NC Review – the debate

I’m really glad that so-many people read my thoughts on the NC review (summary here), and even more glad that people took time to comment or respond in various fora.

Graham Macleod’s response merits first consideration. The criticism about increasing the statutory subjects at KS4 is one that the panel tries to answer in the report – with the downgrading of some subjects into the ‘basic’ curriculum and the lessening of the requirements of attainment targets for foundation subjects. I think that Graham has a good point though, and that the report does not (perhaps could not?) show practically how this might be achieved. Perhaps this is for the Advisory Panel or others to continue with. However, there is a clear reference to parsimony in curricula, and to lessening burdens of recording in the idea of removing grading to levels.

He’s also right that the report is not clear about the criteria used to establish which jurisdictions were ‘high achieving”. I don’t agree that there’s evidence of cherry picking. At several points they make it clear that the jurisdictions don’t do things in the same way. The recommendations are such that it the authors also make it clear that there’s further work to be done in several areas, not a sign of dogma or of a position in search of evidence.

I’m not so sure about randomised trials in education – though I’ll admit that I don’t know enough about research methods to argue this through. What I’ve understood from my amateur studies of this is that education is such a contextual matter than precise prescription is ineffective. I think there are studies that show that we do know that some thing, some styles, can be effective. I’ve just received an Amazon token for my birthday and therefore I’m quite looking forward to reading Visible Learning which promises to explain some of the things that work. There’s also Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, the teacher’s version.

There’s also a long line of research work that purports to have things to say about what makes effective teaching.

I do agree with Graham that departments will need more guidance than they’ll receive from Ofsted. I’m worried, as are others (see the comments) about removing Attainment Targets from history.

I’m also not so sure about the bell curve. I don’t have the expertise, (but I think that this should be on my list of things to understand), but I mistrust the bell curve theory – I have no arguable grounds for this, other than lots of people much better informed than I am also disagree. I’m not so sure that g exists (though Graham does!).

It’s also great that Paul Warde commented, and it’s refreshing to hear from someone who teachers undergraduates that what they want is a greater capacity to learn from their new students, not heads full of stuff – Thanks Paul!

As for Paul D’s question, I guess that this would be the sensible way forward, but I’m still not sure how it would work out. I had a go at answering a similar question on the school history.co.uk/forum. If history were to be ‘statutory’, even if options were narrowed in year 10, we’d still be expected to teach something meaningful and engaging to those who hadn’t chosen to do a the GCSE.

Finally, as I said in my original piece, I agree with Chris Culpin that there are real risks for history in the proposals as framed in the report – that’s something that we have to lobby and argue on before final decisions are made (oh, and the report referred to Attainment Targets, which is why I did!).

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2 Responses to NC Review – the debate

  1. Chris Culpin says:

    A few quick points:
    1. For History, the relationship between a 2-year KS3 course, a non-certificated but compulsory 3-year KS4 course and whatever GCSE course the school provides will take a good deal of re-adjustment – not only of content, but of timetabling. For example, will students pull out of the GCSE option for good at the end of Y8?
    2. More widely, the proposed compulsory KS4 curriculum will consist of: E, M, Sci, H, G, PE, MFL, Design & Technology, “the arts” +RE. this looks like a very fragmented curriculum. Is this an enticing offer, particularly to those students who would rather not be in school anyway?
    3. If you’re an Academy, a Free School or an independent school you don’t have to do any of this! By 2014 this could well be more than half of all secondary schools in England.

    You’re right about the use of the term “Attainment Targets” in the Report (sorry), but I’m left confused: sometimes they seem to mean the AT and sometimes the Level Descriptors.

  2. Ed says:

    You’re right of course Chris, there’ll have to be lots more thought before these ideas are workable, and there is a risk that this will lead to a fragmented curriculum. I wonder what parts of this the Secretary of State is nodding or shaking his head at. Is it the fragmented curriculum, the change in accountability proposals or the ideas about ‘progression’ and ability?

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