An impossible curriculum: time to speak truth to power

When Michael Gove’s new curriculum for KS1 and 2 appeared, 100 education academics co-signed an open letter which exposed it as impossibly demanding. It was clear that its requirements were completely out of step with the age of the child, and indeed more demanding of young children than the most successful education systems on the planet, in terms of PISA rankings. (See the detailed notes published on this site.)

The 100 academics’ judgement was that the new curriculum expected ‘too much too young’ and, rather than raising standards as claimed, it would erode standards by encouraging rote learning and thus undermine the cognitive development needed for high achievement in later years.

The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.

Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.

The minister took no notice, and unfortunately most primary schools did their best to implement the impossible, hoping perhaps that the SATs would not be quite as tough. Now it is clear that they are, as emerging details about KS2 SATs reveal.

anxious pupil

The TES has published an open letter to Nicky Morgan which demonstrates the absurdity of the tests, and the damage they will cause. It is written by a highly successful teacher in a primary school labelled Outstanding. Morgan is clearly out of her depth, and her attempts to bluff her way are unconvincing. We publish extracts from the letter here, but recommend all primary teachers to read the complete version and consider how to add their collective voice.

Extracts from Emily Gazzard’s letter

The new grammar curriculum is forcing teachers to develop a didactic style, teaching by rote terminology such as “subordinating conjunctions”, “subjunctive form”, “passive”, “modal” and “cohesion” to name but a few…

I agree absolutely that grasping these basics is crucial for accessing the secondary curriculum, but would strongly disagree that these “involve” identifying subjunctive verbs or analysing conjunctions to a level not even seen at GCSE level….

The standard expected for the end of Year 6 is now close to an old level 5a (despite the predictions that it would be close to a 4b or 4a). This shows a jump in expected attainment of two years (i.e. from a 4b to a 5a)…

A child in our school who achieved a level 6 in grammar, punctuation and spelling last year (with virtually full marks) sat the current sample test and only achieved 22/50 which would indicate that she would probably not currently meet expected standards.”…

The end of KS2 statutory assessment criteria (which is to be used by teachers and moderators) is now a checklist… This means that teachers will have to ensure that children have evidence of 29 difference techniques / skills in virtually all their writing. As an example, a child who produces a wonderful range of writing (stories, poems, arguments) but fails to use enough modal verbs, will be deemed as not meeting the standard…

Children are expected to spell most of the Year 3/4 word list and Year 5/6 word lists correctly in all independent writing to achieve the  KS2 standard. These word lists are not just functional, generic words (eg “doesn’t” or “their”) but specific words (eg, “accommodate”, “privilege”, “Parliament” and “mischievous”… For many years, I have encouraged children to develop their vocabulary in their writing, urging them to be creative and ambitious with their word choices. Not this ambition must be curbed as teachers will be encouraging their pupils to use only words they can spell correctly.

This new expectation for spelling also means that no child with dyslexia or spelling processing problems will ever be able to start secondary school with an expected level of attainment…

My final concern is that these issues will have a detrimental effect on the mental health of our children…

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