Tag Archives: primary

A new way to look at the National Curriculum or Common Core

In the United Kingdom it is the National Curriculum and in the USA, Common Core. The commonality between the two is the level of control of the leading political party. But, what if there was another way to approach a national curriculum?

On 21st March 2015 the Times Educational Supplement ran an article with the headline “Nicky Morgan: Control of national curriculum content must stay in hands of elected politicians“. In the article Ms. Morgan was reported as saying that it was right for politicians to decide what was taught in the classroom because they were democratically accountable. She was responding to a request from the Association of School and College Leaders who were proposing an independent commission made up of teachers, parents, employers, academics and politicians, to have responsibility for setting the national curriculum which would then stand unaltered for at least five years.

What if we looked at the national curriculum in a different way? What if it returned to being a minimum entitlement on which schools were free to build. The key to this would be well trained teachers able to work together in schools to design a curriculum relevant to the needs of the children in their schools. We wouldn’t have to sacrifice standards nor accept poor quality teaching but we would have to move away from the ‘teaching by numbers’ approach that was the legacy of the previous administration. With a national curriculum regularly supplemented by non-statutory guidelines which for most schools became obligatory teachers were being told in minute detail what to teach, but also, how to teach. We had the three part lesson, the four part lesson, I believe even the five part lesson. Non-statutory guidance and expensive training sessions for all teachers clearly marked out how long should be spent on a whole class teaching input, where the time divide between guided and shared work should fall and how long should be spent on a plenary. It was non-statutory but the ‘teaching by numbers’ mentality affected the inspecting body too and feedback from observations often focussed on too much or too little time being spent on a particular part of a session. Feedback that was not about the session itself but rather about whether or not the session matched the diktats of the non-statutory guidance.

Now, in an effort to thin out the national curriculum politicians have in fact produced a statutory national curriculum document that is considerably longer than the previous statutory documentation. Much of the content that was previously in non-statutory supplements now makes it into the national curriculum. A quick glance also shows that the weight of curriculum is in fact in primary school. When children enter secondary school the national curriculum leaves behind the many pages of specific year group content and instead provides a few short paragraphs of what should be taught in secondary Key Stages. I am guessing that may be because of political meddling in exam boards.

I would propose a return to an end of Key Stage achievement expectation. The route taken to make that achievement could be planned by schools. This in turn might encourage a broader education that would benefit all of our students. It may even help with engagement in primary and with the some of the mental health issues that have now become a focus in our schools.

Who would set this minimum expected standard? I can’t see that politicians is a sensible solution. What we have undergone recently highlights the problems with political parties of power setting a curriculum. With a change of party comes a completely new ideologically driven curriculum. The notion of involving more than just the party of power in setting the curriculum is therefore a sensible approach. Allowing an expert body to set the minimum expectations for the end of Key Stage would answer the “what?” and then schools and teachers would be free to answer the “how?”. Inspections then would also need to consider whether the curriculum a school was employing was fit for purpose.

Unfortunately, as long as politicians think they are the best people to decided the “what?” and also drive the “how?” then the responsibility for standards should lie more firmly with the politicians than with the teachers and schools. In the current system where politicians are deciding every detail of the national curriculum it would certainly be interesting to hear back from an independent inspection body as to whether the curriculum being imposed is in fact fit for purpose.

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Teaching in a British School in Spain – FAQ

After years of recruiting people to work with us in Spain I have put together a list of the frequently asked questions. These are taken from questions that I frequently hear from interview candidates. Hopefully this helps teachers who are maybe considering a move to working in Spain but if you have any other questions do post them in ‘comments’ and I will answer them as best I can. These are based on my personal experience in my own school so answers may differ for other schools.

What contract do teachers have?
All teachers are placed on a full time permanent contract from day one of their employment. We do this in recognition of the commitment teachers have made in relocating to work with us but also because life in Spain is made easier with a permanent contract. Obtaining credit, buying a car and even opening a bank account are made easier with a permanent contract. Teachers are salaried over twelve months which include holiday pay throughout the year up to and including the August holiday.

I don’t speak Spanish. Will this be a problem?
Our English staff do not need to speak Spanish in school. In fact, our policy is for our English staff to only ever speak with our pupils in English. Clearly in your own private life a working knowledge of Spanish is helpful if you are living in Spain. For this reason the school provides free Spanish lessons to all staff each year.

What does the working day look like?
The working day runs from 9am-5pm. Children begin to arrive in school from 9.15am with classes starting at 9.30am. Lessons are fifty minutes long and we have six lessons per day. Children have a 30 minute morning break and a 20 minute afternoon break. Lunchtime is one and a half hours with teachers doing a thirty minute duty during lunchtime.

What planning and preparation time is given to teachers?
Teachers receive a generous amount of planning and preparation time during the school day. Primary staff currently receive just over five hours of planning and preparation time. In addition having completed their duty teachers have a full hour for lunch which again contributes to our staff completing all of their work during the school day.

What professional development opportunities are available?
As a member of the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS) we have access to a range of professional development opportunities throughout the year. Our teachers have attended training courses in Valencia, Madrid, Seville, Alicante and Tenerife. All of these courses have been run by experts brought out from the United Kingdom. This enables our staff to stay up to date with curriculum and policy changes taking place in the United Kingdom and ensure that their own teaching continues to develop. We also run ‘in-house’ training. This has included a full day of training for all staff where we employed trainers from the United Kingdom as well as opportunities to look at more specific issues during shorter training sessions.

Do staff eat with children?
Staff can choose to eat in the dining room with children although most staff choose to eat with colleagues in one of the two desginated staff dining areas. Staff are entitled to eat for free from our canteen. Meals are prepared daily from fresh seasonal ingredients. There is a focus on Mediterranean cuisine so plenty of fresh fish, shell fish and meats are accompanied by seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most days a salad is also on offer. The school caters for a range of specific diets.

