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National Curriculum Review Seminar Where now?


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Title: National Curriculum Review Seminar Where now?

National Curriculum Review Seminar Where now?
  • Andrew Pollard
  • ASPE
  • Oxford, 8th August 2012

  • Share an analysis of policy making
  • Review some issues debated within the Expert
  • Speculate about future strategies

Three contexts of policy making
  • Richard Bowe and Stephen Ball with Ann Gold
    (1992) Reforming Education and Changing Schools.
    London Routledge

Three contexts of policy making
  • We approach policy as a discourse, constituted of
    possibilities and impossibilities, tied to
    knowledge on the one hand and practice on the
  • We see it as a set of claims about how the world
    should and might be, a matter of the
    authoritative allocation of values'.
  • They are also, as we conceive it, essentially

Three contexts of policy making
  • We envisage three primary policy contexts, each
    context consisting of a number of arenas of
    action, some public, some private. These are
  • the context of influence
  • the context of text production
  • the context of practice

1. The context of influence
The context of influence
  • This is where policy discourses are constructed
    and interested parties struggle to influence the
    definition and social purposes of education, what
    it means to be educated.
  • The private arenas of influence are based upon
    social networks in and around the political
    parties, in and around Government and in and
    around the legislative process.

The context of influence
  • The formation of discourse is sometimes given
    support, sometimes challenged, by wider claims to
    influence in the public arenas of action,
    particularly in and through the mass media.
  • In addition there are a set of more formal
    public arenas committees, national bodies,
    representative groups which can be sites for the
    articulation of influence.

The context of influence
  • It is important to be aware of the considerable
    capture' of influence by think tanks.
  • But it is also vital to appreciate the ebb and
    flow in the fortunes of and the changes in
    personnel of the DFE, and to recognize the
    increasing ministerialization' of policy
  • This contrasts starkly with the virtual exclusion
    of union and local authority representatives from
    arenas of influence and the modest contribution
    from educational research.

Michael Gove, speech to the National College,
June 2010
  • Unless we are guided by moral purpose in this
    coalition government then we will squander the
    goodwill the British people have, so generously,
    shown us.
  • And the ethical imperative of our education
    policy is quite simple - we have to make
    opportunity more equal. We have to overcome the
    deep, historically entrenched, factors which keep
    so many in poverty, which deprive so many of the
    chance to shape their own destiny, which have
    made us the sick man of Europe when it comes to
    social mobility. ....

Michael Gove, speech to the National College,
June 2010
  • And the success of other nations in harnessing
    their intellectual capital is a function of their
    determination to develop world-beating education
    systems. Across the globe other nations are
    outpacing us - pulling ahead in international
    comparisons, driving innovation, changing their
    systems to give professionals more freedom to
    grow, adapt, improve and learn from each other.

Michael Gove, speech to the National College,
June 2010
  • I want to use the evidence from those
    jurisdictions with the best-structured and most
    successful curricula from Massachusetts to the
    Pacific Rim to inform our curriculum
    development here.
  • I want to remove everything unnecessary from a
    curriculum that has been bent out of shape by the
    weight of material dumped there for political
    purposes. I want to prune the curriculum of
    over-prescriptive notions of how to teach and how
    to timetable. Instead, I want to arrive at a
    simple core, informed by the best international
    practice, which can act as a benchmark against
    which schools can measure themselves and parents
    ask meaningful and informed questions about

Nick Gibb, Reform conference, July 2010
  • Knowledge is the basic building block for a
    successful life. Without understanding the
    fundamental concepts of maths or science, it is
    impossible to properly comprehend huge areas of
    modern life. ...
  • These concepts must be taught. And they must be
    taught to everyone. Sadly, that is not always
    the case. ...
  • E D Hirsch writes that early inequity in
    the distribution of intellectual capital may be
    the single most important source of avoidable
    justice in a free society. It is remedying that
    injustice that is the driving force behind this
    Governments education reforms.

Tim Oates Could do Better Using
international comparisons to refine the National
Curriculum in England (Nov 2010)
  • Conclusion
  •  Analysis of high performing systems, when
    treated with sophistication and sensitivity, can
    be used for determining which content should be
    placed where in a revised National Curriculum.
  •  A well-defined and enhanced National Curriculum
    is a necessary but insufficient condition for
    ensuring that the performance of the English
    system approaches that of the leading nations
    policy needs to be formulated in respect of other
    control factors such as teacher expertise,
    teaching quality, learning materials and
  •  A well-defined and enhanced National Curriculum
    based on concepts, principles, fundamental
    operations and key knowledge - can lead to
    learning processes which are more focused on deep
    learning (fewer topics pursued to greater depth),
    and to assessment processes of greater validity
    and which have beneficial wash back into

Tim Oates Could do Better Using
international comparisons to refine the National
Curriculum in England (Nov 2010)
  • Understanding Control Factors
  • 1 curriculum content
  • 2 assessment and qualifications
  • 4 inspection
  • 5 pedagogy
  • 6 professional development
  • 7 institutional development
  • 8 institutional forms and structures
  • 10 funding
  • 11 governance
  • 12 accountability arrangements
  • 13 selection and gate-keeping to university and
    the workplace

2. Context of policy text production
Context of policy text production
  • While influence is often related to the
    articulation of narrow interests and dogmatic
    ideologies, policy texts are normally articulated
    in the language of general public good.
  • Their appeal is based upon claims to popular (and
    populist) commonsense and political reason.
  • Policy texts therefore represent policy.

