In 2014 Michael Gove, then Education Secretary introduced a new curriculum into schools for children aged 5 – 14 years. The curriculum was designed to be more ‘robust’ with greater emphasis on the mastery of traditional subjects. The curriculum changes were intended to make British children more competitive in a global marketplace.
He [Gove] added: “We’ve looked at what’s been happening in parts of the world like Massachusetts and Singapore where children are facing a much tougher curriculum, sitting much more rigorous exams and as a result are better equipped to succeed than our own children.
The curriculum placed more importance on the rote learning of tables up to 12 x 12 by age nine, the introduction on fractions at age five and algebra by age 10. In English, more emphasis placed on spelling and punctuation with all children expected to know grammatical terms such as ‘fronted adverbial’ and ‘modal verbs’. The requirement for schools to teach expanded curriculums for the core subjects, which would be tested by Key Stage 2 SAT’s, narrowed the curriculum leaving less time for creative subjects such as art, DT, music and drama.
There is no evidence that the changes to the curriculum were in line with learning theory or age appropriate as more complex learning was required of children at a younger age.
In fact, although pupils take national tests including the term “fronted adverbial” at the end of primary school, since 2014 England’s national curriculum has expected children to be able to understand it from year 4, when they are eight or nine. Meanwhile, “subordinate clauses” should be known and labelled correctly from the age of seven, “determiners” from age eight, and “modal verbs” and “relative clauses” from age nine.
Many teachers were not trained to teach a curriculum which ‘turned the clock back half a century’ (David Crystal, English Language Academic) and there was little time for schools to prepare for the Spag test to measure progress as it was not introduced at the same time. Since the introduction of the controversial curriculum, all four of Gove’s education advisors have cast doubt on the veracity of the process.
Now Richard Hudson, the academic who says he bears most responsibility for introducing the fronted adverbial, has said the process through which the national curriculum was changed under Michael Gove, the former education secretary, was “chaotic”. He admits it was not based on good research evidence and says he feels many teachers are not equipped to teach it.
Hudson’s comments mean that all four of an expert panel that advised the government on placing greater emphasis on traditional grammar in its primary curriculum now have serious reservations about either the tests, or the curriculum development process.
The advisors themselves had little experience of primary education and thought they were laying the foundation for more rigour at secondary level.
there was “chaos” in the process of developing what is a controversial curriculum. “To give you an idea of how chaotic things were, when [the curriculum panel] was originally put together, we had about four meetings and were supposed to be devising a grammar curriculum to cover the whole of compulsory education: primary and secondary.
“We started off with the primary curriculum, which we were a bit unconfident about as none of us had much experience of primary education [Myhill had in fact done some research into grammar in primary schools], and were looking forward to getting stuck into the real thing: secondary.
“Then the DfE pulled the plug by saying: ‘We are not going to do any secondary curriculum.’ So what was published [the primary curriculum] was meant to be about building the foundations for the real thing. But that’s all there is.”
He is deeply troubled by this. “That’s terribly worrying, because it means that all the work children do in primary is wasted, as they probably won’t take it on in secondary.” The Department for Education did publish a secondary English curriculum, but it is much slimmer, and the panel was not involved.
Measurement by SAT’s (Test Factory)
Each year the government set the standard schools must achieve in order to be above ‘floor standard’. This is an arbitrary measure which is used to determine whether schools are ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’. If schools fail to achieve the set targets for the proportion of children stated they face intervention by Ofsted who could order they convert to Academy status or remove the management level of the school putting control into the hands of an organisation chosen by the government and not by the parents and teachers.
The NUT take issue with the lack of control given to schools to meet their own targets and the expectation that the majority of children can achieve at average or above. (This would be statistically skewed data as when large samples are measured equal numbers will fall either side of the average figure in a normalised ‘bell curve’).
There is a complete lack of transparency or legitimacy around floor standards and how increases in them are determined. For example, the previous floor standard, which required all primary schools to have 60 per cent of their pupils at level 4 or above in English and maths, plus the progress measures, was increased in 2014 to a minimum of 65 per cent of pupils achieving the expected level. 1 They continue to appear arbitrary figures, plucked out of the air with no justification.
