It’s a year since I completed my NPQML and wrote this piece about passing it. With hindsight, there are things that I would want to include, change or emphasise differently.
Well after 18 months and much blood, sweat and (no not tears but maybe frustration!!), I finally got the results of my NPQML and yes I passed!! I am so happy not just because I got it but also because the way I did.
As the newly appointed history subject lead I had decided it would be a good idea that I should assess the current and new curriculum to ensure that we were compliant. So far so good and work I would be doing anyway.
As the course started the head asked if I could take on geography as well as there was no-one who was in charge and quite frankly we were due Ofsted! So it was the two subjects!
As I delved into the project and analysed every medium term plan and lesson in history to see what the curriculum coverage was, I was quite astounded how poor it was. The authors of the schemes expected schools to check coverage (primary teachers be aware of this – there is always a clause in them!) and schools assumed that the authors and publishers had.I think the move from the National Curriculum to QCA, which exemplified the units was one that resulted in many teachers only teaching QCA. Ditto with the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. While these were meant to provide guidance, they was always scope for moving away from them and even follow a different model, but capacity in primary schools was and is an issue.
Come December; it was evident that we would really only be able to keep one unit of history and two of geography as they were. Many others could be kept as long as they were changed in line with the new objectives. However many, mostly fluffy topics and units, had to just go. There was no merit in them, and I had to be the person delivering the message. The rush for schemes of work which were cross-curricular or thematic left one major issue for younger teachers – an almost complete divorce from the National Curriculum. While there was only the LCP when I was training as an alternative, the proliferation of schemes of work that were not focused and shoehorned lots of objectives into single lessons was rife. There are times when genuinely it is possible to teach more than one objective in a lesson, but if we are talking several, from different curriculum areas, then I would question what is being learned in that lesson. Also, the pick and mix approach to schemes of work meant that it was really not clear what was being covered where.
It was a baptism of fire, and it taught me a lot:
a) Know your stuff – going through the curriculum maps and plans was needed, so I knew what had to change and why. I would reiterate that change for the sake of change is pointless and has occurred far too many times already in the system. Some would argue that the National Curriculum 2014 was also such a change, but I think it needs to be seen in the wider context of changes being made to curriculums in many countries across the world. We will have to make changes to the curriculum periodically, but there are some real lessons that need to be learned here. Are there enough teachers who are leading a subject that know it well enough to assess a scheme of work? Should schools look to hire people with backgrounds in a range of subjects? Should this also be a feature of teacher training?
Primary teaching lays the foundations, and we should aim to get it right as much as possible first time. Leaving children with misconceptions and errors is not fair. But neither is it fair that subject knowledge and the need to improve it isn’t a higher priority. I don’t want to go into all the reasons why education fads have arisen, and silver bullets deemed necessary. It’s time we had the courage to step away from that. We can not afford to have teachers who are given no training regularly in all aspects of the curriculum they are teaching. We need to give them time to do the research and be up to date. It’s not going to happen by itself. Furthermore, performance management needs to stop having whole school priorities on them. It should be a given that we are contributing to those. It needs instead to be laser focused on teachers strengths and weaknesses and how they can improve. It also needs to support the development of subject leaders in a more systematic way.
b) Expect resistance and criticism – but only act on either if there is justification for it. I changed things because it was best for the children not what was best for me. (Big Tip – send out PDF’s and ask for written feedback if you think there will be someone playing tricks at the expense of others!!).
I was in a position where I was introducing a statutory curriculum, but not everyone who is doing their NPQML will be. What I would say regarding a project is I think the idea of being innovators is wrong, unless we want to continue to go from fad to fad, silver bullet to silver bullet.
Problem solvers who can be innovative is another matter. This requires the ability to spot issues, what is causing them, evaluate what has been tried already, why it did not work and what else it out there.
The move to marking with multiple coloured pens is a prime example here. Feedback morphed into marking morphed into in-depth marking morphed into thorough marking all the time. In retrospect, why is it that teachers like myself who had good results and did mark consistently, and when necessary, in depth, have to change? Even those who did struggle with marking, was this the change that was needed? If anything, only the level of marking changed, not people’s habits. If there was an issue with marking at my previous school, it wasn’t a whole school issue.
The NPQML talks about impact but ‘the greater the change, the greater the impact’ does not hold true. Whole scale change where tweaking will do will understandably lead to resentment.
c) Be positive, research all options and think of everyone’s needs. – I created a curriculum map for history and geography with links to other subjects. The other subject leaders couldn’t do the same so I got a scheme that would work for all.
I was selfish at first and thought about what I could handle and not others. I created a fabulous history curriculum which included all the objectives from the new National Curriculum and gave teachers lots of scope to decide on the specifics and even a choice of units in some cases.
It went down like a lead balloon. Some teachers were a bit panicked about it.
Not enough of the teachers had the experience or expertise to run with such an overview. I was gutted, but I should have asked before putting the time in what teachers would have preferred – a scheme or something more open-ended.
d) Expect projects to get bigger. – I ended up the new national curriculum coordinator!!
It was clear that what was needed and our capacity to deliver it did not match but some people only needed some guidance to do their bit. Such a significant change does require one person to oversee it though to make sure that everyone is not pulling in different directions.
e) Moaners – they will always be there – see b). This was a statutory change not me implementing a fad. There is a difference.
With all the caveats above. However, there are people who will moan for the sake of moaning. I think it’s fair as a middle leader to go higher up if it is seriously a problem. I do think a shift in power can sometimes cause this. It can be easier to be promoted elsewhere than in the same workplace for this reason.
f) Lead by example and share – show what is possible and make templates of anything you can. I would have liked more feedback but asking others for their ideas was important whether they shared or not. Also trial changes first yourself and be honest about what is working and what isn’t.
One of the realities here is that there was no point in reinventing the wheel when it comes to resources. Some people just needed a starting point, and they were off. I can not extol the virtues of trialling enough – it throws up issues that can be dealt with the least impact. And yes I was lucky that my year group partner was open minded and willing to move to the new curriculum early.
g) Be bold!! – I saw curriculum maps on The Key and quite frankly thought ours were as good. I sent them off and they agreed!
That was a high point as was the praise we all received by the school’s improvement advisors. It also meant we were able to help others both in and out of the city and county.
If anyone is doing the NPQML and needs an example (we weren’t given one!!) then I will gladly share! Just contact me via the original post that was published on the Staffrm website.
N.B.: Some school emails do not allow me to share so could you give me an alternate (preferably Gmail address).