Context of policy text production
  • These representations can take various forms
    most obviously official' legal texts and policy
    documents also formally and informally produced
    commentaries which offer to make sense of' the
    official' texts.
  • The media is important here also the speeches by
    and public performances of relevant politicians
    and officials

Context of policy text production
  • The texts which represent policy are not
    necessarily internally coherent or clear. Policy
    evolves in and through the texts that represent
    it, texts have to be read in relation to the time
    and the particular site of their production.
    They also have to be read with and against one
  • The texts themselves are the outcome of struggle
    and compromise. What is at stake are attempts to
    control the meaning of policy through its

Progress by October 2011
  • 1. The presentation of programmes of study and
    attainment targets We have advised that
    programmes of study and attainment targets, and
    the roles that they fulfil, should be distinct
    and we understand that this will now be

Progress by October 2011
  • 2. Pupil progression The proposal that schools,
    particularly primary, should focus on maximising
    all pupils mastery of the essential curriculum
    could significantly reduce underachievement in
    the long-term. We recognise that this is a
    significant change and commend the efforts being
    made within the Department to prepare specific

Progress by October 2011
  • 3. Structure of Key Stage 2 This four year stage
    covers a significant period of pupil development.
    National Curriculum requirements and school
    provision can be organised more appropriately if
    it is split into Upper and Lower Key Stages.
    We understand that this proposal has been

Points of concern in October 2011
  • Educational aims
  • Clear specification of educational aims has a
    place in light-touch framing and accountability
    processes in a future education system in which
    schools are both more diverse and more
    autonomous. Such aims could underpin coherence
    between the national, basic and local elements of
    the school curriculum. If this potential is to be
    realised, further work on the structure, content
    and use of educational aims is now urgent.

Points of concern in October 2011
  • 2. Subject knowledge The Department has
    conducted an exercise in international comparison
    to identify essential and powerful forms of
    knowledge and is in a position to present this
    evidence in a public consultation. Consultation
    with subject experts in English, Mathematics and
    Science also took place during the Spring and
    early Summer, leading to the production of draft
    programmes of study. These have now been replaced
    by texts produced by others. This process has
    by-passed the Expert Panel as a whole and we are
    therefore not in a position to endorse the

Points of concern in October 2011
  • 3. Curricular breadth Although both statute and
    international evidence support breadth, it
    appears possible that the status of Music and Art
    in the primary curriculum may be downgraded and
    that the lack of statutory breadth in the
    secondary curriculum to age 16 will continue.
  • The major challenge of the curriculum review is
    how to reduce over-loading whilst also
    maintaining breadth. We believe that the solution
    lies in the rigorous identification of essential
    knowledge whilst leaving schools to decide how
    to introduce this to pupils.

Points of concern in October 2011
  • 4. Curricular constraint Notwithstanding public
    commitments to free teachers to exercise more
    professional judgement, it now appears that the
    curriculum of core subjects may be specified
    year-on-year in primary rather than in key
    stages. In our view, this would be far too
    prescriptive for all schools and impractical to
    implement in small primary schools of which
    there are many.

Points of concern in October 2011
  • 5. Oral language development We have advised
    that oral language development should be a
    significant strand within the English programme
    of study though all key stages and should build,
    in particular, on the provision which has been
    recommended by Clare Tickell for the Foundation
    Stage. However, practical work on this has not
    taken place.

Points of concern in October 2011
  • 6. Transitions Very little attention has been
    paid to how to achieve continuity of curricular
    and other learning experiences for pupils in
    particular, for those progressing from the Early
    Years Foundation Stage into Key Stage 1.
  • You will be aware, of course, that most high
    performing countries begin their formal schooling
    somewhat later than we do (indeed, only 15 of
    all countries begin formal schooling by the age
    of 5). International practice thus suggests that
    we should consider how to extend good practice
    from the EYFS into Key Stage 1.

Points of concern in October 2011
  • 7. Pace and legitimacy The National Curriculum
    Review has been proceeding extremely quickly and
    has so far largely been an internal process
    managed by the Department. We have been concerned
    that the insights from the consultation, to which
    thousands of stakeholders contributed, appear to
    be treated lightly.
  • Our perception is that the use of evidence has
    been uneven and that progress at times has seemed
    erratic. In summary, we are concerned for the
    perceived legitimacy and quality of the review.