What happens with extra-curricular activities?
Most of our pupils travel to and from school on our school transport therefore extra-curricular activities take place during the lunchtime. We have a programme of activities led by professional staff from outside school. Activities include ballet, funky dance, Chinese, German, Italian, football, tennis, judo and fencing. Alongside these activities teachers from our primary team provide complementary activities that enrich the curriculum. Teachers leading an extra-curricular activity do so in place of their usual lunchtime duty.

How does Spanish social security work?
On arriving in Spain the school employs a solicitor to process paperwork for new teachers. This includes registering new staff with the Spanish social security system. This provides full cover for health, unemployment and pensions. All of the necessary paperwork is paid for and completed by the school on your behalf.

What about healthcare?
The Spanish public health system is recognised to be of an exceptionally high standard. Treatments are provided with minimal waiting times. In addition the school provides a private health care for employees covering their time in school and their journey to and from school.

Are there any other staff benefits at the school?
We have an established staff benefits package that provides advantages with a number of local business. We have financial benefits arranged with a number of banks including Barclays Bank, BBVA, and Catalunya Caixa. These provide cash back on purchases, guaranteed overdraft arrangements and preferential rates on mortgages, account transfers and credit cards or loans.
We also have arrangements in place for discounts with regard to private health care including preferential monthly rates with Adeslas, Avisa, BBVA and MAPFRE. A local dentistry practice offers our staff 15% off all treatments.
Our staff benefits package is growing all the time and teachers are provided with the full details of this package when they start working at the school.

What is the salary and are there opportunities to supplement my salary?
The salary for teachers is 22,500€ per year. Tax rates in Spain are significantly lower than the United Kingdom with most teachers paying around 14% which includes tax and National Insurance contributions. The school has a number of positions of responsibility with the primary department currently offering six members of staff a responsibility allowance in addition to their salary.
Some parents may request additional classes for children in the hour after school and these are always offered initially to our teaching staff. These classes are worth upto 48€ per hour.
Although not obligatory teachers are welcome to work in the Saturday school which the school runs from 10am-1pm on a Saturday morning. This provides English lessons to children from the local area who do not attend the school. Teachers choosing to do this receive a separate payment in addition to their usual salary.

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If I call a Ford Fiesta a Lamborghini Gallardo does it then go faster?

If I am disappointed with the speed my car moves will it go faster if I call it a Lamborghini Gallardo? Perhaps if I get it a shiny new badge that covers the old badge and maybe even give it a re-spray?

Over six hundred failing primaries in England are to be converted to academy status. That will be six hundred schools with the same children to educate, on the same sites, with often the same staff, teaching the same curriculum. Or will it? One academy in Bristol managed to dramatically increase the standards despite having the same site, staff and one would think the same pupils. However, a little scratching of the service reveals an admissions policy taking 80% of pupils from a more affluent neighbouring post code. The result I suspect is that those children who used to attend before the academy nameplate was nailed up are now being pushed out into LEA maintained schools and are disproportionately reducing the LEA results. Clearly then, academies work because in this area of Bristol the academy is considerably out performing the nearby LEA schools. Except, of course, nothing has changed. Taken as a big picture the standards in this area of Bristol have most likely not changed at all. Children are in different schools. Children working against social disadvantage aren’t affecting the statistics of the flagship academies, but they are still there, hiding below the surface, missing out on education because the real cause of low attainment was ignored in favour of a headline winning national strategy that now publishes the improvement that the local community wanted, even if that community are now prohibited from attending their local school.

Schools need to be allowed to focus on their core purpose, teaching and learning. Rebranding, even if it comes with a new letterhead, school badge, uniform or multi-million pound privately financed building can’t improve standards, at least not without a little behind-the-scenes manipulation, such as an admissions policy. Focussing on teaching and learning is what will improve standards.

It is refreshing to be able to sit back and watch developments in UK education with a critical eye before adopting them into school. Certainly I oversee the National Curriculum being taught in the schools that I lead but with the facility to dictate the ‘how’ from a basis of sound teaching and learning as opposed to needing to respond immediately to non-educators stipulating ‘how’ the education should happen.

Most effective strategies for school improvement focus on the process of learning and move away from the product. Why then is the UK determined to try and find a just method of measuring affectiveness of schools based on product. We can talk about value added, contextual value added, mix in some poverty factors, employ teams of mathematical graduates to crunch the numbers and convert the raw statistics into pie charts for the tabloids, but the real measure of schools comes from an evaluation of the teaching and learning. For that, the inspecting body needs to turn the focus away from judging teachers and look more closely at the learning taking place in school. I can make a judgement on the standards within a classroom fairly accurately and fairly quickly by talking with the pupils about their learning. I don’t need an analysis of how many are claiming free school meals, how many are diagnosed with a behaviour problem or what proportion of those pupils appear to move two percentile points when I look at the teacher assessment data. The teachers are responsible and must be held to account for the quality of their teaching but to improve schools we need to focus on the aspects of teaching and learning that have the most impact and not be pushed into manipulating statistics to attempt to demonstrate improvements.

It will be interesting to watch in a generation’s time and see whether or not the millions poured into the rebadging of ‘community primary schools’ as ‘academies’ has made a real difference to the educational attainment of the nation. We won’t be able to see that until a generation of pupils has been through their education and then we will discover the truth not by looking at the output of the academies in comparison to the remaining maintained schools, but by looking at all pupils and comparing to the previous generation.

In the meantime, I am happy to sit outside the direct influence of state controlled schools and lead learning that makes a real difference. Positions available in September for anybody needing to get back to real teaching. In the meantime, I am off to paint my car and rebadge it, just in case despite my cynicism, it can make a difference.

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