National Curriculum consultation response


Today is the last day to respond to the Government’s proposed, massive changes to the National Curriculum. As part of Democratic Life, involver has been campaigning for the strengthening of Citizenship in the National Curriculum.

If you haven’t responded yet, there is still time, just and Democratic Life have created a simple form to help you. You can leave in Democratic Life’s answers or change any that you’d like: http://www.democraticlife.org.uk/consultation/

Our answers are below (some copied from Democratic Life’s response). Please feel free to copy or adapt any of these as well.

1. Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document?

The aims are too broad and short to be really meaningful. They should be clear about what the desired end point is and so allow everyone to understand how a school delivering the National Curriculum differs from one that is not. Whilst it is very important that the phrase ‘educated citizens’ is used, without any further definition of what this means it could cover anything. Do we want educated citizens working towards a democratic, moral and just society, or would we be happy with something else?

Another factor to address is that the aims seem to just limit the National Curriculum to knowledge. Would it be desirable to educate a citizen, fill her with knowledge but not the ability or skills to use it critically? Thankfully, many of the programmes of study do include some skills and practice as well as knowledge, but this is overlooked by the aims.

Possibly part of the reason this proposed National Curriculum is so disjointed is that the aims are so vague, they cannot provide any unifying thread. This encourages the various subjects to be thought of, taught and learned in isolation from one another. This actively works against a broad and balanced education and developing creative, critical thinkers.

The aims need to be written to give a clear sense of what an ‘educated citizen’ is and how all elements of the National Curriculum work towards creating them.

2. Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?

No. It seems that this fundamentally undermines the point of a national curriculum: to provide coherence for pupils from one key stage to the next and from one school to another. In a secondary school that might take pupils from twenty or more primary schools the lack of clarity with which most subject areas are defined means that very little previous knowledge can be relied upon.

3. Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study?

We are very pleased to see that Citizenship has been included for key stages 3 and 4, but worried by its omission at key stages 1 and 2. In our work in primary schools we see the great need and benefit for it. It is clear that where citizenship is part of the curriculum pupils are happier, more able to understand the world around them and their place in it. They are learning important skills such as responsibility, empathy, self-reliance and reasoned argument. Their knowledge of their community, its opportunities and pressures is far greater.

Looking specifically at the key stage 3 and 4 programme of study, there are some essential elements missing. The most glaring of these is the link between Citizenship and the real world. Citizenship is about the here and now, how it affects your life and the role you play in creating and changing it. Citizenship is often taught by non-specialist teachers, so it needs to be made explicit that the core knowledge and skills of citizenship can only really be taught through active engagement with the processes being covered.

The active, applied side of this subject is notable by its absence. It seems to have been replaced with volunteering, but this misses the point. Being a citizen is not voluntary, you have responsibilities as well as rights. There are choices we take which make us good or bad citizens that are nothing to do with volunteering, but are playing an active, positive role in society: not avoiding tax, setting up a social enterprise, serving on a jury, to name just a few.

This confusion about volunteering and active citizenship may have arisen because of the lack of definitions for core skills and concepts of citizenship. Being a citizen is far more than having a collection of knowledge, defining what these other elements are is essential. For example, pupils develop essential skills of critical thinking, research, debate and reflection as well as those necessary for active citizenship. Key citizenship concepts that pupils develop understanding in should include: democracy, government, human rights, justice, fairness, diversity and social and moral responsibility. The concepts provide a way of organising subject knowledge and understanding and evaluating pupils’ progress.

The one element that does mention skills is in relation to personal financial literacy. This element as a whole seems to be misplaced. Whilst we feel it is an important part of the National Curriculum, it does not fit under Citizenship, or at best it needs to be defined in a particular way to make it work with the other elements of the subject. Currently it would be more suitable as part of PSHE. Citizenship is about how we work together as a society, learning how to “manage their money on a day-to-day basis as well as to plan for future financial needs” is an individual, personal skill.

In terms of knowledge, the key element that is missing is Human Rights. Understanding both the law and principles relating to this is essential to defining our role as citizens in a just and democratic society. This, and all of the other knowledge should be placed in the context of England as part of the UK, the EU and the world. Examining similarities, differences and dependencies gives us the ability to define what it means to be a citizen.

