What should a KS4 science curriculum look like for SEND learners?

 

I’ve been reflecting on the curriculum for SEND learners, and regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve written lots about the KS4 curriculum before. Previous posts have been written from the point of view of a classroom practitioner but now I’m looking in from the outside. I’ve met lots of teachers and school leaders over the last year and have pulled together my thoughts and reflections after speaking to them.

Many departments will be reviewing their curriculum offer as a result of the proposed Ofsted framework (not the aim of the new framework but an inevitable consequence)  For those late to the party, the new framework is built around the 3 I’s – intention, implementation and impact. I believe the first of these is where things for SEND learners starts to go wrong.

As a special school our ‘intention’ (our ethos & school values) revolved around preparing students for life after school. High aspirations and high academic performance are an important part of this (as long as they are realistic) but our intention also extended to the life skills and opportunities that are needed to make the most of those qualifications. I’ve written before about the implementation (approved and backed by our governors) of our curriculum, which trod the difficult line between the needs of the learners and accountability measures (especially as a special school in a mainstream MAT).  We were fortunate that Ofsted wasn’t interested in Progress-8 as a special school, although we still used it to benchmark ourselves against mainstream schools and obsessed about it (to a lesser extent than mainstreams) in our frequent data drops. Having met many teachers and leaders over the last year (whilst wearing a variety of hats and representing different interests & organisations) I’ve collated my thoughts below

Barriers to a full GCSE curriculum

  • Covering the content – the quantity (getting to the end of the specification)
  • Understanding and engaging with the content
  • Recalling the content taught over two (or usually three) years
  • Exam technique
  • Exam pressure (having to sit so many exams for one subject)

Model 1 – Entry level certificate (ELC)

There are many learners for whom ELC would be an appropriate pathway but they are prevented from following this option by the need to study a qualification that contributes to progress 8 data. I’ve met subject leaders who have gained permission for this route but most are accrediting alongside another option. In my mind ELC is KS3+ and there isn’t as much overlap with GCSE content as many would like.

Would I recommend this option? Over my last few years in special education, I could count on my fingers the number of students whose accreditation journey stopped at ELC (but of course that was under a system where they could take a single science exam each year)

Model 2 – co-teaching ELC and GCSE

This is a preferred option of many including the exam boards, but it could also be the most expensive and time-consuming of the options. The content isn’t a problem but you have to make sure you find time to fit in the classroom based assessment (as all the assessment for ELC happens in school).  

This modular nature of this option has the advantage of building confidence and self-esteem of your SEND learners over the course. It’s also an easier sell to SLT who will still have the GCSE to count in those all-important performance tables.  With many schools aiming to complete GCSE by Christmas of year 11, learners would have a qualification under their belt before sitting the GCSE exams.

There are plenty of published resources to support this option, with more coming on the market this year (this is where I should declare that I have written a workbook to support this option) If you do go down this pathway, make sure you have assessment points and a clear understanding of timelines at the start of your course.

Model 3 – partial GCSE

This is a model that I’ve seen increase in popularity over the last year. The premise is simple – rather than superficially teach 100% of the content, you teach part of the course in greater depth and miss out some of the content that learners might not need. Some subject leaders gasp in horror when I mention not teaching all the specification, but this the way I’ve taught GCSE for many years. The foundation textbook from OUP follows exactly this approach and is AQA approved (so it isn’t a forbidden practice)

I’m sure that many learners could benefit from the extra depth and reinforcement that this method offers.

Model 4 – full GCSE

I don’t really need to say much about this model as just about every science teacher must have experienced it and be aware of the pitfalls. It does ensure that there won’t be topics on the exam papers for which learners haven’t been taught.

Model 5 – alternative qualifications

It’s interesting that the only schools I’ve come across who don’t follow a GCSE/ELC pathway are PRUs and special schools (which harks back to what I said at the start about performance measures)

The best model?

The best model is the one which meets the needs of your learners and could be a combination of the above.  It has to be a decision that is taken locally, and with the approval of SLT and the governance structure of your school.

 

The importance of the curriculum – thank you Amanda Spielman

Last week the new Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman spoke at the ASCL conference.  She was setting out her stall as one of the most influential leaders in the world of education, and she told the conference of school leaders “Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs, GCSEs and A levels. It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams.

She also told her audience “I am determined to make sure that the curriculum receives the proper focus it deserves.

