The Case for a 9 –19 Curriculum Continuum

Dr. Caroline Whalley CBE

“breaking down the stereotypes we hold on primary and secondary practice and developing a mutual regard will bring great advantages”

We have to build the roots for employability in the earlier Key Stages. Tinkering at the margins in individual schools, won’t benefit our children and bring about the significant changes that will increase their future life chances.

The context for our young people in the 21st century is awe-inspiring:-

  • The knowledge base of society is said to be doubling every 6 months and at least one influential figure has stated that, “teaching subject knowledge is an anachronism”

  • Society will need to be organised around effective learners who can search for, find, retrieve and apply information and knowledge

  • In a learning global society, employment will be linked to transferability of skills and knowledge

In order to succeed in meeting these challenges, we will have to develop secure, independent and “e-confident” learners who can assess their own requirements and set their own goals to meet any shortfalls.

14 –19 reforms are ambitious and will offer exciting opportunities for differentiated pathways - but youngsters will have to be prepared to take advantage of the increased choices on offer. Building in a recognised 9-19 curriculum continuum would smooth their progression and create that positive jumping off point.

We need a 9-19 core curriculum that integrates information technology and includes English, Maths, Science and a modern foreign language. A focus on learning the core skills as well as learning about learning will almost certainly mean that subject content is less likely to dominate. The concept of teacher as facilitator of learning, “not a sage on the stage but a guide on the side”, has been around for some time. Adopting this stance has implications for pupils and teachers alike and being comfortable and able to cope with ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’ is going to be a key skill for both.

We are familiar with inter-school transition and most schools are already accomplished at transferring attainment data and pastoral information, to the benefit of pupils. However, in terms of curriculum progression and teaching and learning, there is still much to do around breaking down the stereotypes we hold on primary and secondary practice and developing the mutual regard which will bring great advantages.

Primary teachers have pupils for long stretches of time, sometimes all day, and are therefore aware of and know the “whole” child needs. They are likely to be accomplished fine detail planners, incorporating a variety of concrete experiences into their sessions. Secondary practitioners will almost certainly bring a secure subject knowledge and significant experience of dealing with specific needs relating to gifted and talented as well as less able pupils.

In identifying and recognising both the generic and different skill sets each phase has to offer we could begin to build integrating experiences across the primary/secondary divide. Looking to the way our colleagues work across phases in special schools could offer a flying start.

Some collaborative practices we will need to consider across all Key Stage transitions actively to pursue this agenda will be:

  • Planning for progression in learning about learning skills.

  • Sharing and developing practice on what works well in and across all phases.

  • Exploring ingenious ways of working with ICT

  • Developing high levels of ICT capability and confidence in pupils and teachers

  • Creatively timetabling across schools and within schools so that integrated curriculum and exchanges of teachers and resources become a possibility.

  • Aligning professional development activities for staff both through NC, teaching schools and school to school collaborations.

All of the above could be positively supported by ensuring that policy on continuous professional development and workforce re- modelling, aligns and that funding streams, which are often heavily directed at the secondary phase also value and encourage cross phase working and have an expectation of dual successful outcomes.

I believe the case for a 9 –19 continuum is a strong one. It makes sense of the national strategies we have all invested so heavily in and, even more important, if not addressed will leave any 14 –19 reforms in that graveyard of initiatives.

Dr Caroline Whalley - First published in TES

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