When the National Curriculum emerged as a reality, in 1987, I was the deputy head of a First School. The first thing we did was to apportion each subject file to those with responsibility and for them to match what was being asked with what we provided and to identify the areas where adaptation, or gap filling, might be needed. This exercise identified 95% correspondence, with science being an area where topics were tweaked more than others. Subsequent incarnations of the NC required similar, relatively small, levels of adjustment.
So curriculum has been a central feature of school life throughout my career.
In the beginning, school level planning was largely topic allocation to each year group, to avoid some “nice” topics from appearing each year. Progression and objectives were a key part of deciding what to do and how it should be done.
The science programme in my first days, 1974, was based on Nuffield Science 5-13, history had Unsworth textbooks as a possible base. Every school appeared to have an Encyclopaedia Britannica, as a central feature of the library and atlases were the key resource for Geography. Our library was supplemented by the County library van visits, so pre-planning was needed to ensure that appropriate book resources were available. Topic work included “research skills”; how to use the textbooks, contents and index, to find information. Collecting knowledge was highlighted, sometimes used to create an “alphabet/glossary” of the topic, as a list or as a topic wall.
When I became a Head, we developed the concept of the annual plan, which created two layers of information; curriculum coverage and what is now called interleaving, recalling earlier information and skills to use in the new context. An example might be letter writing, taught as a stand-alone in English, to be used later to write persuasively on a topic or perhaps review letters to an author, after a half-term of studying books by one author. The annual plan also ensured that a broad curriculum was offered and that everything that had to be covered was covered.
This played also into a further development, of the two-page approach to writing, with one area providing the main writing task during the week; this could be reports or instruction-writing in science or other foundation subject. This approach developed out of the earlier National Writing Project, but within an exercise book format.
I keep coming back to this, as much of what we have done in schools ends up as a piece of writing, which is then the means by which security of achievement is judged by the teacher. To create a focus for each week enables cross-fertilisation of the knowledge curriculum within the context of the English curriculum demands.
Teacher judgement has always been a part of school life. It is, after all, that which underpins formative assessment and every subsequent decision regarding children. This now falls into the teacher standards 2,6 and 5, progress and outcomes, assessment and adaptation. These are the real sharp end of the teacher standards, where interaction, intervention and feedback support the developing learners, but outcomes also inform the teacher about the levels of security of each child, impacting on dynamics within and between lessons.
Progress, as a statement, has, to some extent, become slightly devalued in education parlance, and in terms of data judgements. It has always been the underpinning of conversations between teachers and parents, in particular, with, in days before National Curriculum levels, was as simple as comparing current performance with earlier outcomes, which is not quantified. Equally, judgements about appropriateness of the outcomes for a particular year group will depend on experience within the key stage.
In 2013/4, I wrote a piece about levelness becoming de facto yearness, with the proposed, now current, curriculum detailing what should be taught in each year group.
If we assume that the whole is shared by the teacher within the year, teacher decisions will be based on security; how well children demonstrate that they can use and apply, preferably independently, that which they have been taught. If one yearness of teaching is the norm and a child achieves 100% of this independently, have they made one year of progress; more or less?
If they don’t achieve 100%, have they made less than one year’s progress and what is done about those areas that are less secure? This question has been part of my whole career; what to do with children as they transition into a new year group with identifiable continuing needs.
This returns us to the flip sheets, where continuing needs can be recorded to be actioned in future activity. Not to record this, in my opinion, is creating a situation where the receiving teacher has to find the gaps for themselves, which helps no-one, least of all the learner.
We need simple systems that support learners throughout their school careers.
A high-quality, broad curriculum is an entitlement of all learners. Continual interaction, intervention and developmental feedback is right and proper.
Recording continual needs creates an aide memoire for both learner and adults. That way might support continual development, or progress, however small.