Redesigning the future

This blog assumes that many of our colleagues are busy recovering from a week of weather that has ground the country to a halt quicker than it takes a Year 9 student to fashion a snowball out of 3 flakes of fresh snow. Whether you closed or opened we hope you are now fully recovered and ready to weather this year’s options season for it is now truly that time of year ….. Colleagues will have navigated the decisions required for curriculum design for the coming year but are we ready for the storms to come?  How do we ensure our students this year and for the foreseeable future are able to succeed and take their place in the sun.

At the risk of stretching the weather analogy too far, it has been suggested in recent years that our profession has been somewhat storm battered by the government’s belief that the UK has fallen behind its international competitors. Its response has been rapid in recent years – the Academies programme, the ‘Importance of Teaching’ White Paper, The Wolf report, National Curriculum Review, the ‘English Grading Fiasco’ and a major overhaul of the A level system– all have ensured that education has never been far from the news.

Against this backdrop, changes to the qualifications system are being introduced with seemingly no more than cursory consultation. Linear examinations arguably favour those with a good memory.  The change to a content laden model and rote learning is, to many, an anathema to modern thinking about how children learn and the skills required for the 21st century workplace.  For those responsible for curriculum design there have been some difficult choices to consider. Are you EBacc ready? What does it mean for your school and your students? A recent survey suggested schools are axing practical training courses despite recognition by teachers of their value to pupils, research that revealed 60% of schools are either planning to cut the provision of vocational qualifications, or have already done so, despite 85% of senior teachers agreeing that vocational qualifications are valuable for their students.

However, it is not all bad news. Depending on how we view our role within our current landscape. The Independent reported this weekend, “the opposition to the Gove reforms is formidable. The universities are unhappy. Business is unconvinced; the employers’ organisation the CBI wants more rigorous exams but says the Gove plans lack coherence. Teachers’ unions say that changing A-levels and GCSEs at the same time will put intolerable pressure on schools. Educationalists, head teachers, exam boards and even the exam regulator have expressed major doubts. So have activists in the arts, theatre, design, computing and engineering.”  November’s Chief Inspectors report told us that 76 % of schools are now good or better, up from 64% 5 years ago. The number of 16yr olds achieving 5 or more GCSE’s has risen from 38% to 59% over the past two decades.

Moreover, there is a momentum emerging to celebrate what has been achieved, to engage and join together to accept the aspects of our profession that need improving and could benefit from a fresh look or even radical overhaul…. but equally to ensure we are part of the process, that our experience and our expertise form the shape of the  future. As this blog writes the Heads Roundtable has met and considered alternatives to the current proposals that have merit and can be developed, claims abound of a reason to be “audaciously hopeful”.

The function of the WSDN is to provide the facility for us as professionals to engage in debate and discussion, to share ideas.  Nothing then is timelier than the first of our Forums for 2012-3 and the first of three exciting events for this term:

1. The WSDN Curriculum Forum on 1st March at Downlands School. Free to all who attended the November conference. We are very fortunate that this will be led by Sue Williamson, Chief Executive Officer SSAT; she will enable deputies from across West Sussex to explore our solutions, to maintain a focus on what we know is the right approach for our students in addressing the key questions. Questions such as: How is your school responding to the demands of new policy in relation to curriculum and qualifications? What principles of curriculum design do you feel passionate about? Do you feel able to meet this and respond to policy demands? How are you ensuring that different pathways for students have parity of esteem with an academic pathway? The feedback she gathers will lead directly into the Curriculum Symposia of the Redesigning Schooling events, a few weeks later with Dylan Wiliam and Tim Oates. Booking details to follow shortly.

 On the same day at the same time as the Curriculum Forum, we are working with the SSAT to develop an exciting new opportunity for our students

2. WSDN March 1 Student Forum – Class of 2040, we invite you to bring two students to ‘Class of 2040:’ We know that we are preparing our students for a very different world from the UK of 2013. Yet how often in schools do we find time to allow students to explore these future challenges? Students will be presented with the types of challenges that might take place in the year 2040; challenges they are unlikely to face in the classroom. Students will unpick the type of skills they need to solve twenty-first century problems, how these skills could be learnt today, and how they, as students, can work with school leaders to achieve this. This is a unique opportunity for students to experience problem-based learning in a real and authentic way, and give students a voice to help Redesign Schooling. Booking details to follow shortly.

Furthemore, as if these two events were not enough. We are also able to offer an additional opportunity to WSDN members.

 3. An exclusive audience with Professor Dylan Wiliam in London, on March 12. We are invited to join the SSAT symposia on Redesigning Schooling: Curriculum and Qualifications to work with Professor Wiliam and Tim Oates, and colleagues from across the country to capture thinking to co-create recommendations to make England a world-class education system.  Prior to the symposia the WSDN has an exclusive session with Professor Wiliam to take further our thinking from March 1 and making sure our voices are heard, and that we are part of the solution in our own schools and nationally.

Most of us have been in teaching since the early 1990’s; in that time we will have seen 5 different governments and countless Education Ministers. Barring any big lottery wins, most of us will be in education for the next twenty something years. We will be here after this government has faded into the journals of history but what does not fade is our passion and commitment to the job we chose and to the conviction that we can and do make a difference. It may be harder to make our voices heard at the moment but this blog believes that simply means we need to speak together, to be louder and clearer, to be creative and innovative, and to be inspired and inspiring. We do not know yet what shape the future of education will take but we can be sure that it will be of a far higher quality, more focused and infinitely more relevant to our students if we are a part of designing it.

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