What an interesting year I have had working with the implementation of the 2014 English curriculum! Not only have we battled with raised expectations and new objectives but also a completely new approach to assessment.
Standards look different; children may work below or at the expected standard or at greater depth.
However, I always felt that this was a great opportunity to use English and literature to drive the curriculum and to make a real difference to standards in writing.
Reflecting on the English Curriculum
Reflecting on the past year, we have, indeed, begun to see improvements.
Many schools have completely reviewed how they are approaching teaching the English curriculum. I have been fortunate enough to work with schools, as they develop their own English curriculum.
The bravest of them have introduced a flexible timetable and made it clear that every lesson is an English lesson!
In these schools, children have real reasons for writing and to follow a bespoke teaching sequence, not only to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge but also to apply what they have already learned.
Topics from other curriculum areas are linked to wonderful, high-quality books which can be thoroughly explored.
What Else Made a Difference?
Planning longer sequences which allow children to know a book inside and out, to look at how writers use language and words to impact on the reader and use them as models for their own writing.
Time also to develop their own ideas for writing.
One of the hardest aspects of writing is having enough well thought out ideas to write about. Only then can children concentrate on how to write those ideas down.
Teaching grammar explicitly and in context is a key element.
This curriculum is about effective not formulaic writing.
Children are beginning to understand that they need to make choices about the sentences and words in their writing.
Simply applying a “list” of grammatical features will not make great writing.
Sharpening learning objectives has had considerable impact. For example – ‘I can carefully select adjectives‘ rather than ‘I can use adjectives‘.
Time to explore words, develop phrases, play with sentences and paragraphs has meant that children always consider impact on the reader when they write.
Finding adjectives to describe a tiger went from first thoughts of orange, scary, stripy to majestic, fiery, ravenous. In the past, we have been too quick to accept first responses and too slow to say when a word choice is not effective.
Less emphasis on covering so many text types in each year group without a doubt. Identifying fewer text types to be taught, but teaching them in greater depth has meant that children are secure in the types taught and can write them in any context with confidence.
Instructions, for example, can be taught and secured in Y2. There will be many purposeful opportunities to write instructions across the curriculum all through KS2.
Re-thinking differentiation and using scaffolding to support all children to work with the same objective rather than simplifying it.
Using proofreading to check for accuracy – spelling, punctuation and correct grammar. This curriculum is all about effective and accurate writing.
What Came Next?
Working hand in hand with schools, we could see improvements in writing, but assessment remained an issue.
Teacher understanding grew that children needed to secure the year group learning by the end of the year and that progress would look very different from that of previous years.
We still had no clear idea about what writing would look like when a child had met the expected standard or was working at greater depth. I began to gather writing samples.
Trying to unpick the process, we came up with a possible learning sequence.
Children would need to first of all be able to name and identify the skill or feature in their reading.
They would then use it many times when directed by the teacher in learning objectives or success criteria.
Over time – how much time varied from child to child – they would recall the skill or feature and use it appropriately without prompting in their writing. At that point, when children were doing this consistently, they had secured the learning.
For children working at greater depth, we would see them applying the skill confidently, accurately and effectively in a range of writing.
We worked on regularly moderating writing and judging whether a child was “on-track” to meet the expected standard. This was an absolutely crucial part of the process as schools were often using different tracking systems. Focusing on the required learning to secure the expected standard supported the moderation.
By the end of the academic year, I had talked to many teachers, English leads, senior leaders and children about writing. I had also collected writing samples from identified children across the year from schools in different parts of the country.
The close analysis of the writing proved fascinating.
Looking back at samples across the year, progress was clear. I could see where children had been taught a skill and practised it many times until it was evident that they were recalling it and using it effectively and reaching the expected standard.
Progress towards the standard looked different for different children, with some not reaching it until the very end of the year.
The quality and consistency of the writing was some of the best I have seen. Year 1, in particular, was a revelation. They focused on writing a sequence of sentences which made sense, had capital letters and the correct end mark, based on either retelling a story they knew very well or recounting an experience or activity that had paid off.
The concept of a sentence was secure. No more battling in Y5 and 6 with children who still cannot write in sentences!
Working at Greater Depth
That left me with looking for children whose writing demonstrated that they were working at greater depth.
It was interesting that from Year 1, these writers had a clear voice with evident purpose and audience.
Their writing showed control and restraint both of word choices and structures. They often drew on models from reading, as did all children, but manipulated them for their own purposes.
There were some children who were working at greater depth in all aspects of writing and others who showed elements.
For example, increased stamina in the quality and quantity of texts written or demonstrating understanding of different sentence types and word choices needed for different purposes and audiences.
The resulting analysed samples gave me a good picture of not only progress during the year but also across the whole primary phrase.
They also provided me with an example of what expected and deeper learning end of year expectations could look like in writing.
These have already provoked some lively and deep discussions with colleagues!
Continue the Conversation
If you still have questions about mastery and greater depth in the English curriculum or want to talk about different options, join me on twitter @FocusRosf or for related resources and publications, get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818. All the Focus Mastery and English courses can be found here.
Ros has over 30 years’ experience working in teaching and leadership roles in schools, both nationally and internationally, as well as leadership roles within Local Authority advisory teams.
With extensive experience in all aspects of school improvement and contexts, as well as specialisms in English and EAL, Ros has developed inspirational, creative resources and training which puts English at the heart of the curriculum.