Where we’re getting curriculum wrong Part 2: Powerful knowledge

2020-04-04T17:00:00+01:00December 12th, 2019|curriculum|

In part 1 of this blog series I discussed the importance of cultural capital, where we might be getting it wrong, what it consists of, and how to resolve the problem of 'dead white men'. Where we're getting 'powerful knowledge' wrong While we can make a case that all knowledge is precious, not all knowledge is equally precious. In Bringing Knowledge Back In, education professor Michael Young advanced the idea of ‘powerful knowledge’. In Young's view, knowledge is powerful if it fulfils a number of characteristics. It should: provide reliable explanations and a sound basis for making judgements and generalisations about [...]

Where we’re getting curriculum wrong Part 1: Cultural capital

2020-02-25T09:29:41+00:00December 11th, 2019|curriculum|

Where we're getting 'cultural capital' wrong The concept of 'cultural capital' is increasingly on the agenda in the schools I visit. No doubt this is in large part down to Ofsted. The latest inspection framework makes specific mention of the term in its guidance on what a school curriculum ought to contain. School leaders are told they will be judged on the extent to which they "construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all learners ... the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life". Sadly, the term remains undefined and nowhere is it made clear [...]

How do we know pupils are making progress? Part 2: The curriculum

2019-03-27T13:01:32+00:00March 24th, 2019|curriculum|

In my last post, I set out the problems with making predictions about students' progress by drawing a 'flight path' between KS2 and KS4. Instead, I will argue, we should address three interlinked aspects; curriculum, assessment and instruction. In order to make a meaningful statement about where students are right now and what they need to do next, we need to be very clear about where we are hoping they'll end up. This post will focus on issues of curriculum. One of the first things to acknowledge when planning a curriculum is the tension between breadth and focus. Of course students [...]

How do we know pupils are making progress? Part 1: The madness of flight paths

2019-04-07T20:14:38+01:00March 23rd, 2019|assessment, curriculum|

Schools are desperate to find ways to predict students' progress from year to year and between key stages. Seemingly, the most common approach to solving this problem is to produce some sort of 'flight path'. The internet is full of such misguided attempts to do the impossible. Predicting a students' progress is a mug's game. It can't be done. At the level of nationally representative population sample we can estimate the likelihood of someone who is measured at performing at one level attaining another level, but this is meaningless at the level of individuals. It should therefore be obvious that using [...]

Do children succeed despite or because of what we do?

2019-11-17T22:10:18+00:00December 3rd, 2018|curriculum|

One of the most beguiling assumptions in teaching is that children succeed in school because of what schools and teachers do. We feel this to be true because we're acutely aware of all the things we've done; all the hours of teaching, marking, planning, pastoral support and everything else we do. We know these things are what make the difference to young people's lives. But how do we know? It would be obviously unethical to test this assumption using a randomised control trial with some children assigned to a control group in which they experience none of things schools do, but [...]

Breadth trumps depth

2018-12-02T20:53:30+00:00December 2nd, 2018|curriculum|

According to Teacher Tapp, 56% of teachers reckon their schools start GCSE courses at some point during Year 9. Part of the justification for this approach is that Key Stage 3 has sometimes had a reputation for being a bit of an intellectual wasteland. In 2015, Ofsted publish a report entitled Key Stage 3: The wasted years? which argued that "in too many schools the quality of teaching and the rate of pupils’ progress and achievement were not good enough." Clearly, doing something purposeful is an improvement over three years of colouring in, poster making and young adult class readers. The other [...]

Teaching knowledge is teaching skill

2019-01-29T08:58:55+00:00June 17th, 2018|curriculum|

We can call everything stored in our long-term memories knowledge. All knowledge is biological - stored in the organic substance of our brains - and everything stored biologically is knowledge. If you call some of the stuff that occupies our minds anything other than knowledge then you have to explain how it would be stored. This is hard to do without getting into debates about 'ether' or some other insubstantial stuff. Occam's razor assures us that pursuing such a line of reasoning is both unnecessary and likely to be counter-productive. But then, what of the common sense observation that knowledge and [...]

Teaching to make children cleverer – Part 3

2018-01-10T15:11:02+00:00January 10th, 2018|curriculum|

As discussed in Part 1 of this series of posts, it seems probable that the best way to use education to increase children's cognitive capacities is to increase the quantity and the quality of what they know. In Part 2 I discussed ways we might increase the quantity of what of what children know about the world, and in this post I want to explore how we might go about selecting what to teach with an eye for quality. Any attempt to discuss improving the quality of children's knowledge will be, inevitably, subjective and partial, but every effort ought to be made to reduce [...]

Why I don’t think emojis should be studied in school

2017-07-20T16:49:31+01:00July 20th, 2017|curriculum|

I have nothing against emojis, just as I have nothing against kittens, turpentine or billiards. I'm more than happy for anyone who's minded to stroke kittens, drink turps and swan around with a billiards cue. Equally, I have no problem whatsoever with people peppering their texts or tweets with smiley faces or grinning turds; each to her own. But, despite my laissez-faire approach to emoji in general life, I'm afraid this easy going, live-and-let-live facade melts away when teachers argue that emoji - or any other essentially transient pop culture phenomena - ought to be used or studied in the classroom. [...]

What is a broad and balanced curriculum?

2018-02-26T09:18:51+00:00July 8th, 2017|curriculum|

Historically, the curriculum schools have taught hasn't really mattered that much. Then, when the National Curriculum was introduced in the late 1980s, committees of experts had made all the decisions for us. As more and more schools have academised and won free of the strictures of  the National Curriculum, you might have expected a flowering of thought about how best to structure and select what children should be taught, but far more effort has been expended on the how of education. This may, in part, be due to Ofsted's long preoccupation with judging the quality of teaching and learning provided by [...]

Why what you teach matters

2016-11-05T15:11:11+00:00November 4th, 2016|curriculum, learning|

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that within the next two years Ofsted will stop grading the quality of teaching, learning and assessment as part of their overall judgement on schools' effectiveness. This will probably be replaced with a judgement on a school's curriculum and assessment policies and practices. If I'm right, how a teacher teaches will become less and less important, instead, schools will be increasingly held to account for what they teach. Even if I'm wrong, I think it's still very important to think carefully about what we teach. Judgements on how teachers teach are primarily  concerned with whether children [...]

Go to Top