Teachwell | We Don’t Need No Innovation
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We Don't Need No Innovation

There are many reasons why the new curriculum and the changes to the content have proved problematic in primary schools.

Some of them do relate to the government but not all, and we do need to separate out what our issues are and where they arisen from.

Narrowed curriculum:

Look at the statutory elements of the national curriculum and please explain how it has narrowed the curriculum? I spent months having to do just that and still needed to flesh it out.

There are two fewer units of science in KS1, one in KS2, a lot of repetition (electricity!!) is gone.

The history curriculum was probably the most prescriptive and even there I was able to add some additional units and ask for a WW1 day knowing that it would not cut into our overall curriculum time. There was still scope later on as we refined units we had trialled.

There is no expected number of genres. More to the point the Year 1 curriculum explicitly states that writing will need to take second place to learning to read. You have no requirements of how much writing you have to do either in literacy or other curriculum areas. How many are still using the NLS? Or schemes that are similar? How many have actually get that lots of genres defeats the point?

For those who bemoan the content, there seems to be a collective amnesia about the fact that there was a consultation process. How many of us in primary replied?

If you didn’t participate, then no I don’t think you have the right to sit here and complain about it. Yes, I did contribute because I was not happy about the Ancient Egyptians being removed as an option and the lack of world history in general. There could have been greater changes to grammar but who put an alternative forward? Because if it was out there, I certainly never saw it. I wasn’t on twitter or blogging at the time, so all I saw were people complaining.

Given that the year groups which ‘matter’ – that is Years 2 and 6 were not going to be taking tests based on the new curriculum, there was a lot of heads stuck in the sand.

Too many thought they could tweak and get away with it and so left it to the last minute. I have tweeted about a meeting I attended in April before the new NC was due to start (in the following September). I was sent because the Head couldn’t attend and given the role I was playing in introducing the new curriculum in my school. The room was full of head teachers and SLT from the city and county. We were asked who was ready to hit the ground running in September. I was half reading something and put my hand up, after a few seconds I realised that not only was I the only one on my table with my hand up, I was the only one in the room.

How is that acceptable? The information was there; we had a year to trial, a year where it was not statutory, and we could have at least started to address some of the issues with implementing. Instead, there were members of SLT still mulling over when they would have a staff meeting about it.

As part of the local development groups, we each chaired a subject meeting relating to the new curriculum in April. The newer teachers in the group just wanted to know what to do – they could see that changes did need to be made. But they were on the receiving end ‘it’s basically the same’ from teachers who had not read anything on it and in schools where no meetings had been held, no documents signposted and no discussion. One senior manager was adamant that no change was needed and that they would tweak the existing curriculum overviews and keep the same units. I disagreed and put an alternative vision forward having already compared the old and new curriculums. To her credit, she did send out what they were using and admitted it was going to require more change.

This is the reality of what was going on at the time at least in one county, and I have not heard much that makes me think it was significantly different elsewhere.

The government was wrong to implement it the way they did; it should have been rolled out on a yearly basis from Year 1. But I honestly don’t think that would have led to schools acting because too many, it seems to me, hoped the government would change.

It did, but not in the way they hoped. I don’t have any sympathy with those who did so and now play the ‘victim of government changes’ card. It’s not credible.

Lesson Planning

In primary, we have incredible freedom over our day and timetables in general. We don’t have to teach three part lessons or stick to an hour for each. We don’t have to stick to rigid timings of each subject as the Secretary of State has never been able to impose this on us.  If you don’t, then this is a school level choice and needs to be tackled there. There is nothing the government can do other than what it has done. The recommendations from the working groups are sound. Not even want to take the risk even though it’s not a risk!

Terminology:

For those who think ‘it’s too hard’ and ‘why are they saying the correct terminology, not a babyish alternative’ is usually due to lack of subject knowledge and in some cases lack of understanding of younger children.

I want to tackle the second point first. Children in KS1 don’t care about the words you teach them. If you think the word algorithms is too difficult for them – you are projecting your insecurities. So much of the vocabulary they comes across is new that it doesn’t make much difference – still have to explain what it is and still have to help them to pronounce it and use it properly. What does have an impact is teaching terms which we then have to unteach in KS2 and KS3. This is an utter waste of everyone’s time, especially the children’s. Unless someone can present an argument that does not consist of ‘because I say/think so’ – enough already with that in teaching.

Subject knowledge:

The government did not know enough about primary schools to understand what a massive issue lack of subject knowledge is.

