Thursday, December 22, 2011

Promoting Excellence in KS2 Curriculum

(This is not a response to the governments report on the National Curriculum as I wrote this a week before. However the last chapter responds to the review)

Teachers in primary schools spend the vast Majority of their planning, preparation and marking time promoting pupil literacy and numeracy skills. They rightly do this because these subjects are the bedrock of a child's education and because their schools success and survival depend on good Literacy and Numeracy SATs results. In many schools the majority of lesson observations focus exclusively on these subjects. The downside of this policy is that where a subject needs lots of specialist knowledge or lots of planning and preparation or both, standards get frozen at best between satisfactory and good.

I think the two biggest losers at the primary school level are science and ICT. To really teach science well the vast majority of lessons needs to be experimental coupled with developing thought about what was learnt and what could be learnt in the future. Lessons should focus on pre testing to discover aspects of the physical that can be tested. Moving on to experiment design so that standards of fair testing are learnt. Finally after an experiment the results should lead pupils to design further tests building on their knowledge. It is of course not necessary to follow every stage of this process every time but the end result should be a thorough appreciation of how to work scientifically coupled with a belief that their investigations matter. Importantly at some point pupils experiments will diverge from each other as they follow their own experimental path. The dual aspects of pupil choice and continuous experimentation are almost wholly lacking in primary education not from choice but due to time pressure focus.

An area I have more experience with is primary ICT. Having advised and worked with hundreds of schools I have found very few whose curriculum is truly outstanding. Those that are achieving excellence are often very small schools where a talented individual is making a real difference. Supporting my findings are the 2011 Ofsted report on ICT which said
There were weaknesses in the teaching of more demanding topics such as
data handling or control...

And later
Many of the primary and secondary schools visited were not tracking
the progress of pupils effectively in both specialist ICT classes and
across the curriculum. This led to teachers and pupils lacking an
understanding of current performance and what was needed to improve.

(1) Bearing in mind that this report focuses on an outdated curriculum which in my opinion misses lots of aspects of modern ICT.

The main counter argument to this is that such a program will de skill teachers and within ICT affect integrated ICT use. In my experience the majority of existing integrated ICT use focuses on word processing and desktop publishing as these fit best with literacy and the humanities. Most teachers use these program's as part of their planning on a regular basis so skills are unlikely to be affected.

My conclusion is that primary schools need specialist science and ICT teachers. These teachers need to focus on delivering these subjects including quality assessment and reporting.

My final conclusion is that this may be possible in upper KS2 for specialised science teaching under the governments new recommendations and for that I commend them. However the utter failure to include meaningful ICT in at least upper key stage 2 when industry is crying out for programmers and good technical ICT skills is an real failure of vision. In fact it goes against their own aims of a curriculum that promotes economic growth as this is a real economic growth area.

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