Brian Rossiter, headteacher of Valley School, Worksop, North Nottinghamshire, offers his take on the KS3 curriculum review
‘Flexibility and opportunity are at the heart of QCA’s secondary curriculum review – flexibility in teaching subjects, and opportunities for young people to gain the knowledge and skills to succeed in learning and life.’ (www.qca.org.uk/secondary curriculumreview)
All that I have read and heard about the KS3 review leads me to believe that the core of the proposals published are focused around a) learning, how to learn and to continue learning and b) the breaking down of the existing subject ‘silo’ mentality. It would appear that the move is away from content, content, content to concept, application and understanding. Some would say this comes at the expense of the bulk of the National Curriculum we have relied on and complained about since its introduction in 1988. But the new programmes have put a renewed focus on the fundamentals of subjects, leaving space for activities that allow teachers to express their love of the topic being taught.
By breaking down learning into a more skills-based approach, the links between subjects become more obvious to the student. The blurring of the curriculum liberates children to think more creatively, bringing lessons learned and concepts gleaned in other areas of the school to their learning. We can all recall conversations between colleagues about a lack of skills transfer from maths to science or English to PE. Perhaps these will be a thing of the past in 10 years’ time. We know that we can already tailor the curriculum to meet need. The proposed more flexible programmes of study go further. They will allow us to develop a curriculum and form of delivery that meets our student needs rather than the needs of the overcrowded and centrally imposed structure of the original National Curriculum.
The QCA in its proposals talks about ‘Aspects of learning that are built into many subjects.’ In my opinion ‘aspects’ are not only those such as enterprise and diversity that they cite as examples, but also the development of resources to support learning and learners’ preferred learning styles.
The greatest challenges ahead are a change in the mindset of our own profession. For 20 years we have responded to the demands of the National Curriculum. For many it has been seen as a straitjacket and been approached as such. For some it has been a crutch. Ken Boston, chief executive of QCA wants to ‘make learning an active rather than passive event, encouraging field trips and study outside classrooms.’ It is up to us to shrug off the straitjacket and words like ‘difficult’ or ‘problematic’ and find ways of making this happen.
There is much information still to be worked through should these proposals be finalised. I have still to come to terms with the detail of the associated assessment regime and the issue of league tables and CVA. The timing is challenging as the specialised diplomas and modifications to GCSEs and GCEs all coincide with the development of the new KS3. As always the profession will make it all happen.
For the first time in many people’s careers, teachers have the opportunity to be innovative in the way that we plan the content and delivery of this teacher-controlled curriculum. This will be a new opportunity to many but my colleagues are ‘can-do’ people. This will be a ‘can-do’ KS3 curriculum evolving from the extensive good practice that exists across the school communities.
This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – June 2007