about the meeting at the DfE on April 8th, 2014 to discuss the primary national curriculum and assessment changes for implementation in September. The first part contains my notes from the meeting. The second contains a list of my thoughts on how the curriculum should be represented by the DfE as it is rolled out to schools. In my view the follow up documents to the NC are probably just as important (if not more important) than the curriculum itself, since they will give guidance to schools on how the new curriculum should be implemented. After the 2000 curriculum the QCA Schemes of Work damaged (in my opinion) the way schools organised and taught the curriculum, where as Excellence and Enjoyment had a very beneficial influence, giving schools the confidence to explore interesting ways of teaching and making the curriculum more interesting and enjoyable for their students.  

Meeting notes DfE Meeting 8th April, 2014

Start 14:15

Those attending: From the the DfE: Vince Jacob, Caroline Barker, Jim Magee, and Liz Truss

Those attending from Twiterville: @debrakidd @heymisssmith (Jane) @educationbear (Nick) @emmaannhardy @cherrylkd @theprimaryhead (Tim) @imagineinquiry (Tim T) @thoughtweavers (David or Lee)


Curriculum delivery unit – schools prepared, questions around curriculum and assessment

Assessment – the role of assessment and the ‘future without levels’

Presentations & resources – challenges esp core, Eng and maths, computing, MFL.

What are the biggest challenge is the assessment framework?

Are schools prepared for new curriculum?

Lee – @thoughtweavers – Middle school, problems with KS3. Challenges for curriculum leaders to know the curriculum well enough.

Debbie – curriculum has not really changed – two key strands – demonstrating progress is an issue, inhibiting KS2 (esp yr.6) restricts the curriculum because of sats

Emma – local authority advisers not there to support anymore, everything is dictated by the SATs. Not getting broad & balanced curr. PRP and levels is a tension. Lack of experts, time, PRP.

Tim – @primaryhead – stripping away of some of the ‘marginal’ curic with a concentration on the core.

Nick – All english and maths, worried that creative curric might be squeezed without support – its got to go.

Vince – level of support, change with local authorities, talking about a school led system. Funding for Teaching schs to support in their local area.

Cherryl – we’re a teaching sch – only just managing, don’t have the time to develop things before the implementation

Debbie – Support & mentoring to support & develop

Emma – Not enough time. Where do we go to for help – a vacuum

Nick – A great deal of change, happening very fast and without much support

Emma – levels will stay (or something similar) despite what is happening

Caroline – are schools keeping them? Are they being mapped across? Old levels where written for the old curriculum but don’t match the new curriculum.

Emma – things will stay the same.

Jane – What is the logic of getting rid of levels?

Caroline – National Curriculum Review – levels didn’t give the right feedback, placing ch in boxes, we want a system that doesn’t limit.

David – agree not to put ch in boxes, but ch learn the language of levels. Needs something to replace it.

Caroline -the reforms aim to give freedom around the curriculum.

Jane – testing is squeezing out of creativity in the curric to meet the SATs. esp in upper KS2.

Tim – levels were seemed to be v crude. Levels worked fine, taking out of one box and putting them in another.

Jane – you don’t need to be level 6 at KS2 to be successful. There are others ways of measuring success.

David – what’s happening is (schools and others) keep adding more and more levels

Lee – work in an RI sch – boosters & ofsted on our back, beat us with the stick – “they can’t write” – the messages we get from ofsted is often very diff from the messages we get from DfE

Caroline – The deciles idea has gone – this has been announced

Everyone relieved.

Nick – how are the performance descriptors diff from the level descriptors?

Caroline – performance descriptor gives a description of the expected standard – below, at, and above – teacher assessment against the curriculum. Expectations at the end of KS. Will be more detailed than levels. Won’t be provided for all the subjects – only Eng, maths & science.  Test frameworks have just been published.

Debbie – the conversation is centring around tests… vocabulary gap is growing between the outcome and the purpose.

Emma – Intervention causes problems. [This became a theme throughout the meeting]

Jane – the tests put pressure on the ch. Ch know what the levels are and feel under pressure. Unbelievable the amount of focus. All that matters is the number on the sheet. Destroying our profession. Ch suffer when schools are forcing them all into level 4.

Jim – But, ch have to leave functionally literate.

Emma – it seems to be about subjects – what is our aim in primary curriculum?

Debbie – talks about IB. and how it joined up be big ideas.

David – Ch don’t know our history. Some children wouldn’t even recognise a lump of coal.

Tim – “But they would be able to spell coal three different ways.” (Everyone laughs)

Tim T – The aim of primary ed is to get children ready for secondary. Everyone knows this, even if they play the game that its about something else (rounded children etc). This is what the accountability and testing systems are all about. Economic imperative.

Jane – the extra-curr has been squeezed out

Liz Truss – arrives 14:57

Debbie – ch trained to pass a test, not secondary ready because they don’t have the dispositions, reliance, and trained minds to deal with the rigours of secondary

Tim T – I agree, the tests twist learning out of shape (whatever our intentions) creating square pegs for round holes. We all want round holes and round pegs to put in them, but the results of high stakes testing creates square pegs. Secondary ready doesn’t just mean literate and numerate, it means (or should mean) thoughtful, questioning, critical thinkers.

Liz – questions – what can we do without to avoid the gaming? Wider accountability how can it happen?

Jane – get rid of the tests.

Debbie – the tests don’t give us the information we need or prepare children for succeeding.