It’s hard to point the finger of blame at school leaders who, anxious to avoid being labelled coasting schools, have done everything they can to boost their progress 8 scores and EBacc results.  Fortunately, the governors at my school had the foresight to put the needs of the individual first when we built our curriculum so we aren’t pushing students through inappropriate exams to boost our school results.

Last week  I attended some CPD with the Institute of Physics discussing how to encourage more girls to follow a STEM career.  Whilst the advice they were giving wasn’t anything that you won’t have heard before it does make you appreciate the effect that teachers and the curriculum have on the long-term life chances of our students, regardless of phase or socioeconomic background.   Much of the language we use in class and the way we run our lessons could potentially have long-term implications for our learners (Stonewall give similar messages about gender neutrality which can influence attitudes from a very early age)

A fortnight ago I was part of a discussion with the 11-19 committee at the ASE talking about combined science vs triple science.  The options path decided at the end of KS3 (year 8 now in many schools) can determine, for better or worse, the life chances of students who may either choose or be guided towards an option that isn’t appropriate for them.  This decision could be made on experience in previous lessons (bringing us back to the message from the IoP) or could this choice could be restricted based on a flawed assessment system at KS3.    Those of you interested in the combined vs triple debate will be interested to read this article on education datalab.

My point is that the curriculum you offer, whether it be at departmental level or at a whole school level, will have long-lasting repercussions for your students and it is important you’ve got it right.  For this reason I commend Amanda Spielman for the tone she has set as she takes up the mantle of Chief Inspector and look forward to seeing the discussion about the curriculum develop as she continues in office.

 

#ASEchat summary – Planning for the new national curriculum and assessment without levels

A transcript of the chat can be found here.

asechat

Although a similar topic was discussed only a few weeks before, the issue of the new national curriculum and what will replace the levels as a progress and accountability measure is still worrying lots of science teachers.

@cleverfiend referred to his recent visit to the DfE and their relative surprise that teachers won’t do much planning for the new curriculum until they know how they will be measured.  Unfortunately whilst assessment shouldn’t lead the curriculum, Ofsted does lead the practice that happens in schools.  @cleverfiend went on to say that his worry is that someone will come up with a model and everyone will adopt it (like with PIVATS/B-Squared small steps documents used in special needs education) and the NAHT is working on a possible model with schools.

@Viciascience asked why we need levels and there seems to be two answers. To inform what happens in the lessons and to provide accountability.  Some teachers are asked to report in sublevels (some to 1/10 of a level) for school tracking data. @NeedhamL56 wondered if SOLO taxonomy could be used (as it has advantages over Bloom’s) and this point was reiterated by several other teachers as the discussion progressed.

@Cleverfiend mentioned the issue of time to prepare and many teachers agreed that we don’t have much time to prepare, especially if waiting for more information on assessment (chat participants pointed out that the new GCSE grade descriptors haven’t been published yet so no one knows what constitutes grades 1 to 9).

Some teachers admitted not having really got a good grasp of levels, and parents find the language of levels totally confusing.  Reference was made to the old national strategy materials and how useful some of the resources could possibly be in terms of structuring a new curriculum.

There was also a worry that many schools are waiting for publishers to do the work for them, and that most of their work would consist of just adopting a new text book.  Several chatters including @hrogerson and @HThompson1982 pointed out that a scheme of work should be adapted for each setting.

@Cleverfiend asked if we should wait for GCSE and plan backwards (especially if reporting requirements are to be loosened at the end of KS3). This prompted lots of discussion with teachers talking up the merits of a five year curriculum plan, and a continual scheme of work rather than a discrete KS3 and KS4.  There was a lot of consensus that this could be the best way to approach planning a new curriculum although ideas for assessment were a little more divergent.

@Geol_2008 pointed out that we would still need a mechanism for reporting progress to parents.  There was suggestion of a curriculum map or gaps in knowledge being highlighted in reports.  @Cleverfiend reported on some Primary school training at the weekend from @nicolabeverley1 and the idea of continuing themes running across the key stage.

Curriculum development is still in a very early stage with the final versions of the national curriculum only just having been released to the public.  Many teachers said they will wait for more information before moving forward with new schemes.

What can the ASE do to support members in developing a world class science curriculum that meets the aims and requirements of the new national curriculum?  I’d be interested to hear your comments (and I’ll pass them on to the ASE)