This blog has been written by Focus Education’s Associate Consultant, Tim Nelson.
In my last blog, I mentioned the inspection focus on concepts as well as knowledge. This was especially relevant in a recent remote inspection where the HMI was asking the school about their history national curriculum.
Now, like any of these ‘We had Ofsted and they wanted to know x, y and z’ stories this needs to be taken in context. Not every inspection is the same and the inspectors in this instance will have had their own hypotheses and inspection trails specific to the school.
However, in general terms it did raise an issue that is worth considering, not just because of inspection and what they might or might not ask, but because it is important in terms of providing the best teaching and learning for the children.
The change in the National Curriculum
When the national curriculum was published in 2014 (seven years ago now! I know…where did that time go?) like everyone else at the time I went through the draft and final programmes of study, basically looking for what was different from the preceding curriculum. I was looking for what was the same and would have to change. As a result, I skimmed the bit about aims and went straight to the content. Maybe this was just me, but if we take history as an example, the front page was stuff about being a historian blah, blah, blah, and I quickly turned over to the periods in history to check if schools could keep the Ancient Egyptians or not. Yes! Brilliant! And the Romans were still there. That was great because I know schools that had that guy who came in each year as a Centurion and brought a set of shields for the kids. Shame about The Tudors though…
Maybe that was just me? With hindsight, I should have paid as much, if not more, attention to the front page of the programme of study and the Purpose of the Study and Aims of each subject. And here lies the challenge for primary school teachers in terms of subject knowledge. Here is a quick assessment for you, again using the history programme of study as an example.
What do these historical concepts mean and when do you teach them in your curriculum?
- Continuity and change
- Cause and consequence
- Similarity, difference and significance
And, as a result, when do the children:
- Make connections
- Draw contrasts
- Analyse trends
- Frame historically-valid questions?
In many schools, these key subject concepts have been clearly identified and are taught with precision, based on the acute subject knowledge of the teachers. But there is still considerable work to be done in ensuring this is consistent and developed in all subjects and all settings.
Perhaps it is worth subject leaders reflecting on this once the dust has settled from the current crisis?
One suggestion I have been making to primary subject leaders during consultancy work and on courses is that they go back to the front page of their respective programme of study and check it carefully. Is it being taught effectively across their setting and where is the evidence? Are colleagues sufficiently knowledgeable, or is there a need for some support for non-subject specialists?
And not just because an inspector might ask, ‘So what does cause and consequence look like through the school’s sequencing of the history curriculum?’
But because the children deserve to be the best historians they can be, not just remember the Roman tortoise they made on the playground.