Learners tend to have a narrow view of the relevance of the curriculum and their enjoyment of it decreases across the key stages. These are two of the key findings of an NfER review of the research on pupils’ experiences of and perspectives on the curriculum published in the UK between 1989 and 2005.

Key findings:

  • Pupils enjoy subjects and activities where the curriculum involves learning that is active, participatory and has practical application.
  • Pupils’ enjoyment of the curriculum decreases across the key stages, with a particular dip in Year 8 – a year with ‘no focus’, ‘in limbo’, or the last one in which pupils feel they can ‘have fun’. However, in Key Stage 4 there is some improvement in pupils’ enjoyment, particularly of optional subjects.
  • Increasing relevance through real-life connections and vocational application is important to pupils. Learners appreciate lessons with professionals from within the field (for example, health professionals, visitors from the workplace etc).
  • The right level of challenge is important to pupils’ engagement, enjoyment, progression and achievement.
  • ‘Too much writing’ and ‘too many facts’ are common sentiments from pupils on the manageability of the curriculum.
  • Pupils consistently request that a breadth and range of subjects and courses be on offer. This encompasses both the desire for personal choice (including a degree of differentiated and personalised learning), and entitlement to such aspects as vocational learning for all, ‘basics’ for all, and careers guidance for all.
  • Variety is highlighted across the review – pupils appreciate a range of approaches to teaching and learning.

Implications for curriculum development, teaching and research are highlighted in the review. They include the following:

Assessment for Learning – given pupils’ confidence in clear measures and markers, curriculum developers and teachers might consider the need for a balance between ongoing assessment and summative grades to enable pupils to gauge their progress.

Enjoyment and achievement – enjoyable and ‘fun’ learning might be further addressed through more visible relevance to daily life and work, even greater emphasis on practical activity, and opportunities for responsibility, autonomy and personal choice.

Personalised learning – learners’ requests for breadth and range encompass both personal choice and entitlement. This may have implications for the type of personalised learning that is offered.

14-19 education and skills – further development might be informed by a consideration of what opportunities for personal choice and the range of courses on offer at 14-19 might mean for learners’ experience as a coherent whole, as well as for their progress throughout Key Stage 3 and 14-19.

Full details of this report can be downloaded from: www.nfer.ac.uk