Wales, a devolved government which took up the Revised Curriculum and other questionable ideas from the Northern Ireland Education Department, has evaluated the effects of programmes funded to help the poorest pupils. It will come as no surprise that more money is not the answer to poor numeracy and literacy problems allowed to grow in primary schools. Read the report here. http://www.estyn.gov.uk/ThematicReports.asp
The BBC report highlights some of the shortcomings. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8145113.stm
It will be recalled that Northern Ireland is hardly the exemplar for Numeracy and Literacy modelling throughout the UK.
About £14m a year has been spent since 2006 on the Welsh Assembly Government Raise programme to improve the literacy of the most disadvantaged children but education watchdog body Estyn found that those pupils still “perform significantly less well” at key stages.
According to the report by Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales, the money has been used to pay for additional staff and resources to work with those poorest children. Most schools have used the money to concentrate on reading and writing, but some used the cash to set up homework clubs, others to fund behaviour projects and to work on improve attendance. The performance levels of free school meal pupils in secondary school have deteriorated.
January 25, 2009
The Minister’s 5th December reply in the Belfast Telegraph to Mr McCartney’s letter shows her lamentable grasp of the issues. In the article she cites no evidence for her “model” of education, but simply offers her opinion. Two of the most highly regarded studies in the history of education research prove that she is wrong. The Revised Curriculum, together will “election” at 14 via a Pupil Profile will damage profoundly the life chances of the poor. The evidence is unequivocal that underachievement will dramatically increase if the Minister’s ideas are implemented.
“Project Follow Through” is arguably the largest and most sophisticated educational project ever undertaken to discover, once and for all, the type of curriculum that maximizes the academic achievement of the poor. To give a sense of the scale of this study, it lasted 20 years, cost a billion dollars to fund, and involved 79,000 children from 180 low-income American communities living in poverty. The conclusion was that the curriculum which helps children out of poverty is a traditional curriculum in which the teacher determines what is to be taught and children work in learning environments which are orderly and highly structured. (The reader can find details of this study by “googling” the words Project Follow Through.) Curricula of the type the Minister is currently demanding that all primary school children follow were shown to be damaging to the development of the numeracy and literacy skills of disadvantaged children. A Minister who expresses concern for children being failed by Northern Ireland’s education system is promoting a curriculum that will increase that underachievement. The evidence that curricula of the Revised Curriculum type push the poor deeper into poverty is overwhelming.
As with all her pronouncements to date, her romantic notions of how one enhances the academic attainment of vulnerable children are entirely at odds with the evidence. The Minister therefore needs a mechanism to impose an incoherent damaging education model on our children. That mechanism is the new Education and Skills Authority (ESA) to be headed by Gavin Boyd, the man whose Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) developed both the Revised Curriculum and the Pupil Profile. Mr Boyd’s approach to curriculum was tried out on the children of the Greater Shankill. The evaluation report concluded that in academic terms, the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer. Few parents in Northern Ireland are aware that Mr Boyd’s educational ideas have already been tried out and found wanting. Research carried out on behalf of CCEA demonstrated that the model of education he advocates is damaging to the life chances of the poor. The Shankill study replicates high quality international research on the impact of innovative curricula on the poor. The Shankill study (which refutes in every detail the case set out by the Minister in her reply to Mr McCartney) is rarely mentioned by the Minister, Mr Boyd, CCEA, the Department of Education, the Education and Library Boards or the media. The Minister’s support for ESA, with Mr Boyd at its head, will serve to entrench and deepen underachievement and is damaging to already vulnerable children.
The really curious development is that the DUP have joined the Minister in endorsing Gavin Boyd’s ESA. Thanks to the DUP Mr Boyd’s contribution to the current mess we find ourselves in, is to be rewarded by assigning all aspects of our children’s education to his care. Rather than setting up an enquiry in which Mr Boyd might be asked to provide the evidence base for his ideas, Mr Boyd’s capacity to undermine a world-class education system is to be enhanced. The framework for such an enquiry already exists in the ten “features” of good policy-making developed for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Mr Boyd should be asked to evaluate his history of education policy-making against each of the ten features.
This sets the context for where we now find ourselves. This document aims to set out what the DUP must now do to protect standards of education in Northern Ireland in general, and lever up the basic skills of underprivileged children in particular. The DUP have highlighted their concerns for primary six children, and the plight of these children will be of particular concern in what follows.
The DUP must insist that schools should be free to ignore the Revised Curriculum because of its pernicious effects on the achievement of poor children. DUP politicians should be aware that there is peer-reviewed evidence that the scientific basis for the Revised Curriculum is non-existent.
Why should schools adopt a curriculum whose scientific basis has been refuted and which is damaging to the education of underprivileged children?
