Coming Full Circle – a Report on England’s National Curriculum

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the third largest teacher’s union in Britain, wants standardized testing abolished for students under the age of 16.

A study of 50 schools concluded last spring that national literacy and mathematics standards had been raised. The government says that the tests are “integral” to continuing efforts to improve education. The ATL believes that over testing has damaged the confidence of students with lesser abilites.

The ATL reports that teachers believe the tests of 7, 11, and 14 year olds have “gone too far”. They report a perception that teachers are evaluated less on the impact of their teaching efforts and improving their instructional strategies, and more on the results of the tests. The position of the Department of Education and Skills is that the tests are important to identify students who need support and those who are talented. They maintain that three sets of tests in a seven year time span is minimal, and that teachers know what to expect.

The ATL’s report, Coming Full Circle, published in April 2006 compared responses of teachers in 1992-94 and 2003-2005. There is an overall positive outlook toward curriculum changes since the Labour party won the 1997 election. Teachers are supportive but critical of the national literacy strategy, but overwhlemingly supportive of the national numeracy strategy. There is a dramatic increase in subject centered whole class teaching and less teaching to topic or activities. The government would like to see more creativity in the classroom. The ATL would like to see the national curriculum cut so that creativity and physical activity can be encouraged, rather than specific, measurable knowledge.

Teachers find the expectations to be confusing and wish they were more clear. The government gives them the option of implementing the strategies. According to the report, they are critical of the government for the imposition of practices on them “in such a way that ‘you don’t have to do it; it is an option, but woe betide anybody who doesn’t!’”. The strategies are viewed as expression of the government’s lack of trust in teachers.

The subject of the ATL’s conference in London this June will be “Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum”. They will explore what a national curriculum should be and ways to better implement it locally.