Most secondary schools don’t have to teach the national curriculum. It should be revised and restored – or discarded

Lorna Smith, University of Bristol

Each year, when new PGCE students arrive at the University of Bristol to start their journey towards becoming English teachers, I ask them to study the national curriculum. This is the statutory document prescribing what children aged from five to 16 are taught at school.

I do this despite that curriculum appearing increasingly irrelevant. It is rarely – if ever – seen in the schools in which our student teachers train, despite it being the only document mandating what council-maintained schools “must teach”.

Academies – self-governing schools receiving direct government funding, rather than being council-maintained – are exempt from the curriculum. As of January 2023, 80.4% of secondary schools are academies or free schools, accounting for 80.2% of secondary school pupils.

The importance of the curriculum will change if a Labour government comes to power at the next general election. The party has promised a review of curriculum and assessment – and that all state schools, including academies, will be required to follow the “core national curriculum”.

It may be, though, that the national curriculum has outlived its usefulness. A more radical approach could be to dispense with it altogether. (more…)

Students’ anxiety about the allocations of grades for cancelled high-stakes public examinations

Dr Lucy WenhamClaire Lee

Blog by Dr Lucy Wenham, University of Bristol and Claire Lee, University of Bristol

With the imminent release of A-level grades in England on Thursday, 13 August, followed by GCSEs on 20 August, anticipation is mounting. This year will be unlike any other. For the first time, with mass school closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, students have not had the opportunity to sit these high-stakes public examinations. They will instead receive allocated grades, arrived at through a combination of predicted grades, teacher judgments and comparative rankings of their perceived performance in relation to their classmates (Ofqual, 2020). Our research (EBI, 2020) clearly shows that students directly affected are experiencing considerable stress, anxiety and a feeling of helplessness concerning the allocation of these grades – which is unsurprising given that their future educational and employment choices and opportunities are at stake. (more…)

School accountability by Progress 8: A critique of Conservative and Labour proposals

Blog post by Professor George Leckie, Dr Lucy Prior, and Professor Harvey Goldstein, School of Education, University of Bristol

The Conservatives and Labour hold different views on the future of England’s system of school accountability by Progress 8. However, both parties’ thinking is at odds with the research evidence.

Over the last 30 years, successive governments have held secondary schools to account for their GCSE results via national school performance tables (for a review see Leckie & Goldstein, 2017). In 2016 the Conservatives replaced their longstanding ‘5A*–C’ school performance measure – the percentage of pupils with five or more GCSEs at grade C or higher – with Progress 8, a ‘value-added’ measure of the average pupil progress made between key stage 2 SATs and GCSE. This long-argued-for shift in measuring school performance reflects the fact that simple school differences in GCSE results say more about differences in the types of pupil taught in different schools than differences in the effectiveness of the education provided by those schools. (more…)