Over the past year, Ofsted has become increasingly vocal about the curriculum. It fears that content is being squeezed as children are drilled to prepare for exams earlier than necessary. This is a key reason for the inspectorate’s new framework in 2019, against which all schools in England will be judged.
“The government’s obsession with exam rigour is in danger of turning secondary education into a long grind towards GCSEs as schools have to squeeze new content-heavy courses into packed timetables and jump through accountability hoops,” warns Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of College and School Leaders. “We need to put GCSEs back in their place as the outcome of a broad and rich secondary education, and not the wheel on which everything turns.”
So what can teachers do to address those concerns? Understanding the whole child is the best way to improve academic performance and student wellbeing, according to experts. “The whole child really is the whole point,” says Kieran Scanlon, Principal of Sir Robert Woodard Academy, part of the Woodard Academies Trust.
“We benchmark our Year 7s on entry, so we understand their starting points and we can ensure they stay on course.” Assessment, in other words, should give schools the evidence they need to understand how students are progressing and provide insights into the whole child, without adding to teacher workload.
Other professionals echo the point and emphasise that a broad curriculum is essential if teachers want to inspire students and build confidence. “If all students are asked to do is focus on examinations, as well as increasing stress and exacerbating fear of failing, it negates the real purpose of learning,” says David Crossley, Executive Director of Whole Education.
What are the ‘costs’ to children of teaching a more restrictive curriculum? And what impact does an exam-driven curriculum have on teaching? To discover the answer to these and other questions download our report.