There are teachers who state openly they could not teach Year 6 because they don’t know enough. There is nothing to stop said person ending up as a subject leader or SLT, including the Head.

Ofsted has to take its fair share of the blame in the past for creating a culture where the ability of SLT to implement their chosen fad was of more value than SLT, who were knowledgeable and could problem solve.

Even if we get rid of Ofsted and the government never introduce another education bill the issue of subject knowledge and appropriate CPD remains. In our locality, we did not have the capacity to make changes to the curriculum, and we still don’t. Create a school curriculum that is more than the national curriculum? Who has the expertise for that, much less the confidence. When the school improvement advisor came to speak to us, he was keen that we disseminate what we had because we were one of the few who had done something. When it went up on the Key, we had schools as far away as Kent getting in touch. I don’t know how many saw it.

I would like to point out how much of this was due to chance:

  • My Head Teacher was decent and supportive.
  • I started an NPQML so reviewing the curriculum was part of that, and I had to look into it early to get my project ideas in.
  • Key members of SLT listened and supported.
  • The phase leader was able to see the need for change and trialling early.
  • I happened to have had the previous roles and jobs I had; they happened to be of use.

While I think the curriculum needed to be rolled out, in truth it would have stretched the pain out over six years. Subject leadership was not valued, people weren’t trained, strengths were not being played to, and the insecurity of many teachers came to the fore. When asked to buy resources if and when needed, there was no issue. But leading involves more than that.

Subject leaders need to be trained and helped to gain the knowledge to be able to assess what is needed in their subject, support, guidance and also the resources to buy!! I wouldn’t claim to be knowledgeable enough to decide what constitutes value for money or indeed which resources are best for say music in the same way I could for history, and later computing. It’s not the fault of the teachers and subject leaders as often even literacy and numeracy coordinators have little enough time out of class to get to grips with their subjects.

We need fewer staff meetings dedicated to the latest whole school initiative based on incorrect or superficial analysis of the problems in a school and more time to self-study and improve in our roles.

Flipping Innovators:

Those who argue that teacher autonomy will set us free to teach to our best abilities might want to consider the following:

During the ‘trial’ year of the new curriculum, I spent the Christmas holidays creating a blueprint for the new history and geography curriculums which I showcased during the January INSET.

I went to great lengths to try to minimise disruption to the existing curriculum where possible (leaving WW2 in year 6 for example), I added in the statutory units and matched objectives. I suggested alternatives where possible but was clear that the teachers could decide the focus of the unit and the specific content of each lesson. They could move the objectives around and it was a first draft and they could think about it and make changes as it wasn’t set in stone.

It went down like the biggest lead balloon ever.

I couldn’t understand at first. I thought that was what they wanted – as little prescription and as much choice as possible.

What happened was the subject leaders panicked because they didn’t believe that they could do the same type of outline as they had never examined their subjects in that way. The KS1 teachers panicked because they had the most freedom to choose and they did not feel able to judge what was best. Others just wanted to be told what to do, to be honest, including some teaching members of SLT!

The Assistant Head was lovely about it and said that while he believed I’d get on with it and use such a framework, it wouldn’t work for others. I would need to find a scheme of work with lessons outlined with specific objectives. So I did, it was more work but overall everyone was happier with it. The fact that there was some solid content for two of the subjects made it easier for others to make contributions and work off it.

So no I don’t think teacher autonomy or the freedom to innovate going to solve the problems we are currently having. A diet of pedagogy and ed fads is not leading us to more confident teachers who can improve their practice.

More innovation? What for? Reinventing the wheel repeatedly has not worked. If we are to be taken seriously as a profession then we have to be able to examine past mistakes and learn from them not just blame someone else.

We need problem solvers who can analyse and be innovative, if necessary. It requires analysis, logic and an understanding of real world limits.

We need people who can see that the problem with children punctuating accurately actually requires us to focus on speaking and listening and not another fun way of teaching full stops. We need teachers who have time and confidence to know when to tweak, when to change a unit, when change across the school is needed and to identify the support others need.

The kind of innovation I see being touted is just more of the same. More years wasted starting and abandoning one initiative after the other.

We need realists who can ensure that we are heading somewhere better not dreamers who will repeat the same mistakes of the past because they are trying to solve problems that don’t exist or are simply not important to the majority of teachers. Supported autonomy while we improve leading to greater capacity to make the best decisions we can.

You can flip the system in primary schools right here, right now but don’t expect much to trickle down.



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