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Exam and Curriculum Change: What's the latest?

18 February 2019

In recent weeks, schools have faced two challenges to their curriculum and assessments. First, the new Ofsted framework mentions curriculum directly, in an attempt to ensure children (particularly at primary schools) get quality education in all subjects across the curriculum. Second, the chair of parliament’s education committee, Robert Halfon, has called for GCSEs to be scrapped. So far, there’s no sense the government will follow his call, but the debate is back.

But, what do you, the teachers, think of these ideas?

1. You are not impressed by the idea of scrapping GCSEs

Only 26% of teachers even slightly agreed that GCSEs should be scrapped. Advocates of change sometimes say this is because teachers are inherently cautious of all change.

In reality, teachers have all kinds of reasons for thinking GCSEs may be important. For example, around a third of teachers (32%) felt GCSEs were an important accountability measure for schools. More than half (58%) said that exams at 16 were needed to decide who should be admitted onto A-level courses.

Not all teachers felt the same, though. (Shock, right?!)

For getting rid of exams at 16, only 10% of maths teachers agreed compared to 27% of language teachers.

When it came to exams as an important filter for who gets onto A-levels, maths and science teachers were largely in favour (upwards of 70%) whereas primary and arts teachers mostly didn’t agree with this option (only around 40% ticked it).

Overall, the pattern seems to be that maths and science teachers more often prefer a narrower curriculum, studied by all, but with rigorous mechanisms for weeding out pupils at 16. English, languages, and humanities teachers are more relaxed, and would prefer children to do more subject and are less inclined to believe filtering matters (though a good chunk of around 40% are still in favour of it). Note also that two in three teachers would like to see more vocational options available for pupils from the age of 14.

2. What Is Happening In Primary Schools?

Not only have schools inspectorate Ofsted made curriculum a central focus for the new framework, its leaders have also expressed concerns about the quality of science lessons in primary schools.

So, are schools now starting to respond? Umm… a bit?

The data shows that 22% of schools are not doing anything about their curriculum and 40% are only doing some minor ongoing changes. So far, so dull.

BUT, around a third of schools (32%) are making significant changes, with some increasing time for subjects that aren’t English and maths, and reviewing the use of specialist teachers.

Schools rated Requires Improvement or Inadequate are particularly likely to be changing their curriculum. In all honesty, this is probably what Ofsted wanted as these are the schools they are most concerned about.

Now, here’s a thought… Do secondary teachers really care whether their Year 7 pupils gained broader subject knowledge while at primary school?

3. Turns out, English and Maths teachers feel it is very important that pupils turn up with strong prior knowledge.

But everyone else? They’re largely ambivalent.


Language teachers, in particular, don’t think it’s too important, presumably because the lack of agreed second language means that children can turn up from a variety of feeder schools having been taught a whole variety of languages. Which makes this next finding even more interesting…

Over a third of primary teachers would remove modern languages from their national curriculum if one had to be removed.

Note that the linguists don’t agree! Just 6% of language teachers think it should go from the primary curriculum. Which means that even though language teachers don’t think prior knowledge is all that important, they nevertheless want primary schools to keep teaching it.

Again, this shows the complexity of views on curriculum. Teachers often have beliefs that conflict with each other. Hence, policymakers typically cannot keep everyone happy.

In Sum: We’ve learned this week that most teachers want to keep exams at 16 AND it probably is very important that primary pupils focus on English and Maths (at least according to English and Maths secondary teachers)!

A few other findings from this week:

A. Primary teachers praise AND reprimand pupils more in assembly

Reports in the press of an academy chain’s behaviour management policies, led to several teachers on social media discussing the way teachers manage behaviours in assembly.

But what do most teachers see in assembly? It seems most primary and secondary teachers see a great deal of praise and positivity in assemblies, but also a decent chunk of pupil removals, reprimands, and ‘shouting ats’.

Notably, primary teachers saw more individual students reprimanded for poor behaviour and were more likely to remove or shout at a child themselves during assembly, compared to secondary colleagues.

In secondary schools, senior leaders were more commonly involved in removals or shouting-ats – but, overall, primary pipped more behaviour issues than secondary ones.

Primary schools do call pupils up for individual praise more often, though.

B. Protests: Mass or Minor?

We’ve written before about the revolutionary tendencies of South West of England, as the area with the largest number of SATs boycotters.

Now we find they’re also the region with the highest percentage of teachers affected by pupils exercising their right to march last week. The rebels!

Finally, finally, this week’s tips…

We know you love the tips so here they are for last week:

Retrieval practice – three experiments

Can arts boost writing AND compassion?

Teachers need to love all children (especially the difficult)

Behaviour Buddy Guide to Retrieval Practice

Modelling in lessons

Engelmann Tribute: The Importance of Direct Instruction