“It’s the curriculum stupid” History says, don’t hope…

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme

Seamus Heaney

Every day children, young men and women who live and breathe multiculturalism, who demonstrate in all that they do and say that for them it is the person that matters not the gender, nationality, skin colour or faith, surround me. You might take the child out of Europe but you cannot drive him or her out of the wonderful, diverse global society we are all privileged to live in today.

Brian Christian, Principal of The British School in Tokyo

It is nearly the end of a very long academic year here at Wyedean School with staff and students ready for their long summer break. Reflecting over the year it would be hard to pick a particular moment out of so many inspiring and compelling educational opportunities that take place at this school daily. There have been a number of audiences in June and July I have found myself talking through the narrative of Wyedean’s academic year including Parent Voice groups, the Full Governing Board and visitors from the South West Regional School Commissioner’s office as recently as last week. The hard work and dedication of all the staff here are the obvious foundations of the success and what has been evident this year is the exponential growth of leadership everywhere around the school from the students, the support staff, and the middle leaders, especially those without the titles. They have all made the school not only move significantly forward but also allowed a C21st approach to education that had provided so many compelling learning opportunities daily. The platform of the new website linked to the school’s responsive daily social media outlet of Twitter and Facebook means the school is communicating constantly what we are doing to our community and beyond. For me as principal I think this has been one of the successes of the year as we constantly demonstrate the school’s vision and commitment to World Class 21st Century learning.

The sword of Damocles hanging over all of us in schools and in education continues along with the uncertainty and lack of national leadership around school funding. I know some of the very difficult decisions my leadership team and the governors of the school have had to make in order to ensure the very difficult balancing act of ensuring high quality education and an enriching curriculum all links tightly to a very efficiently balanced budget. The General Election in June did not give any further certainty about the direction of national education policy other than the Conservative’s loss of their parliamentary majority meant contentious issues such as grammar school expansion were stopped. The ”confidence and supply” arrangements with the DUP raises particular issues within education from the Secretary of State of the DfE down to the classroom teacher because the DUP’s stance on certain social issues. Even the recent announcement of school funding in July came with the caveat that this would not be new/additional money but £1.3billion of savings within the DfE. The long awaited results of the consultation on the Ebacc were published in July with significant changes to the percentage of students entered at Key Stage 4 for the Ebacc as well as the timeframe now pushed to the 2020s for possible implementation. As a few commentators have pointed out the UK may have experienced more than one new government by that time. From a personal point of view as an educator, the fundamental flaw in the Ebacc was the narrow definition to the detriment of the arts and creative subjects. At the end of July Wyedean held its annual Creativity Fair and this year we linked it to Careers and Guidance. It has not been an easy task to ensure the curriculum here is as rich as it can be with a range of subjects interconnected and giving meaning to learning and wider knowledge for our students and their daily experiences of education. However, this is what leadership is about and such decisions made have these sorts of consequences for the longer-term curriculum. I believe strongly that in this current state of education flux educators and schools should not wait for a convoluted national picture or direction to emerge after a series of political compromises and capricious fads to keep basic power. Sir David Carter, the National School’s Commissioner has said often; “it is about the outcomes not the structures”. In May 2016, the then White Paper committed all schools to becoming academies by 2020 with the preferable model of a Multi Academy Trust. After the Brexit vote, last June and Theresa May became Prime Minister, educational policy centered on the expansion of grammar schools and free schools. Since the June 2017 election, that manifesto commitment disappeared. What has come as a relief is the remarkable speech by OfSTED’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, in June at the Wellington Festival of Ideas. It is worth repeating the key passage below illustrating how refreshing that a body like OfSTED, of all the major players in education, now making a clarion call for schools to be refocusing on what is it we are teaching in schools and for what purpose?

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amanda-spielmans-speech-at-the-festival-of-education

One of the areas that I think we sometimes lose sight of is the real substance of education. Not the exam grades or the progress scores, important though they are, but instead the real meat of what is taught in our schools and colleges: the curriculum. To understand the substance of education we have to understand the objectives. Yes, education does have to prepare young people to succeed in life and make their contribution in the labour market. But to reduce education down to this kind of functionalist level is rather wretched. Because education should be about broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation. Ultimately, it is about leaving the world a better place than we found it. As Professor Michael Young wrote in his article, ‘What are schools for?’:“Schools enable young people to acquire the knowledge that, for most of them, cannot be acquired at home or in the community.”Yet all too often, that objective, that real substance of education, is getting lost in our schools. I question how often leaders really ask, “What is the body of knowledge that we want to give to young people?

