As an Osiris presenter, I have had a lot of fun over the last academic year with my best-selling course, ‘The Future of KS1 and KS2 Testing’. In a fast-changing world I have had to alter the presentation every term and, in the summer term, every time. We have a term and a half to go with yet another version of the original. However, Osiris also asked me to develop a short-window course for the autumn term only called Year 6 Certainty. It’s aimed at all those Year 6 teachers who are worrying about the upcoming year now that they could be playing catch-up with the programmes of study, chasing progress and yet having no levels by which to judge it.
This blog is the first of a short series aimed at exactly that cohort.
Year 6 teachers tell me, I am new this year in year 6 and really worried about the SATS, I don’t know what I should be doing to ensure that the children are properly prepared. The short answer is that the worst thing to do is worry – nothing breeds anxiety like uncertainty. So, let’s look at some of the things that have changed. Over the course of a few blogs we’ll:
- Explore the background to the new curriculum so that you understand why we are at this point.
- Explain the new thinking and the move away from progress at any price.
- Examine expectations and implications for teaching and learning in the new Yr 6 curriculum.
- Extend ways to develop conceptual understanding and make problem solving an integral part of the curriculum and assessment.
- Explore the new KS2 SATS so that you know what to expect.
The background to the changes
There are, arguably four themes here; a global dimension, an historical one, a political one and an educational one.
You cannot be unaware of the constant reference to international comparisons, to PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS. The first of these, the five yearly Programme for International Student Achievement showed that, in 2014, the UK had shifted little from its 2009 position with slight improvements in reading and maths but a drop-off in science. Similarly, the four-yearly Trends in International Maths and Science Study revealed that, in 2011, England was in the world’s top ten for maths but had slipped to 15th in Science. We can probably explain the science fall by the end of a science focus and testing in KS2. Worryingly, the five yearly Progress in International Reading Literacy study indicated that, in 2011 the reading performance of English children had plummeted from 3rd to 19th in the world (usually 40 nations). So much for the Primary Literacy Strategy! These international comparisons play a major part in driving government policy.
The history of the national curriculum dates from the 1988 Education Act, with the last revision in 2000. It was time for a change, come what may. At the end of the 2011 review process, Tim Oates, Chair of the Expert Panel, declared, ‘I hope that what we have done … is to return to the kind of trajectory of refinement that was present in the (earlier versions) of the National Curriculum. There has been a change of emphasis since 2000, from ‘pupils should be able to…’ to ‘pupils should be taught to…’
The political forces behind the recent changes come from right-wing thinking, often based on (not a right wing book), “The Knowledge Deficit” by E D Hirsch Junior. There was a strong sense that we needed to be much more explicit about the content of the curriculum. This, together with the change from ‘able to’ to ‘taught to’ is a fundamental difference and a reminder that teachers, So, the first thing you can do is to check your subject knowledge against the demands of the English, Maths and Science programmes of study and, where you find there are gaps, do something to fill them. You can’t get away with winging it. Not any more.
The main change in educational thinking is the idea of ‘consolidation before progression. This is a major shift in thinking. Year 6 teachers need to become much better at understanding how children learn. There is a new focus on the cognitive domain as well as the content one.
In the next blog we will look in more detail about the new idea of progress.