I wanted to point out some things which only became really clear to me later in my teaching career. They could save teachers weeks and weeks of wasted effort and heartache.
The first thing that I wanted you to know about is what I have seen teachers run into when they first tackle trying to cram a curriculum into a limited time. I have seen many meticulously planned detailed lessons to make sure that specific parts of the curriculum are thoroughly covered. One attempt was Poetry - a teacher devised a beautiful plan based on excellent materials which walked each student through everything they needed to know, with vocabulary expanded and lots of practical. At the end, each student produced wonderful pieces of iambic pentameter, technically perfect in every way, and gained a lot of affinity for poetry too. The problem was that this had used up three months of the year on something which the timetable only had two weeks to cover!
So that teacher was running into the exact thing that many others are: applying rigorous teaching to suitable materials in order to get a full product simply took too long. It would have meant that, by the time all the students were by age ready to enter their GCSE years, they would have only covered about a third of the Key Stage 2 curriculum, if that. They would have fallen completely flat on their faces in GCSEs!
So what was the answer?
I have seen teachers step back and re-think the whole thing. There was nothing wrong with the curriculum per se, it was concluded. Children were not being asked to do things way over their heads - it was just that they did need to cover key points during the year somehow. It was realised that it wasn’t the curriculum that was at fault - it was the materials which needed work.
What was needed was that someone had to go through the curriculum and isolate the exact points that needed to be covered, then present these points in a simple and entertaining way without any extraneous waffle or unforeseen muddles. It looked like a lot of work. But then, researching what was available, teachers can find that this work has already largely been done by CGP.
CGP - the kid-friendly, colourful publisher with a sense of humour - had already gone through the entire body of work and put together text books for a range of ages which covered the exact points needed by most curriculums.
Now the real work began: teachers devised smaller, more confrontable assignments, adding in their own pictures and activities to support the CGP books, and developed a monitoring system to make sure that each child in Key Stage 3 got on with it and didn’t miss anything.
The result? Assessments showed massive positive gain across all Key Stage 3 classes in English!
A similar thing occurred in the sciences. Lessons and texts had to cover key points - the question was which key points and how to cover them in the time available?
Teachers also stressed the importance of covering the essentials with simpler materials and parallelling that work with workbooks used mainly as homework.
The result? Massive value added across all Key Stage 3 Science classes, according to assessments.
So there is an answer. The trick is having the correct materials.
What does this all mean?
It means that rather than the solution being to spread the body of data to be covered over a longer time, the data can be covered properly in the time provided if teachers use the right resources.
The society in which we live and work expects children to know certain things by certain ages. They expect children to be able to perform well in terms of things called ‘grades’ in GCSEs and A Levels as a measure of ability and employability. As parents, we can see some incomplete reasoning in all of this, but while there are schools we are going to have to regard certain of these things as minimum standards of education against which schools will be judged.
The ideal school game has always been, since the beginning, that of using reason to show that a school can really out-perform others and itself consistently in terms of these minimum standards. An aligned curriculum in use throughout the school enables this game to be played realistically because it gives us systematic assessments which can meaningfully be compared with each other and with other schools.
Teachers are standing by to assist other teachers with all of this in practical ways. As a teacher, you’re not alone, you’re part of a powerful team.