03 SES 07 B, Curriculum Development and Systems Change
In some countries, including England, there is a movement towards less curriculum control by government. This stands in contrast to a national curriculum which may be universally applied in all schools within a state/country. Since 2014, schools in England have been encouraged to develop distinctive curricula, and 'academies' and 'free schools' which account for over half of secondary schools do not have to follow the national curriculum at all. However relatively few schools appear to have used this opportunity to design genuinely innovative curricula that respond to the changing needs of learners in the twenty-first centuryIn (Greaney & Waterhouse, 2016). This is substantially atrributable to the strangehold of the fierce accountability system for school leaders and teaches, as it is suggested that England ‘stands out above most in terms of the intensity of its testing and assessment regime and the influence of its inspection services’ (Sheerman, 2008, p.xiii). In addition marketisation and globalisation typified by the PISA 'effect' on national policies have discouraged teachers' creativity and curriculum innovation (Au, 2007, Alexander, 2012). Some reshaping of assessment 'technology' is critical in developing a more appropriate curriculum.
This paper considers six starting points for new approaches to assessment:
- The evidence of the collateral damage inherent in the current neo-liberal system that relies so strongly on metrics of performance for market judgements of educational quality and value (Berliner, 2011). Metrics alone cannot be used to judge the quality of education and they can be highly damaging to engagement, self theories and identity and we need to reduce the negative effects of performative assessment in England and elsewhere.
- Our experience of PBL projects through interviews and focus groups with students, in conjunction with observations and eavesdropping, evidence the wide range of learning outcomes that are commonly ignored by and lost to current educational assessment.
- Our experience in working in the education of health professionals where there is a seismic shift towards patient-centred care in which the patient is seen as a ‘whole person’ whose experience of ill-health and treatment is given far greater weight than previously. The contrast with education with its focus on delivery and numerical outcomes is stark and disconcerting. One of the foundations of this shift in medical treatment is the use of patient narratives and we believe that there is great scope for the use of narrative in educational assessment.
- The opportunities offered by digital technology for the recording of evidence of and reflections on work produced in projects and other meaningful educational experiences – we will present evidence of what is already possible with the ‘Our Place’ app (https://ourplace.app). However through consideration of digital portfolios, Open Badges and Facebook, we will point to the daunting ethical challenges in this approach.
- The considerable literature over many decades on experiential learning and reflection (Dewey, 1933), and how we might support students to see it as less of a chore.
- The growing demand for C21st skills in the workforce. In English schools this is manifested in the ‘Gatsby Benchmarks’ (http://www.gatsby.org.uk/education/focus-areas/good-career-guidance).
- What learning outcomes are worthy of being captured through new assessment technologies and how might this be done?
- What are the affordances and constraints of attempting to do so?
A word first on our positionality which informs our methodology. For more than 25 years the first author plus colleagues have worked promoting innovative thinking skills and metacognition, but we have come to realise that innovation has to encompass system change and associated assessment technologies. As a result we have, through both funded and unfunded activities, promoted more localised curriculum development, highlighting inquiry and project based learning drawing upon community resources (Leat, 2017). Along the way we have encountered a significant range of people with compatible, if not identical, ideas. Since 2013 we have have been involved in research and practice development in project-based learning using principles of Community Curriculum Making (Newcastle University). Therefore this paper is a pragmatic inquiry into alternative curriculum and linked assessment possibilities and practicalities – seeking to make a difference in the world, whilst recognising our standpoint and its implications. Data is drawn from research literature, 'grey' literature, interviews with students and notes from meetings, project reports, websites and promotional materials. This data is mainly analysed through lens of 'Starting Points' 2, 3 and 4 for RQ1 and 'Starting Points' 4, 5 and 6 for RQ 2. The 'primary' data comes from a number of recent projects which were subject to ethical approval and we followed general protocols in obtaining informed consent, ensuring anonymity, the right to withdraw and the safe storage of data. We have ventured into creative speculation in the conclusions, which reflect to some extent, the aspirations of our network partners as well as ourselves. This is because in the pragmatic inquiry we are aiming to solve the everyday problem, faced by many students, of seeing themselves as failures or only partially successful.
Our vital conclusion is that there are ways in which notable and valuable learning outcomes can be articulated and captured by young people in PBL. Currently we see the framework developed by James & Brown (2005) as very useful as it has an empirical base relevant to a wide range of settings. They refer to learning outcomes under seven headings: Attainments; Understanding; Cognitive and creative; Using; Higher Order Learning; Dispositions; Membership, inclusion & self-worth The last three categories are particularly important. We currently believe that the technology is not a significant barrier to a new assessment 'technology', which we can outline in our presentation. The constraints relate to whether schools can become interested in human capability of their students, rather than just their exam scores and behaviour, and to students' motivation towards and ownership of alternative assessment evidence. There are some tricky ethical issues here. The affordances seem to relate to policy initiatives which open small spaces for experimentation and different perspectives, which might become more mainstream. Examples of these include progression into higher education, employability and 'skills gaps', and tackling educational inequality. A final significant affordance comes from purposeful networking, where deliberate efforts are made to 'join the dots' between different organisations and individuals with compatible interests (Wrigley et al., 2012).
Alexander, R.J., (2012) Curriculum freedom, capacity and leadership in the primary school, Available at: http://www.robinalexander.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Alexander-Nat-Coll-curric-capacity.pdf. Au, W. (2007) High-Stakes Testing and Curricular Control: A Qualitative Metasynthesis, Educational Researcher, Vol. 36 (5), pp. 258-267. Berliner, D. (2011) Rational responses to high stakes testing: the case of curriculum narrowing and the harm that follows, Cambridge Journal of Education, 41:3, 287-302. Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process, Boston: Heath. , Greany, T. & Waterhouse, J. (2016) Rebels against the system: Leadership agency and curriculum innovation in the context of school autonomy and accountability in England, International Journal of Educational Management, 30: 7, 1188-1206. Leat, D. (2017) Enquiry and Project Based Learning: Students, School and Society, Abingdon: Routledge. Newcastle University (undated) Schools' and Partners' Guide to Community Curriculum Making Through Enquiry and Project Based Learning. Sheerman, B (2008) ‘Foreword’, in de Waal, A. (Ed.) Inspecting the Inspectorate: OFSTED under scrutiny. London, Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, pp.xiii-xiv. Wrigley, T., Lingard, B. & Thomson, P. (2012) Pedagogies of transformation: keeping hope alive in troubled times, Critical Studies in Education, 53:1, 95-108.
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