8. Principles for curriculum provision AP/MJ
with Michael Gove, October 2011
  • SOCIETY ?--------------------------?
  • Knowledge ?---------------------?
  • Experience/Learning
  • Curriculum
  • Cf Alan Blyth (1984) enabling curriculum

3. The context of practice
The context of practice
  • Policies are textual interventions but they also
    carry with them material constraints and
    possibilities. The responses to these texts have
    real' consequences.
  • The key point is that policy is not simply
    received and implemented within this arena -
    rather it is subject to interpretation and then

The context of practice
  • Practitioners do not confront policy texts as
    naive readers, they come with histories, with
    experience, with values and purposes of their
    own, they have vested interests in the meaning of
    policy. Policies will be interpreted differently
    as the histories, experiences, values, purposes
    and interests which make up any arena differ.
  • The simple point is that policy writers cannot
    control the meanings of their texts. Parts of
    texts will be rejected, ignored, deliberately
    misunderstood, etc.
  • Again, interpretation is a matter of struggle.

Blog What about the pupils?
  • Prescriptive influence of Hirsch
  • Crude design for curriculum reform
  • Value of subject knowledge but fatally flawed
    without considering needs of learners
  • Year-on-year prescription in core, punitive
    inspection and tough new tests at 11
  • Threat to breadth and balance
  • Who did what in writing the PoS?

Nick Seaton, Campaign for Real Education
At this rate it will probably be a decade and a
half before the full benefits of any reforms
(whether effective or not) are felt in employment
. Can we afford to wait so long? Fortunately,
it is perfectly feasible for 2 or 3 good
primary/secondary teachers in each subject to
produce, within 4 weeks, a list of recommended
content that could (and should) be taught
subject-by-subject each year. Arguments and
discussions about the detail can be left until
Blog What about the pupils?
  • Freedoms of the School Curriculum?
  • Needs of slower learners?
  • High expectations pitched to create failure?
  • Flexibility to meet childrens needs?
  • Education as the interaction between knowledge
    and individual development facilitated by

Nick Seaton, Campaign for Real Education
  • One further, vitally important step, is required.
    The members of the Expert Panel were almost
    certainly recommended by DfE officials. The
    education secretary should therefore call the
    DFEs permanent secretary into their office and
    stipulate that, in future, any perceived
    subversion of ministerial aims or objectives by
    any DfE official will be subject to disciplinary

The context of practice
  • The policy process is one of complexity. It is
    often difficult, if not impossible, to control or
    predict policy effects.
  • But different consequences do derive from
    particular interpretations in action.
  • Practitioners will be influenced by the
    discursive context within which policies emerge.
    But the meanings of texts are rarely unequivocal
    and creative readings can sometimes bring their
    own rewards.

So what now? Today
So what now? Today
  • Strategic resistance a battle for
  • Who? Communication to build broad and diverse
    alliances? (employers, universities, parents,
    head and teacher organisations, researchers,
  • What? Principled focus on key issues? (breadth,
    oracy, opportunities, learning, professional

So what now? Today
  • Strategic resistance a battle for
  • How? Collate and use evidence and experience from
    UK and internationally?
  • Build on the distributed and embedded strength of
    primary education to lobby MPs?
  • Organise and collaborate across ASPE, NAPE, NPH,
    etc and the teacher associations?

So what now? Tomorrow
So what now? Tomorrow
  • Frame the discourse for an alternative government
  • Who? Maintain dialogue and alliances with
    stakeholders and mediators?
  • What? Continue to refine evidence-informed
    principles for an effective system whilst
    retaining contextual flexibility?

So what now? Tomorrow
  • Frame the discourse for an alternative government
  • Excellence
  • Diversity
  • Entitlement
  • Learning
  • Teaching (Research)

20 years back ....
  • A broad consensus in English primary schools has
    emerged on the structural benefits of having a
    national curriculum.
  • It is seen as providing for progression and
    continuity and, with careful design, it is seen
    as a potential source of coherence.
    Organisational benefits for teacher training and
    supply, continuous professional development,
    curriculum development, parental participation,
    teacher accountability and national monitoring of
    educational standards are accepted.

20 years back ....
  • Unfortunately though, the introduction of the
    National Curriculum into England was seriously
    compromised because of the ways in which
    professionally committed teachers were alienated.
    Rather than providing a legislative framework
    through which they could offer and fulfill their
    professional commitment, the reforms introduced
    constraint and regulation into almost every area
    of teachers' work.
  • Yet it seems most unlikely that education
    standards can rise without the whole-hearted
    commitment of teachers, working to support
    pupils' learning.

20 years forward .....
  • Depressing in terms of English state policy?
  • But what is possible? Scotland is encouraging as
    are many other countries internationally. In
    England, many schools provide principled,
    innovative and value-based education.

Where now?
  • Hang on in there in principled and
    evidence-informed ways, but collaborate, organise
    and engage for the long term
  • Promote a new, future-orientated discourse for
    contemporary society