Amanda Spielman; OFSTED Chief Inspector; June 2017, Wellington Festival of Education

The curriculum has been at the heart of education debate in England at national policy level for a long time even before the inception of the National Curriculum in 1988. Until recently, schools felt that the direction of travel was only to follow the Ebacc proposals with little room for maneuverer or freedom even for those in academies where curriculum freedom was one of the reasons to convert from a maintained school. The Ebacc measurement is not a “baccalaureate” (a collection of subjects interconnected through skills and a joined approach towards curriculum such as through a learner profile) and if the government does persist in wanting 90% of students to take the Ebacc then this will damage arts and creative subjects. It is the intention at Wyedean that we fulfil the curriculum statutory requirements as a basic given but we need to do something much more meaningful and relevant for ALL students that prepares them for life and positive wellbeing beyond school. That is why we are looking at how we design curriculum pathways for vocational, academic, the unsure, etc looking at curriculum programmes like the IB. We have to be about more than foundational learning skills as our “selling point” as a school. We are the only school in our area, both sides of the border that are going to do this for our education offer. I am curious with the curriculum changes in Wales, ”Successful Futures” and the pioneer schools under the Scottish education professor, Graham Donaldson, especially as his “Curriculum for Excellence” in Scotland has come under heavy criticism for its dirigisme approach and a focus too much on skills. Our approach here at Wyedean is that we want the curriculum to be broad and balanced model. Students will not be attracted here just because the basic skills are covered effectively as would be expected from a school rated “Good” with our learner profile. The post 16 model especially in niche Post 16 academic subjects plus a new approach to sixth form enrichment means the whole status of Sixth Form is the aspirational engine of the school. We need much more into KS3 that hooks all students into learning for KS4 as part of our wider holistic approach towards the curriculum both in the informal and formal curriculum. The vision for the school is to continue to allow initiatives like the Duke of Edinburgh scheme to develop and curriculum subjects like Classics/Latin being supported especially by accessing external support and funding. This has been particularly successful with Mandarin and our Confucius Institute partnership. The growth and lead of MFL subjects is almost completely against the trend of most languages in state schools nearby. The school’s commitment to the arts and creativity is in the incredible enrichment and profile of those subjects attracting students, parents and visitors to the school and we have staff who are putting this at the core of the school. Digital learning and STEM subjects are vitally important to develop this further. The work of Applied, Science, DT and Maths in these areas gives the school an exceptional base for STEM. Underpinning all of this is support of the curriculum through the skills development of the individual through the strong PSHE programmes exceptionally led by the Heads of Year as the senior middle leaders of pastoral in Wyedean. Our core subjects from the Challenge Partners “Area of Excellence” in English to the solid Social Science subjects in Humanities means we have a rich and challenging curriculum in place already with outstanding educators. We have a very admirable and niche curriculum at Wyedean already and one we are proud of especially through the way individuals have led this in a deficit budget such as the Food Tech students and the café initiative and the work with BTEC and vocational. All have a rightful place in a broad and balanced, cost effective curriculum. It is an exciting development and key priority of the school to ensure we have a World Class 21st Century curriculum to offer students linked to developing life skills and careers beyond.

I was asked to contribute in early July to an OECD report and was interviewed on Skype by the report’s author in Washington, Richard Colvin. It was a great way to end a long week on a Friday afternoon talking to someone as eminent as Richard about the importance of global learning for international education. I was reminded of this as the Year 10s here took part in an incredible video conference last week with Syrian refugee children as part of their MFL lesson as they trialled this project with the British Council. There have been many powerful moments over this academic year and this certainly was one of them. Our young people need to be able to think critically about their World and ask the deeper questions as they work to solve global issues as the next generation of leaders. The World is not going to get smaller and globalisation in our economy, our society, our environment, and our politics is not going to diminish. I will address this theme in Poland as I have been asked to speak at a conference of international educators in Cracow in September with the British Council looking at the impact of Brexit, educational leadership and what need we should be doing with our curriculum in schools.

The next logical development of the curriculum is to look at outstanding and exceptional curriculum models such as the International Baccalaureate as a possibility for Wyedean. There is a movement in England to develop an “English National Baccalaureate” based on the IB model but we are committed to international and global learning and the IB is one of the strongest gold standard brands in education in the World. Already we have looked at a number of successful IB schools and spoken to the IBO as we are investigate this model further. Wyedean will continue to develop a holistic, broad, joined up and rich existing curriculum model that allows all of our students to flourish, achieve and access a C21st economy and society. We have the opportunity to offer something exciting and World Class in our education here that similar state or even independent schools will not offer, are constricted by their education model or their narrow educational leadership. This is a very exciting initiative to continue to develop in the school over the next few years and the more people that are involved the more we can question, challenge and develop what is right for Wyedean School.

 

 

 

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