Floor standards assume that almost all children will be able to achieve the ‘average’. For some children, achieving below the floor target in core subjects is still a tremendous achievement, although this has sometimes been gained at the expense of their access to a broad curriculum.
Dyslexic children have slower processing speed and weaker working memories. Consequently, it takes them longer to fully process and store new information. Under pressure to move sufficient children above the floor standard, many schools took children who were struggling to achieve the set standard out of non-core subjects such as music, art, drama etc and placed them into revision groups for additional drill in grammar, spelling, reading comprehension and maths. This narrowed their curriculum and increased their stress levels as they continually faced rote learning tasks without the ‘down – time’ of less pressurised subjects. Dyslexic children often shine in creative subjects and their self-esteem is dependent upon them finding success and enjoyment in these areas of the curriculum.
As a result of changes to the curriculum and SAT’s requirements in 2016, just 53% of children were deemed to have passed to the expected standard. schoolsweek.co.uk/key-stage-2-sats-results The changes to the curriculum and the SAT’s failed our children and our schools.
Nearly half the children were informed that they were not
‘secondary school ready’.
Stress and mental health:
The continual pressure to ‘do better’ and the requirement of schools to inform children at regular intervals if they were performing ‘below expected standard’ has led to a rise in mental health problems across both primary and secondary schools as children feel unable to cope with the high demands placed upon them.
Pupils at Britain’s schools are suffering from a rise in self-harm, anorexia, and other mental health issues because of a focus on “constant testing”, a study has found.
The research, released in a report called ‘Exam Factories?’, found that the pressure and stress of exams was making some pupils seriously ill.
76 per cent of primary teachers and 94 per cent of secondary teachers who responded to a survey conducted as part of a study agreed that pupils were driven towards stress-related conditions during exam periods.
“Parents confide that the children cry at the thought of coming to school and are often exhausted due to the stress of learning,” one anonymous primary school teacher who took part in a survey said.
“I have never known stress-related conditions … to be so prevalent in secondary education,” said another teacher, who worked in a secondary school.
An overwhelming majority of teachers (90 per cent) think that preparation for Sats has worsened children’s wellbeing, mental health and self-confidence, while 87 per cent are concerned that the tests have harmed children’s engagement and motivation, according to the teaching union poll.
Parents have become increasingly concerned as they see their children suffer day after day a stifling curriculum and test regime which destroys their enthusiasm for learning. In 2016 a group of Year 2 parents set up a campaign group called ‘Let the kids be kids’ and took their children out of school for a day as part of a ‘kids strike’.
Let Our Kids Be Kids was launched on 26th March 2016 by a small group of Year 2 parents who’ve had enough… enough of endless testing, enough of teachers not being trusted to teach, enough of an Ofsted driven, dull, dry curriculum aimed solely at passing National Curriculum Tests (SATs). We aren’t the only ones. We found lots of other people were also very concerned. We want our kids to be kids again and enjoy learning for learning’s sake not for Ofsted results or league table figures. Bring back the creativity and the fun – say goodbye to repetition and boredom!
Academics and teachers are also concerned about the effect of the curriculum and heavy testing regime. A group called More than a Score have set about changing the policies which have narrowed the curriculum, taken power away from schools to meet their own needs, disadvantage special needs children and imposed inappropriate assessment processes. A head teacher speaks out.
Many teachers have left the profession – with four in ten teachers leaving within a year of qualifying, leading to a shortage of teachers across the UK.
The exodus of new recruits has almost tripled in six years, resulting in a crisis in teacher supply in a profession that has become “incompatible with normal life”, according to Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
Denouncing the government’s record on schools, she said the education system was “being run on a wing and a prayer”, with teachers exhausted, stressed and burnt out in a profession that was being “monitored to within an inch of its life”.
Teachers have been micro-managed by central government to achieve impossible standards which are measured by Ofsted inspections. One teacher revealed in TES how she is required to ‘cheat’ in order to maintain the ‘expected standard’. The whole article is well worth a read. i-cheat-education-system-and-i-hate-myself-it
…our students don’t think. We do it for them.
We’re so ready for Ofsted I almost pity them for the ruse we are pulling off here. Do I congratulate myself on my guile? Does this mean I can finally start believing I’m a great teacher now? No, I just feel a bit dirty and ashamed of myself.