It is a measure of the depth of the chaos into which we’ve descended that the Minister has threatened to use the law against primary schools who privilege traditional teaching and learning over the Revised Curriculum. Indeed, in this brave new world in which Sinn Fein seem ready to use the courts against law-abiding schoolteachers, curriculum documents on the assessment of cross-curricular skills begin not with a rationale for such skills, but with a statement of the legal requirements on the teacher. Under Ms Ruane the law is being invoked to deliver what educationalists call the “Matthew Effect” whereby the rich get ricer and the poor get poorer. This from the avowed champion of the poor and underachieving!
It is important to reflect on the educational model which existed prior to the Revised Curriculum and to which schools could return if the Revised Curriculum were rejected. Mr Boyd’s own CCEA described the model which pre-dated the Revised Curriculum in these terms: “Education in Northern Ireland has an excellent reputation. In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that teachers here are regularly achieving results that are the envy of many other areas of the UK.” Who wouldn’t want to return to an education system described in these glowing terms? In addition, any move away from the Revised Curriculum is likely to free up much-needed finance for use elsewhere in education.
Finally, turning to the DUP’s commitment to the primary six child, it is instructive to examine the particular pressures on the primary six classroom. While the DUP continue to negotiate with Sinn Fein, primary six teachers are dividing their time between:
(i) preparing the children for the Minister’s test (by focusing on the Revised Curriculum);
(ii) preparing children for InCAS assessment (in anticipation of schools possibly incorporating InCAS measures in their admissions criteria); and
(iii) preparing children for unregulated tests (whether the AQE achievement tests or NFER’s “intelligence” tests favoured by at least one Catholic grammar school).
The most effective way in which the DUP can bring the misery of primary six children to an end is to take a clear stand on the Revised Curriculum, Pupil Profile and InCAS, leaving schools free to return to a model of education which focuses on maximising the literacy and numeracy skills of children, poor as well as rich. There can be no doubt that the DUP’s failure to take a firm stand in respect of the Revised Curriculum is contributing to the chaos in primary six classrooms.
If the DUP were to highlight the fundamental shortcomings in the Revised Curriculum (of which InCAS is a part), primary six teachers could engage those who demand that they emphasise cross-curricular skills at the expense of literacy and numeracy, with much greater confidence.
In summary, therefore, the DUP must:
· withdraw from negotiations with Sinn Fein, making clear their support for a return to the education model which pre-dated the Revised Curriculum (which was ordered and structured and in which “teachers here [were] regularly achieving results that [were] the envy of many other areas of the UK”);
· require the designers of InCAS to demonstrate that inferences drawn such tools can inform decision-making in respect of post-primary selection;
· require the designers of the Revised Curriculum to explain why they’ve pressed on with a discredited curriculum framework in the teeth of compelling evidence from the Greater Shankill study and Project Follow Through.
December 9, 2008
A lesson in how not to learn anything specific
First, last year’s national test results for 11 year-olds showed that almost 50,000 bright children failed to reach an acceptable standard in English and 30,000 failed to demonstrate a solid grasp of maths.
Second, this year’s annual examiners’ report from exam board Excel pointed out that one in five teenagers believe that the Sun orbits the Earth. One in 10 did not know that a rechargeable battery could be used more than once.
This came only a few days after the third shock: Psychology professor Michael Shayer, of King’s College, London, found that the high-level thinking skills of today’s 14-year-olds are now on a par with those of 12-year-olds in 1976.
Prof Shayer blamed too much time spent on computers for this decline. Others have noted that today’s youngsters cannot distinguish properly between the real world and the virtual world of cyberspace.
Sir Jim’s solution is increased use of computers in primary schools and less emphasis on a structured curriculum.
But how can children make the best use of computers if they haven’t already grasped the basic foundations of English, including its grammar and literature, and maths and science?
Sir Jim argues that the current curriculum is overcrowded.
His solution is to integrate English and French into “communication and language” and to encourage a raft of other “themes” such as “human
social and environmental understanding” and “physical health and wellbeing”.
The theory is that children will learn essential knowledge – physical geography, for example, which gives us a sense of place, and chronological, fact-based history which gives us a sense of time – within six “areas of learning”.
And pigs might fly.
As a former school inspector, Sir Jim should know that once subjects become integrated, they lose much of their content, knowledge and structure, from which young people make sense of them – and learn to think logically.
To be fair, these proposals only reinforce what is already happening in many schools, primary and secondary. The danger is that “progressive” ideology, which wants teachers of subjects to become social workers and pedlars of politically-correct values, will now be formalised and spread down through the system.
Here is one example. Richmond upon Thames is not a local authority where anyone would normally look for “progressive” ideology. But Christ’s Church of England School, in Richmond, has almost abolished subjects for at least one year group.