4. Does the content set out in the draft programmes of study represent a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage?

No. Firstly, there is no level of challenge in Citizenship for key stages 1 and 2 as there is no programme of study. Where the Citizenship programme of study does exist, at key stages 3 and 4, the level of challenge is significantly less than in the current National Curriculum. Much of this is due to the fact that the skills and concepts have been omitted, but the knowledge has been reduced too. Requiring students to apply their knowledge and skills in an active citizenship project or projects would be the most appropriate and effective way of challenging and assessing learning and teaching.

There is also a real lack of progression and continuity between the key stages. The National Curriculum should provide a context in which the challenges at each key stage build upon the last. This allows students to deepen their knowledge and understanding as their experiences grow. Currently the programme of study for Citizenship does not seem to encourage this.

5. Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?

The attainment targets do not help with assessment, differentiation, personalisation or consistency between students, teachers and schools. Their brevity renders them useless. It is not clear to us how students and teachers could be confident that attainment in one school or class is comparable to that in another.

For any sort of usefulness and consistency a lot of additional work needs to be done here.

6. Do you agree that the draft programmes of study provide for effective progression between the key stages?

At present key stage progression in Citizenship is not clearly established in terms of the knowledge, skills and understanding specified. Citizenship has been omitted from the proposals for the primary National Curriculum so there is no clarity as to what pupils should be expected to bring with them to key stage 3 in terms of prior learning in Citizenship. In the draft programmes of study some essential subject content is not set out explicitly within the draft at all e.g. human rights, sustainable development and the economic dimensions of the subject. Other essential subject content is addressed only at key stage 3, with no sense of how pupils should be expected to progress at key stage 4 e.g. knowledge of the law and the justice system. Yet other essential subject content is addressed only at key stage 4, but with no sense of the prior learning necessary at key stage 3 e.g. local, regional and international dimensions or the ways in which citizens can actively contribute to their communities and wider society. The essential citizenship skills and processes (e.g. critical thinking, research, debate, advocacy and active citizenship) are currently omitted from the drafts so there is no clarity about expectations or progression in these. There also needs to be clarity about where pupils can progress to from key stage 4 and GCSE Citizenship Studies. This requires a range of high quality post 16 citizenship qualifications at A level.

7. Do you agree that we should change the subject information and communication technology to computing to reflect the content of the new programmes of study?

No comment

8. Does the new National Curriculum embody an expectation of higher standards for all children?

It is difficult to assess this across subjects because of the variations in prescription and approach within draft programmes of study. However, for Citizenship, the answer is no. There is less demand in terms of conceptual knowledge and understanding and the sophistication in the use and application of skills than the current National Curriculum. The removal of local to global contexts lowers the level of challenge at key stage 3. In addition, the withdrawal of the level descriptions leaves no clarity about the standards and expectations of pupils in terms of subject knowledge, skills and understanding. Essential Citizenship skills and processes (critical thinking, research, debate, advocacy and active citizenship) have been omitted from the draft. The proposed ‘progress measure’ for certain subjects also has a bearing on this and there would need to be clarity about what pupils are expected to arrive at key stage 3 with in terms of Citizenship knowledge, understanding and skills. This is why a clear programme of study for Citizenship at key stages 1 and 2 is so important for the development of the subject.

9. What impact – either positive or negative – will our proposals have on the ‘protected characteristic’ groups?

The omission of human rights from the Citizenship programme of study and the omission of Citizenship in its entirety from key stages 1 and 2 will have an undeniably negative effect on the ‘protected characteristic’ groups. It is essential that schools challenge prejudice not just as it arises in their day-to-day practice but as a part of the curriculum. This allows issues such as gender, ethnicity, stereotyping and discrimination to be addressed in a mature, reasoned and informed way. Citizenship is the right and proper place for this to happen. Removing these elements from the National Curriculum will allow schools to ignore the issues and allow prejudice to develop.

