Part two: Reporting back from the 2021 BESA Curriculum Conference
In a year that saw the reopening of schools, the appointment of a new Secretary of State for Education, and a pivotal moment for the future of the climate at COP26, there was a lot to discuss at the annual Curriculum Conference.
Key topics included the educational impact of the pandemic and proposed recovery strategies, the future of EdTech, and diversifying the curriculum. The topic of climate change education was disappointingly absent. For a quick-fire summary, check out our five key takeaways.
How has the pandemic impacted pupils and teachers?
In part one of this blog series we discussed how the pandemic necessitated formal changes to education and drastically impacted approaches to schooling. EdTech, blended learning, ‘catch-up’ and changes to assessment are all on the menu for 2022.
Demand for exam preparation resources is here to stay
Ian Bauckham (Ofqual) states that exams and other formal assessments are still the best ways to gauge pupil attainment. So, the demand for educational resources which prepare students for traditional examination formats is set to remain. Grading for the upcoming 2022 exam period will also begin the transition back to the pre-pandemic grading profile, says Bauckham.
Research into school curriculum strategies allows educational publishers to gauge where to go from here
Ruth Maisey pointed towards research, funded by The Nuffield Foundation, which identifies four curriculum strategies employed by schools, particularly those within deprived communities, in reaction to Covid-19 disruption.
These strategies were labelled as “narrow (prioritising literacy and numeracy over other subjects); focused (prioritising core content within subjects); blended (supporting literacy and numeracy through other subjects); and continuous (covering content over a longer period of time)”. With the benefit of hindsight, Maisey says that many educators now regret having opted for a narrow approach because they felt that pupils missed out on the wider experiences that education should provide.
Meeting the demand for EdTech: Impact and opportunity
97% of secondary headteachers said their school had upgraded technology in the previous 12 months.Richard Vaughan, Department for Education (DfE)
The big question, is whether the resulting increase in the use of EdTech marks a permanent change in the way we educate.
A core message of the conference was that technology remains an untapped resource that we are just now beginning to make use of. Already making an impact are platforms such as GCSEPod which can help reduce teacher workload, while MATs such as Oasis Community Learning are trialling a curriculum designed around the use of iPads.
Blended learning has given pupils flexibility, independence and responsibility for their education, while allowing parents to gain greater insight into their children’s schooling by improving communication channels with teachers, as Kerry-Jane Packham (Parentkind) described.
The education industry is at the forefront of major change and, while change is often good news for publishers, development on this scale offers a vast new market opportunity. If demand for EdTech is set to endure, then it is the job of educational publishers to ensure there are quality resources available that will make a positive and sustainable impact on outcomes.
Government policy: Education recovery and levelling up
What might the DfE’s recovery policies mean for publishers?
A session from Richard Vaughan (DfE) on the government’s plans to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on schools saw us reach once again for our notebooks. He promises that “core funding for schools will rise by £4.7bn in 2024–5, on top of the already-announced funding uplift for 2022–3” to allow for an increase in teacher salaries and a continued focus on making up for lost learning.
However, this promise is not without its caveats; a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reveals that these increases will only return per-pupil funding to 2010 levels, marking an unprecedented 15 year standstill in government spending on education.
Nevertheless, could this belated rebound in funding open up a market for ‘catch-up’ resources? Further DfE initiatives, including mental health support for schools, technology provisions for disadvantaged children and ‘curriculum prioritisation guidance’ will also provide market opportunities.
The levelling up agenda and education
Although the IFS report also shows, discouragingly, that the proportion of government spending allocated to schools in disadvantaged areas has decreased over the last ten years, Vaughan outlined government plans to level up our education sector starting with a forthcoming Schools White Paper focusing on increasing classroom standards and providing schools with better-trained teachers and leaders.
To improve school curricula, Vaughan noted the importance of sharing best practice and recommended the use of DfE model curricula (the model curriculum for music is soon to be followed by model curricula for history and science).
These resources support the ‘overarching framework’ of the National Curriculum, according to Vaughan. However, they might appear to some as the provision of an unofficial, more detailed curriculum. If model curricula are to play an important role in the government’s levelling up agenda for education, we might see them being produced for more subjects in the future. It is questionable how much of an impact non-statutory guidance of this sort could have on our school system.
How can we ensure that we’re making a positive impact on diversity in education?
It is a truism to say that a well planned and delivered curriculum is “at the heart of a good education”. But how can we ensure that the curriculum reflects the needs of its users to deliver a solid foundation for their futures?
Model curricula have been cited by the government as one way to help schools improve diversity in their teaching content. Minister for School Standards, Robin Walker, announced in October that the upcoming model history curriculum will exemplify how Black history can be incorporated into lessons in a “meaningful, rather than tokenistic” way.
However, on the panel for ‘Improving diversity and inclusion in the curriculum design and delivery’, Suha Yassin (Pearson) pointed out that it is often learners themselves who most passionately advocate for learning and resources that better reflect the world around them. When such demand is apparent throughout the education ecosystem, it is crucial for educational publishers to get behind the cause. Excellent educational resources reflect the needs of their audience and their society and allow pupils to engage more deeply with their learning.
- Emily Hobson (Oasis Community Learning) recommends Teachers Vs Tech? by Daisy Christodoulou for insight into the potential of EdTech.
- For more information on pupil progress in the 2020/21 academic year, see this DfE report by Renaissance Learning and the Education Policy Institute.
- The annual IFS report offers detailed insight into government spending in the education sector.
- The Ofsted blog discusses curriculum deep dives during school inspections.
- Teacher Tapp asks teachers their thoughts on ‘curriculum intent’ forming part of the Ofsted Education Inspection Framework.
- Our five key takeaways from the 2021 BESA Curriculum Conference.
The landscape of education is ever-changing. At Oriel Square, we use our market and policy expertise to deliver high-quality strategy, research and publishing throughout education.