Tim – we need a more robust system – portfolios

Cherryl – we use moderation with local schools,

Liz – talks about scaled scores. and the importance of having comparing schools.

Debbie – we need to move away from sats like Finland

Liz – some of the Scandinavian schools are slipping

Debbie – schools are using survival strategies, rather than gaming. [this becomes another theme. All the teachers agree schools are ‘gaming’ the system just to survive. An unintended outcome of ofsted and Sats.

Jane – interventions left, right and centre just so they can get their levels. Ch dragged out of class – esp foundation subjects – to practice skills for the sats.

Emma – the curriculum needs to be more broad and balanced. [this becomes a theme]

Caroline – interventions – diff group.

Everyone agree ch are missing parts of the curriculum to do intervention

Liz – why is GBs use of text-books the lowest in the world? Is it because of problems with differentiation?

Lee – we’re in self-protection mode at the moment – a result of ofsted inspections

Liz – this is the problem at the moment? We want to free teachers up.

David – suggests a self-assessment portfolio for children. More structured

Caroline – there has been a number of different schs doing that.

Debbie – student portfolios.

David – why is there 80 odd pages for English, but only 2 for art & design?

Nick – talks about variation in ofsted inspectors (he’s doing the ofsted training)

Tim – ofsted twists the curriculum out of shape

Liz leaves to vote in Parliament.

David – teachers live in fear of Ofsted. If ofsted made a Broad and balanced curriculum a focus in schools – this would transform things over night.

Cherryl – asks about guidance for p-levels in special schools – we’re lacking a bit in guidance

Debbie – NC seems to ignore that some ch find it very difficult to access reading and writing

Cherryl – there should be some acknowledgement of SEN children in the curriculum

Vince – the outcomes in NC are aspirational.

Tim T – The new history curriculum contains 25% more content. The new curriculum represents a new opportunity to make changes in primary education. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes of the past – topic and subject based teaching – but explore new and more effective methods

Liz returns

Liz – asks about ofsted not looking for a preferred style, has this made a difference?

Emma – said Wilshaw letter has changed lesson obs in her school for the better

Nick – ofsted should be looking at the quality of learning (teaching is now seen as an ‘element’ of learning)

Debbie – there hs developed a culture of mistrust – got to change our language and culture of teaching

David – remarking on feedback – marking and what ofsted expect to see (best practice)

Liz – question – about how teachers spend their time?

Emma – PRP has caused a lot of extra work

Jane – Marking takes up a lot of my spare time

Everyone agree teachers are spending too much time doing paperwork and teachers are under a great deal of stress. Performance related pay is a disaster and only going to make things worse.

Liz – APP? Are schools still doing that.

There is a short discussion on APP, people don’t really see it as a problem, just boring and inconvenient. Tests are far worse, everyone agrees they are just for monitoring and comparing schools, they don’t tell us anything as teachers we don’t already know about our students.

Vince – makes the point that high performing schools use tests

Debbie – replies these are different kinds of (in class, low stress) tests, not national (all or nothing)

David – talks about stress

Debbie – asks about portfolios.

Liz – EYS – takes up a lot of time. Not that we don’t want a system that takes account of the whole child, jot just takes a long time.

Meeting ends 16:15


My thoughts on implementing and supporting the introduction of the new curriculum

Not everything in the curriculum is the same:

  • Knowledge Domains
  • Sign Systems

Sign systems are nested in and across knowledge domains

Therefore it makes sense to teach sign systems ‘in the context’ of knowledge domains. This is not the same as the cross-curricular ‘tenuous’ links made sometimes in Topic.

Important not to repeat the mistakes of the past:

  • Dearing Report
  • QCA schemes of work
  • Topic
  • Only using timetabled stand alone lessons

The new curriculum is an opportunity to think differently about how the curriculum can be planned and taught. Let’s not go back to the past.

For students to make sense of the curriculum they need to work on it, that is interact, explore, investigate, question, and reflect on the content.

They also need to use it, that is make meaning by applying and developing their knowledge, skills, and understanding, through purposeful applications. Not necessarily by means of projects or ‘real life’ applications.

Therefore, the importance of speaking and listening needs to be emphasised. This is something stressed by Hirsch, Willingham and Pinker. Literacy & numeracy can be learnt ‘explicitly’ through some direct instruction and practice (Hirsch recommends about 40mins a day), but then used and applied in knowledge domains. Vocabulary and the cognitive tools of language and thinking need to be learnt ‘implicitly’ by students having extensive, extended, opportunities for speaking and listening. Both Willingham and Hirsch stress the importance of story, narrative, tension and imagination for this reason.

The major knowledge domains in the new curriculum are History, Geography, and science. With history being by far the largest in Key Stage 2.

Schools need to bear this in mind when they are planning for the new curriculum. The new history curriculum at KS2 is about 25% larger than the old curriculum. If it is to be taught properly, in any depth, schools are going to have to dedicate significant amounts of time to its study. Possibly up to a quarter of the curriculum. The only way to do this is to ‘fold’ other areas of the curriculum into history study contexts. For example, (in context) writing opportunities, art and design, design and technology, geography, using and applying maths, and RE.

Topic planning won’t do this because topic planning makes links, but it doesn’t create context and doesn’t differentiate explicitly the differences between knowledge domains and sign systems.

Without foregrounding history in KS2, and teaching much of the rest of the curriculum through history based contexts, there will not be enough time in KS2 to study the history curriculum in any significant depth.

There is a very real chance children will leave primary with only a superficial knowledge of the history study units and very little genuine understanding.

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