10. To what extent will the new National Curriculum make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education?

A very clear explanation of what the National Curriculum is, what it is trying to achieve and why it has been changed will be needed for parents, as well as governors, employers and others interested in education. The Values, Aims and Purposes of the National Curriculum are not clearly established in the drafts. So there is no overall sense of what the National Curriculum is for or what it is trying to achieve for all children by the end of key stage 4 or within and between key stages. The ‘purpose of study’ sections of each programme of study could provide a clear a statement of what each subject is about, and the contribution made to the overall aims of the National Curriculum. These statements could be written in plain language that everyone can understand and engage with. The rest of the programme of study might be seen as a document for the profession ie schools and teachers. We suggest the Values, Aims and Purposes of the National Curriculum, together the purpose of study and subject aims be rewritten and published together as a short guide for parents and others.

11. What key factors will affect schools’ ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014?

Teachers and schools will need time and space to consider and address the revised National Curriculum in their schools. Successful implementation will require:

  • Clarity of what is required and expected within the documentation, particularly bearing in mind some subjects are taught by non-subject specialists;
  • Proper dissemination of the key expectations and messages amongst schools leaders, governors and teachers;
  • Adequate training and support for curriculum leaders, subject leaders and teachers to digest and re-plan the school curriculum and subject teaching;
  • Money to support leading organisations and subject associations in providing support advice and materials for schools;
  • Shared understanding about the standards including with Ofsted, so there is no confusion about the intentions and expectations of the revised National Curriculum.

In addition to this, Citizenship will need additional specialist support and resourcing to make up for the retrenchment that happened in some schools while the future of the subject was decided upon. Evidence from the NfER longitudinal study of Citizenship and Ofsted subject monitoring shows that the quality of provision and student knowledge is intrinsically linked to the quality of teaching and whether trained specialist teachers are leading the subject. Ofsted’s report also highlights that even in schools were provision is strongest there remain weaknesses in the teaching of key aspects of the subject including political literacy. Ofsted specifically recommended the DFE increase provision of ITE and CPD, and schools should recruit trained specialist citizenship teachers. http:/ /www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/steady-progress-for-citizenship-education To address these issues and in recognition that the subject is less well resourced than others a package of ring fenced funding and training to support the implementation of the revised curriculum aimed at improving the quality of provision will be essential.

12. Who is best placed to support schools and/or develop resources that schools will need to teach the new National Curriculum?

In the absence of a leading national body like the former QCDA, the work will need to be divided up. Subject associations ought to be funded to take a lead at the level of subject leadership and teaching. The DFE ought to commission other organisations to provide dissemination and training for school leadership teams and governors. A DFE communications strategy should set out very clear key messages to be disseminated. Commercial publishers may have a role to play but they must not be the sole providers of key resources.

13. Do you agree that we should amend the legislation to disapply the National Curriculum programmes of study, attainment targets and statutory assessment arrangements, as set out in section 12 of the consultation document?

This seems to be an unnecessary, confusing and bureaucratic step. In the past there has been an understanding that in the year before a revised National Curriculum takes effect, schools are re-planning their teaching to take account of new requirements. For example, Ofsted and others make allowance for this during school inspection. There could also be significant damage done by disapplication. In particular in schools who do not currently provide high quality teaching based on the National Curriculum. Further damage may be done to subjects that were left ‘in limbo’ following the Expert Panel report, or where some schools had second guessed what the government proposals might say and cut certain subjects from their curriculum. The sooner these schools get back on track and meet the National Curriculum requirements and improve the quality of their Citizenship provision, the better.

14. Do you have any other comments you would like to make about the proposals in this consultation?

It would be helpful if DFE could publish a very clear timeframe of the changes and implementation schedule for the National Curriculum, assessment and reporting arrangements and GCSE qualification reforms, so that school leaders and teachers understand what is happening when. Clarification about the implications for ITE will also be needed if ITE providers will in fact be training teachers in a revised curriculum that is not yet being taught in schools. It would also be helpful if DFE could publish a central list of the resources, training and advice that the range of subject associations and other organisations will provide to support for the revised National Curriculum so that schools are not wasting time hunting around across many different providers.

15. Please let us have your views on responding to this consultation (e.g. the number and type of questions, whether it was easy to find, understand, complete etc)

We are lucky to have been able to draw on the support of a consortium (Democratic Life) to help us complete this consultation. It is difficult to find the information on the DfE website and the fact that the online submission was not working for so long is very regrettable.

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