The old story goes of the man who asks the way to Liverpool and the bystander says, ‘if you want to get to Liverpool mate I wouldn’t start here.’It’s how I feel about curriculum design or lack of it, with the changes to A Levels. BTecs and GCSEs. At the last major revision of A Level in 2000 at least stuff hanged for everyone at the same time, but this time we have the proverbial ‘pig’s ear’. Some ALevels have changed and their AS count for less and need doing at the end of two years even if done after one. But hey shiny new Year 12 students it’s not all your subjects. So schools and colleges grapple with – shall we just do three now, shall we forget the AS for all, for some etc. Meanwhile some subjects have changed at GCSE, well two to be precise Maths and English who will see new grading of 9 to 1.Yes but reporting for the present y10 comes soon – we need to explain that carefully to pupils and to parents, oh and we aren’t really sure what really will happen to the grades. ( Check out the Ofqual postcards -they help)
INSET and training back in 1999 allowed all staff to look at their subjects, advise SLT, think about the best way ahead for the students and discuss together the best way to make decisions. So as I stare at this pig’s ear not of my making I am looking to create a silk purse from this. The big structural stuff is out of our hands but there are still important decisions to make about which courses for the best
1. Don’t pick for grades. We don’t know about the grades but we do know ofqual take charge. Boards subjects apparently achieving higher numbers of A and A* isn’t “easier” it’s about the profile of those taking the subject with that board. At A Level the highest number of A* and A are from Maths – it doesn’t mean Maths is easy or your heads of sixth form recommend everyone does Maths as it’s the best way to get an A.
2 Look at content. Carefully examine the content, does it suit your pupils, does it suit your teachers. How does it compare to past content. My guess in most subjects is that its much the same – Science subjects especially but there are twists – do you like them. In Chemistry if we have a chunk of nanotechnology do we welcome that or not? In some subjects this may not be the case so do you welcome the content or gasp in horror. Think about delivering content by all your teachers and across all the abilities.
3 Look at assessment. It’s not the standard of specimen papers etc it’s the style, the type of questions. The assessment model should test the content but look carefully and think about your pupils. All the pupils the brightest and the weakest who will be studying. In the end, assessment models deliver the fruits, or not.
4 Look forward and backwards. How does this course prepare your pupils for what they do next. if this is KS4 how does it prepare well for Btec or A Level and then beyond into the worlds of work and further study. Look back at your KS3 courses. Of course these may yet need a tweak but if you love the content and outcomes of your KS3 then how well does this dovetail. This is a bit more pig’s ear than silk purse at the moment as you are changing GCSE but not KS3 -however the decisions you make at KS4 will stay for several years and no one likes a change of spec-worth a careful think. To some extent the definitions of KS3 4 and 5 are artificial – think like that to help you decide. AND don’t forget the added complexities of post 16 funding as some BTec are weighted in different ways. [Paul Hanks @The_Data_Adonis is worth following at the least and worth contacting for advice on funding issues post 16 too.]
5 Resources. It would be naive to ignore your bank of resources or the resources on offer from the Boards. I guess this means a default starter being the spec you study now. However your job is to teach, help the pupils learn and a massive desire to inspire. Do those results or your creative juices excite you – do they make you want to teach this tomorrow?
6 People You probably aren’t making this decision on your own , you have to bring other staff in your dept along with you. So check the dept view, check the other networks you are in; maybe professional groups like the ASE or local networks or teaching alliances. Also think about using twitter; you can create a list and add those other ‘history teachers’ to it and get chatting. Perhaps you attend teachmeets and ask trusted people what they are choosing and why. Remember it’s your call so don’t decide because someone with 2400 followers says so, just pick a few brains and move from the foggy grey to a black and white conclusion.
Finally then jot down your reasons. Get ready to share with the dept with SLT, the Headteacher and possibly governors. You need two or three reasons why you chose them and two or three why rejecting the others. In fact not just for the dept for your conscience and for the pupils to be rocked and rolled.
In the end whatever “others” do to us as teachers, we must use the tools we have to do the very best for the children and young people we teach, and do you know what? We usually do.