Curriculum and Qualifications (England)

The reforms to the curriculum and qualifications framework in England have significant implications for teachers and school leaders.

The NASUWT remains concerned about the impact of the pace and scale of reform which was poorly thought through and without meaningful consultation with the profession.

It is clear that matters related to curriculum and qualifications-related policy and practice in schools can have significant implications for teacher and school leader workload and their conditions of employment. Members with concerns about curriculum and qualifications matters in their school should email the Member Support Advice Team.

National Curriculum

The rapid nature of curriculum reform in England presented many challenges for schools in terms of the way in which reforms have been implemented and the impact this has had on the working conditions of members.

Teachers and school leaders have continued to express concern about the principles upon which these reforms have been based and on their implications for the learning experience of pupils.

The NASUWT has engaged extensively with the process of curriculum reform and has supported members in developing approaches to the curriculum that ensure that teachers are able to make effective use of their professionalism.

Particular concern was centred on the removal of levels from the National Curriculum.

The NASUWT recognised fully that the use of levels encouraged practices in schools that added significantly to teachers’ workload burdens and were of questionable educational value. However, in the approach to the removal of levels from the National Curriculum created significant turbulence within the education system.

By failing to address the factors driving the use of levels in schools’ assessment systems or to provide support and guidance on the management of their withdrawal, the DfE created circumstances within which many schools made poor choices in amending their policies and practices. These problems were compounded by the relatively short period made available to schools to prepare for the removal of levels.

These reforms had particular importance for the curriculum on offer within schools.

The risk of the National Curriculum leading to learning being driven by the imperatives of assessment was recognised at its inception. Under the National Curriculum, teaching was always intended to be guided by programmes of study. However, in practice, attainment targets and level descriptors came to dominate curriculum design in many schools.

It is clear that the revised National Curriculum removed levels precisely to prevent schools from using assessment criteria, rather than programmes of study, as the starting point for designing pupils’ learning experiences. Teachers continue to express legitimate and credible concerns about the content and structure of the National Curriculum. However, it is clear that the removal of levels reduced the scope available to schools to give undue precedence to assessment criteria in the design of study programmes.

In such circumstances, the only appropriate response is for schools to move away from practices that insist that what pupils are to be taught must be prescribed by external summative assessments at the end of Key Stages. Instead, teachers must be given the support and scope required to make appropriate use of their professional expertise and judgement to use the National Curriculum programmes of study to meet the learning needs and interests of pupils.

This flexibility will be particularly important to allow teachers to address the needs of learners in response to the varied impacts of the Covid-19 measures in their school and home.

For further information about the impact of changes to assessment practice on the curriculum see our advice on Assessment Without Levels.

Qualifications

Changes to key general qualifications in England, particularly GCSEs and A-levels, have placed profound pressures on teachers and school leaders.

Reform to subject content, the structure of qualifications and the rapid timescale for reform added to schools’ burdens, compounded by the late release of specifications in many subjects.

Teachers and school leaders raised questions about the rationale for these reforms and the lack of evidence on which they were based.

The NASUWT engages with the DfE and Ofqual on addressing the implications of qualifications reform. This engagement has been guided by the Union’s understanding that qualifications frameworks should:

  • recognise the critical role played by the school and college workforce and workforce unions in securing high quality provision through meaningful and genuine participation in the development of qualification frameworks;

  • allow all pupils to achieve their full potential as learners;

  • support effective collaboration between schools, colleges and other educational institutions;

  • ensure that effective steps are taken to avoid excessive teacher and school leader workload and to minimise levels of organisational bureaucracy;

  • promote equality and diversity within the education system and complement work to tackle discrimination and prejudice;

  • ensure that qualification design reflects rather than dictates the content of the curriculum;

  • tackle the causes of learner disaffection and disengagement from education;

  • secure parity of esteem between vocational and academic learning pathways;

  • involve effective employer contributions through support and funding for work-based education and training; and

  • be supported by appropriate levels of public investment.