Being an English teacher at the moment, means that I am in the middle of a LOT of change and it is feeling overwhelming at the moment, regardless of whether or not I like some of the changes. However, there is something that is making me smile and filling me with hope for 2016 / 17: the KS3 curriculum…
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of changes here but if you’re lucky enough to be in the right school with the right people around you it is such a golden opportunity. During the January INSET we started working on mapping out our KS3 curriculum for next year and, being honest, I was a little worried about whether or not the department would like the vision that I thought would work best for us and our students. Luckily, they jumped on it.
We’re planning to break away from the rigid constraints of each unit being bookended by a holiday, so if there’s an INSET, bank holiday, snow day etc then you have to start looking at what lesson can be ditched. Or you end up rushing through the text (or worse still, not finishing it) and turning our students off reading or associating oncoming holidays with rushed assessments and stressed teachers who suck the fun out of the lessons. We’ve decided on 3 units a year but each unit is going to mimic the project style learning that primaries use. Each unit will have a title that is deliberately vague; each unit will have 2 set assessments; but the rest is down to the class teacher to decide. Each unit will have the opportunity to explore factual and fictional texts / extracts, as well as offering students the chance to practise a range of writing skills, but delivered with a variety that a unit titled ‘Writing to inform, explain & describe’ would often be lacking.
The head of department and myself wanted the team to be able to have opportunities to explore what they’re passionate about in English, as well as what catches the interest of their classes. As well as having time to focus on the skills that their classes need to work on. But we didn’t want them to be constantly counting how many lessons they had left before they would start to feel the pressure of falling behind.
It was heart warming during our INSET meeting to watch the teachers round the table become excited about where the random unit titles that were being thrown out could take them and their future classes. However, I think the excitement may have come from something else, something deeper and, perhaps, subconscious: their professional judgement was being trusted. Myself and the head of department were, essentially, saying to them all that we trust them to know their students, know their subject and to teach to a high standard without being given a prescriptive scheme of work (which, let’s be honest, often gets ignored completely or adapted). We’re not leaving the department high and dry; we are going to create a resource bank that will grow during the curriculum’s life. (I shall share what we’re doing after our next meeting and it moves from draft to confirmed plan.)
I’m not naive, I know that a curriculum map like this could create lazy lesson planning done in a rush the morning before and it could increase the work load to start with, but wouldn’t that happen no matter what we did? I also know that this will need careful monitoring by me to ensure that all students are getting full access to the full spectrum of English, but I’m happy to do that if it means the staff and students are enjoying what they’re doing in their lessons a bit more.
In addition to that, I’m lucky enough to have been invited to join the assessment working group at my school. We’re working together to create our version of levels and the new assessment policy. This is so exciting to me, not just because I’m a teacher geek, but also because everyone who is sat round the table has similar ideas about education: enjoyment, progress and character building are all important and none is more important that the other and we cannot lose focus on that in the new curriculum. These meetings have been some of the best meetings I’ve been in as I feel like we are all working towards a common goal and that our professional judgement and opinions are trusted. As well as seeing the passion in teachers of different ages, subjects and positions genuinely makes me happy. (I know, I’m such a saddo!)
So maybe, in our world of constant change and feeling under valued and undermined by those who are running education, we can and should see KS3 as a light in the dark. A chance for us to trust our colleague’s professional judgements and experiences and create something that we can be really passionate about which will truly benefit those who are lucky enough to enter our classrooms.