I am essentially propping up this ridiculous system by slyly making myself look good to preserve my career in a job I still (most of the time) love, instead of focusing on what really matters. The kids, my colleagues, the spirit, creativity and freedom of a good education for all, free from pressure, progress grades, skewed accountability measures and, of course, cheats like me.
Academy schools are also required to pass SAT’s and other exams at the same standard but they are not regulated by the local authority. Evidence has emerged that academies have been ‘cheating’ to maintain their league table results and that the regulatory authorities have been slow to hold them to account. This brings into question whether the public and employers can have confidence in the grades achieved.
Why, 15 months after pupils and teachers submitted allegations of widespread cheating at a Dulwich academy school, have exam boards failed to conclude their inquiries?
Failure to provide a broad curriculum:
Schools and further education centres have had restrictions placed (via funding) on the provision of subjects within the arts field in preference of core subjects such as maths, english, languages, science, history and geography. The irony is that the UK is a world leader in the arts which contribute significant funds to our economy.
Cultural organisations and practitioners contributed £27bn to the UK economy in 2015, a 15 per cent increase on the previous year. This represents the fastest growth of any of the sectors covered by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport.
Dyslexic children thrive in artistic and problem-solving situations. The present assessment system discriminates against these children by measuring them against the clock in fragmented tests which mean they often run out of time before they can demonstrate what they know. By increasing the percentage grade for spelling and grammar to 20% at GCE level which prevents many dyslexics from achieving a C grade, essential to further study. And changes to the SAT’s bringing the spelling, always a dyslexia weakness, up to 29% of the mark in SPAG tests. (2016)
As the world changes rapidly, requiring the next generation to be flexible and diverse, we are treating children like factory fodder with a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. Fascinating article on this subject by George Monbiot of the Guardian which has relevance to the proposed renaissance of grammar schools.
In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines? Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?
The vocational training hokey-cokey:
In 2013/14 Michael Gove cut the value of 3,100 vocational courses deciding that only ’70 equivalents’ would qualify for league table scores. These courses were set up by schools to cater for those pupils who wanted to take up a vocational rather than academic route to qualification. They were often supported by established links with local industry. In one swift move, they were gone and this was a major blow to the issue of ‘parity of esteem’ between technical and academic qualifications.
In the 2017 budget, Philip Hammond introduced new T-levels stating that ‘the UK is near the bottom of the international league table for technical education.’ This move was intended to address the ‘productivity gap’ which has failed to improve since 2010 and without a hint of irony refers to a ‘lingering doubt’ regarding parity of esteem.
“There is still a lingering doubt about the parity of esteem attaching to technical education,” he said. While the academic route through education, from GCSEs to A-levels and on, is well-regarded, more needs to be done for technical education, says the budget document.
The budget moves in education come as part of an attempt by the Treasury to increase productivity. In 2015, the UK average output per hour was 35% less than Germany and 30% less than the US. “Weaknesses in the UK’s skills base have contributed to its longstanding productivity gap with France and Germany,” said the budget document.
Before Gove’s cuts (2013/14) established courses, with recognised curriculums and links to industry were thriving in post 16 education. Now, 3 years after the cull, T-levels are introduced to plug the skills gap exacerbated by Gove’s action. In the meantime funding and space allocation to further education colleges, who could provide the skills-based courses has been slashed.
[Feb 2014]on Tuesday, the government actually did cut 20 per cent from an education budget. The Adult Skills Budget funds, essentially, all non-academic education for those 19 or over: everything from apprenticeships to college courses to skills training for the unemployed. This week, it emerged that it’s being hacked back by £460m between now and 2015-16.
First they break it, then they mend it,
in an unending cycle.
And in case you missed it, a White Paper released in 2016 gives permission for universities to set tuition fees beyond the £9,000 maximum rate. Independent.co.uk/student-tuition-fees-set-to-rise-as-government-unveils-university-teaching-reforms
Dominic Raab has been the MP for Esher and Walton since 2010. Here is some of his voting record on education and skills training: Dominic voted with the majority not to allow families to continue to receive child benefit to support them through low-paid apprenticeship training. And voted not to review SATs tests.