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Curriculum, Leadership

Please Don’t Just Give Teachers Curriculum Documents and Resources

The latest flavour of the month to reduce workload is giving teachers curriculum documents and resources, to save them time and energy.  Produce them centrally; share or sell them to the masses and workload will be significantly reduced.  Another magic bullet has been fired … and will miss the target.

I was at a meeting in Blackpool with the Secretary of State, Damian Hinds MP, when he was very first appointed.  He asked about workload reduction and why teachers don’t just follow centrally prescribed and produced schemes of learning, using any resources provided.  It’s a reasonable question – with a complex answer – that, ignored, has led to strategy where a few organisations will receive significant amounts of taxpayers’ money.  The money is far more likely to benefit the organisations receiving it than the schools receiving their curriculum outputs.  As ever the rich get richer and the educationally poor will be further disadvantaged.

A Trust that has spent £2 million pounds on curriculum development, resources and training recently had one of its schools inspected.  The media report states:

“Ofsted described the curriculum as “coherent, well planned and based on worthy intent”, inspectors said teachers … were “not well trained to deliver the curriculum. They frequently lack the expertise to ensure pupils make adequate progress.”  The new maths curriculum, for instance, was “not well understood by teachers”, Ofsted found. “This is evident when teachers read from a given script and pass over tasks they do not understand.  They do not take time to explain links between the calculations pupils complete, which hinders pupils’ understanding. Some teachers are yet to be convinced of the value of this curriculum.”

The Trust strongly refutes the findings in the Ofsted report and is challenging the inspection.

Graphic by Stan Dupp from Liminal Leadership

To understand why simply sharing curriculum and resources is a potentially poor idea, in fact damaging; you need to visit an educational and school hinterland.  The purpose of education, the building of a school’s educational capital and the means by which teachers becoming increasingly capable and competent all come into play.

Peter Hyman’s excellent blog, “Why we need to ask bigger, bolder and better questions about education” discusses four main philosophies “that provide the starting points for much of the current debate about the purpose of education: They appear in different guises in different settings:

  1. To develop the potential of the child
  2. To pass on “the best that has been thought and said” in the past
  3. To prepare young people for life and work
  4. To build communities and overcome social disadvantage.”

Much of the prevailing debate and direction, in England, is currently focused on satisfying the second purpose with the development of a knowledge rich curriculum.  The debate about curriculum is often a proxy for a much more deep rooted debate about why we educate.  A curriculum breathes life into a school’s or person’s belief about the purpose of education.  A purpose/curriculum mismatch for an individual or school is one reason why simply transferring a curriculum leads to little improvement.

The second issue is linked to capital; Hargreaves & Fullan (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School looked at the difference between Business Capital and Professional Capital.  The later recognises that teaching is intrinsically complex; developed through the interaction of human, social and decisional capital.

“Making decisions in complex situations is what professionalism is all about.  The pros do this all the time.  They come to have competence, judgment, insight, inspiration and the capacity for improvisation as they strive for exceptional performance.” 

Hargreaves & Fullan (2012), Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School p. 5

That is teaching and teachers for me.  The passage continues, “They do this when no one is looking, and they do it through and with their colleagues and teams” giving us further insights about how we can move forward.  It isn’t giving a someone a bit of training, a set of lesson plans, some resources and telling them to crack on with it;  a couple of years later they are burned out and move on.

However, teaching mustn’t be an isolated profession either with each individual producing everything they need.  There is a reason why teachers in certain schools, department and phases continue to improve, after their first few years in teaching, and others stagnate.  Collaborative planning with informed and experienced colleagues; subject or phase specific professional development alongside development of a teacher’s understanding of the general principles concerning curriculum development and pedagogy make a huge difference; it should become an entitlement for all not the privilege of a few.  The key is to develop the teachers as prat of developing the curriculum and associated resources.

Funding must be in place to provide the coaching and support needed to convert understanding into practice; experience matters more when the experiences teachers have are rich, deep and extended.  We will then develop a workforce of teachers who know the dots and have the deep understanding required to connect them.

Instead of school improvement strategies working from the outside into our schools; we need ones that work from the inside out. Improvement funding needs to flow to the implementers as well as the innovators.  This however only matters once schools’ core budgets are sufficient; we’ve a long way to go.

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