Sunday, 27 May 2007

National Curriculum Review: An Opportunity to Develop Creativity in Language Teaching?

A major review of the secondary curriculum for 11-14 year olds published in February in its draft form by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has been positively received so far.

Education and Skills Secretary Alan Johnson said: “The new draft Curriculum is designed to create greater flexibility for schools so they can ensure pupils master the basics as well as offer more stretching opportunities for those who excel.

“The curriculum should evolve to meet a rapidly changing world, and enable teachers to teach in a way that will continue to interest and enthuse their pupils. These proposals move us away from a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum to one that offers more flexibility to tailor teaching to pupils’ needs and aspirations. More flexibility for teachers, more interesting for pupils.

“More emphasis has been placed on developing in-depth understanding of the key ideas and practice of particular subjects. But crucially, it is balanced with the retention of tried and tested parts of the curriculum as well as giving young people better personal skills greatly valued by employers.”

This is the first major review of the curriculum in six years by the QCA, prior to final Ministerial decision in early June and implementation from September 2008. The consultation on the review began on 5 February 2007 and runs until 30 April 2007. The revised programmes of study and level descriptions are available on the dedicated secondary curriculum review website. Here you can also view the supporting materials and take part in the consultation.

The dedicated page for languages can be found at

Schools will receive the final statutory programmes of study in autumn 2007 for planning purposes. Roll-out will take place over a three-year period, beginning with Year 7 pupils in September 2008.

The review is part of a broader vision to develop a modern world-class curriculum that will inspire and challenge learners and prepare them for the future.

QCA has revised the programmes of study to provide schools with increased flexibility in the way they can develop and implement their curriculum. This will give teachers more time and space to personalise their teaching, offering catch-up lessons in the basics and creating opportunities for pupils to deepen and extend their learning in areas where they have particular interests and aptitudes. There will also be opportunities for pupils to develop their creativity and adaptability and to see how their studies relate to the world beyond the classroom.
The revisions will encourage schools to:
  • Improve coherence across the curriculum
  • Make connections between subjects

Ensure clear progression throughout Key Stage 3 and into Key Stage 4

The revisions provide opportunities for schools to refresh their curriculum provision to meet the needs of all pupils more effectively. They demonstrate how schools can incorporate newer priorities such as:

  • The Every Child Matters agenda
  • Personal, learning and thinking skills
  • The opportunities offered by new technologies

They take account of post-14 developments, such as functional skills, and give schools opportunities to include dimensions such as sustainability, cultural diversity and enterprise within their curriculum provision.

The programme of study for each subject starts with a statement about the aims of the national curriculum, which are to develop:

  • Successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
  • Confident individuals who lead safe and healthy lives
  • Responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

  • All programmes of study take the same format, and identify:
  • Key concepts that are at the heart of each subject discipline
  • Key skills and processes that pupils learn to make progress in the subject
  • Range and content that outline the breadth of the subject from which the areas to be studied should be drawn
  • Curriculum opportunities that pupils should be given to enhance their engagement with the subject
Most have common elements. For example, all pupils will need to develop a critical understanding of communications, the environment and themselves.
Key changes for languages include greater freedoms given to schools to offer languages such as Mandarin and Urdu as main curriculum foreign languages instead of the previously mandatory European Union tongues;

The Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) has welcomed the new 11-14 curriculum review. General Secretary Philip Parkin said: “We are concerned that the curriculum may be too prescriptive and not give enough scope for teachers to use their own professional judgment. We do not want to see an overcrowded curriculum that does not allow sufficient time for subjects to be studied in depth.
"It is essential that teachers receive the training and resources they need to implement these changes.

"It will also be a challenge to recruit and train enough teachers so schools can offer languages such as Chinese and Arabic. Not all schools will have the appropriate language specialists so schools may have to pool their resources, so they can offer a wider variety of languages to those pupils who opt to study them."

All 11-14 year old pupils will continue to study all 12 subjects of the National Curriculum covering, in addition to English and mathematics, science, design and technology; ICT, the humanities; a foreign language; art, music, PE and Citizenship. These will remain the backbone of a broad and balanced curriculum for this age group.

The new curriculum will put more emphasis on using the curriculum as a whole to develop general skills such as initiative, enterprise, and the capacity to learn independently, better preparing pupils for GCSEs and the new diplomas. There is growing evidence of the importance of these skills in all walks of life, and they are particularly valued by employers.

As a way to widen the debate on what the curriculum should look like, the teacher union ATL released a publication at the beginning of the month arguing that he current national curriculum is locked into a subject-based mould that is not fit for the 21st century and that it leads to disengagement for many students.

This publication addresses the issues linked with developing a curriculum that will engage the interests and aspirations of current and future generations. It argues for a skills-based curriculum, with content designed by teachers, working in their local communities, who are best placed to develop the abilities of their students. Interestingly, such an approach would require that national assessment be delayed until the end of compulsory education at age 16.
More teaching and less assessment? The debate is still on…

More details on the timescales and philosophy behind the changes can be found in
Word version of the draft PoS and documents about the main changes can be downoaded from my “box” (right-hand side)

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