Superficially, the school seems to be a moderately successful
11-16 comprehensive. Last year, 70 per cent of 16-year-olds achieved five or more grade A*-C GCSEs, though that drops to 53 per cent when English and maths are included. This is above the national average, but is certainly not impressive.
Where the school does stand out is that it has introduced an integrated, theme-driven curriculum that emphasises skills, not subjects. Instead, the school teaches a Personalised Alternative Curriculum Experience (PACE).
Pupils’ weekly timetables include 11 periods of Performing Arts (apparently a misprint as even the staff didn’t know what PACE stood for) and only three of maths and two of science. No identifiable geography, history or religious education at all.
PACE, apparently, is based on the “Opening Minds” curriculum produced by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). This is now being tested in more than 200 schools around the country.
Meanwhile, the RSA, which is headed by Matthew Taylor, the former boss of Tony Blair’s No 10 Policy Unit, has opened a new academy in Tipton, West Midlands. The RSA Academy will not only follow the Opening Minds curriculum, it will also train teachers from other schools to do the same.
As yet, no-one seems to have published any objective evidence to prove that PACE or Open Minds raise standards. It is claimed that pupils enjoy the lessons and they have the approval of Ofsted – but didn’t Haringey social services get a clean bill of health from Ofsted, too, before the Baby P tragedy came to light?
Commenting about such changes to the national curriculum, Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools, wrote recently: “Academic standards? What a quaint, anachronistic ideal.
“This is a curriculum alive with real world topicality. ‘Cross-curricular dimensions’ such as cultural diversity and sustainable development, are deemed to be more important than traditional subjects, such as history or science.
“Indeed, in this curriculum, subjects have become vehicles for politically correct values… The idea seems to be that learning how to learn is more important than learning anything specific.
“Our children are going to leave school knowing less, even, than they do now.”
Despite his protestations otherwise, this is the reality of
Sir Jim’s proposals. Parents, surely, should be very afraid.
November 24, 2008
The Guardian covered the Burns Report and Household Survey back in 2002.
Here are some comments from an article from Will Greenwood
Recognising that no assessment procedure is ever 100% satisfactory, Stevenson (former Sullivan head) believes that the 11-plus, “with adequate safeguards”, is a decent system.
“There are things wrong with the Northern Ireland education set-up which need to be considered, but I am not in the least convinced that the Burns report has all the answers. In fact, I am deeply concerned that we are doing away with some of the good things in the education system and not replacing them with anything worthwhile at all… at the moment we seems to be involved in a huge rush to end academic selection and destroy grammar schools.”
Arbuthnot (Priory in Holywood) went to grammar school, sent two of his children to a grammar school, and wants to see selection abolished. Stevenson failed his 11-plus and wants to retain it. Last week he was signed up to support the Daily Mirror’s “Save Our Grammar Schools” campaign, (where did that one go?) bringing in such unlikely Mirror writers as Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools in England.
“The transfer test is not a fool-proof system and it is not the end of the world if pupils fail it. But it can feel like the end of the world when it is over dramatised the way it has been by some people,” Stevenson told the Mirror.
But McGuinness is the 11-plus failure who matters most in all this, and he says the debate about the Burns report has been “tremendous”.
“I think the success of it lies in the fact that there was an expectation among many people previously that to have a debate on this issue would be highly acrimonious and contentious,” he told the Guardian. “I have to say I’m very pleased that we’ve had a very high quality debate that’s going to continue over the next number of weeks and months.
“We haven’t made our minds up, we haven’t made any decision whatsoever about how we’re moving forward because we want this to be a real consultation, a real opportunity for people to have their say and know that they’ve been listened to. Even on the initial responses I’m getting, people are saying to me, ‘this is one of the few times we’ve been asked our opinion on anything’… I wanted there to be a real sense within the community that we haven’t got our minds made up.”
Except that the final conclusion is bound to be that the 11-plus is scrapped, for the Sinn Fein number two is a long-standing, vocal opponent of it. “When I came into this job at the very beginning some of my old acquaintances said ‘don’t even think about doing anything about the 11-plus because it won’t work’, and here we are two years on and I haven’t heard anybody defending it,” he says.
October 30, 2008
The Northern Ireland Revised Curriculum has moved away from in-depth subject based teaching towards a skills based approach claimed to be suitable for the 21st century. However recent evidence shows that students today have only a superficial understanding of many areas.
If, like the economic downturn, the basic problems are not addressed then the situation will only become worse. There is no upside for the pupils forced to endure the revised curriculum
August 18, 2008
While the Northern Ireland Minister for Education, Caitriona Ruane and her band of spineless bureaucrats push on in the direction of imposed comprehensives the evidence from elsewhere shows the folly.
See the Briefing Note on Grammars from the Centre for Policy Studies
See also Three Cheers for Selection.
Both publications are downloadable at no cost.