July 2009

Tide~ is a teachers’ network responding to questions about Global Learning: how we enable the learning needs of young people in a global context.

We have been consulting widely with teachers, headteachers and local authority advisors about this, and about the interface of these debates [and practice] with current curriculum change.

This has included a series of conferences and consultation meetings in 2008 and 2009, responding the challenges and opportunities provided for Global Learning by the Primary Curriculum Review.  We have reported on these through the Tide~ website www.tidegloballearning.net

The following summarises the main thoughts and concerns from the network in response to the Final Report of the Primary Curriculum Review.

1. Building on professional creativity

A genuinely wide ranging debate has already been stimulated.  Teachers are already taking action around some of the ideas raised about a ‘21st Century Curriculum’ and ‘Thinking Primary’, and many are excited about the possibilities.  It seems to us that:

  • Permission is being given for new things to happen;
  • There is a drive to involve young people more in their own learning;
  • There is a need to support teachers in building their confidence and creativity.

We are positive about the opportunities presented by this debate, and feel that it is important that the language of curriculum change is therefore something which stimulates professional creativity about how our schools can address the needs of learners, and is in no way restrictive of that potential.

2. Curriculum structure and priorities

We welcome the fact that the curriculum proposals seem to embrace key ideas about Global Learning.  There are strong statements about global contexts, sustainable development and community cohesion: in the Curriculum Aims; the ‘Importance of …’ sections for the Areas of Learning; and in the Essentials for Learning and Life.

The real promise of the curriculum review is for a slimmed down curriculum which meets learners’ needs in a real-world context, specific to their schools and communities.   Having three clear and over-arching aims helps give a real sharpness and focus for teachers and schools in planning for this.

We recommend that:

  • The Curriculum Aims are more explicitly reflected in the Programmes of Learning;
  • There is greater clarity about what is statutory, and what is not;
  • The Curriculum Progression statements for each Area of Learning should not be statutory.

The different layers of curriculum design also need to be properly connected.

For example:

  • The curriculum is built around Areas of Learning, but the Level Descriptors are built around Secondary subject headings;
  • The Essentials for Learning and Life are not referred to in the Programmes of Learning or the Level Descriptors [this could be partly rectified by making them explicit within the Key Skills statements for each Area of Learning];
  • QCA guidance on The Global Dimension and Sustainable Development includes many primary examples, but the relationship of this documentation to the new primary curriculum is not clear;
  • The language of the Curriculum Progression statements seems to contradict an underlying emphasis on personalised learning [eg ‘children should be taught’ – suggests a teacher-led rather than a learner-centred approach, and a prioritisation of knowledge over skills].

We are not asking for a greater degree of prescription in how schools make these connections, but the structure has to be a manageable one.  As things stand, we risk having an inelegant and confusing structure, which at the level of classroom planning will prove needlessly confusing and complicated to make workable.

3. The core … against the rest?

We continue to have concerns about how the ‘standards’ agenda [including SATS] will limit and distort the potential of these curriculum proposals.   If this is not addressed, there will be a continuing temptation for many schools to ‘play safe.’

If anything, there will be a risk that greater flexibility about curriculum implementation will mean it becomes even more narrow in practice.  With this in mind, we have concerns about why Science has been dropped from the core.

Related to these concerns, we have questions about what Ofsted’s expectations will be.  What will they be looking for, and when?  What support will inspection teams have in thinking through the implications of the new curriculum?

4. Supporting teachers and schools in curriculum implementation

It will be important for schools and teachers not to feel isolated or unsupported in this period of change.  As a teachers’ network, we see this new curriculum as an opportunity for exploratory work in schools, trying out new approaches to teaching and learning in a changing world, in a mutually supportive and systematic way.

We would welcome opportunities for partnership with others in supporting teachers and schools to plan and prepare for curriculum change, to learn from each other, to develop resources and build professional confidence around working in new ways.

We believe that the global context and ‘big ideas that shape the world’ are likely to offer particularly relevant, meaningful and purposeful opportunities for learners in relation to the above.  

In offering this feedback, we state once more [as we did in our response to the Interim Report] that we are acting as teachers and educators who see the global context as an essential part of learning in a 21st Century context, and not in any way as a group wishing to impose extra burdens on the curriculum.