Let's make the most of the choices we have

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04 February 2015 by ATL
The Whole Education Network champions and shares innovative practice in education and supports the development of a curriculum offer that is “real, relevant and engaging” that not only will meet the conventional system demands but also develops wider skills and attributes too.

We argue that the offer of an entitlement to a whole education is the only way to truly narrow the gap and genuinely meet the needs and aspirations of all the children and young people in our care.

Here I suggest three ways forward which I will explore at the debate.

  1. Offer a curriculum that really meets the needs of 21st century learners

Schools in both the primary and secondary sectors are focusing on school-wide approaches to curriculum innovation already, and are finding that a focus on improving breadth helps students achieve more in the conventional judgments too. It is not “either/or”. There are also other highly innovative international examples of individual schools or groups of schools who share this area. These include the Expeditionary Learning Schools, a US national network of over 160 public schools in 30 states that focus on pupil engagement and project-based learning. There is also wide support for these notions internationally from the OECD, nationally from the CBI and in the Character and Resilience Manifesto published by the English all party group on social mobility which concluded that, “the so called soft skills lead to hard results.”

  1. Developing an approach to assessment that meets future needs

Isn’t there a case for a more balanced approach to assessment in general? What exactly are we assessing in a three-hour handwritten terminal examination, and are these the things we really value? Why not include something really radical – teacher assessment.

Teachers see students’ work every day and can formally assess a far wider range of skills than is currently asked of them. When combined with an examination element, would we not get a better and more balanced assessment, and a more professional profession too?

We live in a digital age: high levels of competence in oracy, presentation, problem-solving, creativity, interpersonal engagement and teamwork are now expectations rather than desirables. Surely it is time to move forward from just assessing what students can write in a test?

  1. Making the most of the teachers we have and unleashing their creativity

Professors Andrew Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue the case for developing Professional Capital. In their words, “You cannot improve teaching by retreating to a four decades old version of it.” They argue that “building professional capital is an opportunity and a responsibility for all of us” – from the role of each teacher in supporting and working with the teacher next door, to the role of system leaders in transforming the entire system.Teachers are the key, building professional capacity and unleashing their creativity is central to the next steps in the development of our system.

Making the most of the choices we have

Demonstrating what works, being bold, and showing that radical approaches do not just develop wider skills but also deliver in conventional ways too, is surely the best way forward.

In England, we have one almost unique advantage – the bulk of the resource is in our hands in our schools. This gives schools choices and options, but only if they choose to use them. This isn’t really about new money. Rather, it is about abandoning things and redeploying the resources we already have. As Sir John Dunford, the Whole Education chair and former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, often remarks – this is the time for us to stop looking up and to start looking out.

All schools have more choices than they often think or feel. Some though are understandably fearful in a context of accountability pressures, floor targets and changes in examinations requirements. Indeed, part of the purpose of the Whole Education Network is to help us be bold and to give us the confidence to take the risk out of innovation. Whole Education offers schools a call to action, a safe space in which to experiment, and a range of contact with others who are on the same journey, maybe even trying the same things. There is a world of lessons out there for us to draw on as we seek to do the very best for all the young people in our care. 

David  Crossley is a member of the panel for ATL’s pre-election debate on curriculum, “In a fast-changing world, how should a curriculum and assessment system enable all learners to achieve?” which takes place in London on 11 February.

In this, the fourth in a series of free discussions about key education issues, our panel will question whether in the rush to push through its untested reforms the Government is at risk of creating havoc for students, teachers, schools and universities with confusion over grades.

There are limited number of places still available – to find out more, see the ATL website.

By David Crossley, Executive Director of Whole Education Network.

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