How prepared are you for the new primary curriculum?

Written by: HTU | Published:

What areas of the new primary core curriculum are schools most prepared for and where do they feel least confident? Elizabeth Pope looks at the findings from NFER’s latest Teacher Voice survey.

The new national curriculum is upon us. With the majority of frameworks to be rolled out in September 2014, abundant media coverage has seen commentators both criticise and congratulate Michael Gove’s curricular revisions. However, regardless of the controversy surrounding it, the new curriculum is here to stay – and beyond the rhetoric are the teachers and support staff who will be responsible for implementing it.

Teacher perspectives

Since 2008, NFER has conducted regular Teacher Voice surveys about key educational issues (see panel below). Administered to a panel of 5,000 teachers, these surveys provide insight into practitioners’ own perspectives.

In light of the curriculum overhaul, questions in our most recent survey (November 2013) asked how teachers are feeling about introducing the new content into the classroom. We received responses from 750 primary teachers to two sets of questions. The first asked teachers how prepared they personally feel to teach the new national primary curriculum for reading, writing, mathematics and science. The second expanded on the new writing curriculum, asking teachers how difficult they think it will be to assess grammar, punctuation, spelling and writing within the new guidelines.

Preparedness to teach

Using a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “not at all prepared and 5 being “completely prepared”), we asked teachers how prepared they feel to teach the new curriculum for the core subjects. The results show that a number of teachers feel that they are “not at all prepared” to deliver the new curriculum. 

The exact percentage varies by subject; with the fewest teachers feeling concerned about maths (14 per cent), but with 20 per cent of teachers currently feeling unprepared to teach the new science curriculum. At the other end of the scale, only six per cent of teachers feel “completely prepared” to deliver the reading and maths curricula, five per cent to deliver writing, and four per cent to teach the new science curriculum.

Difficulty in assessing writing

Given the emphasis on writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar in the new curriculum, we were particularly interested to discover how teachers feel about assessing writing. Encouragingly, the percentages of teachers who feel that assessing grammar, punctuation, spelling and writing will be “very difficult” were low, with only three per cent of respondents selecting this option for grammar, punctuation and spelling, and six per cent for writing. 

Percentages of teachers who believe that assessing the new curriculum will be “not at all difficult” were, however, also low, with the highest being 17 per cent of teachers for spelling. Only six per cent of teachers feel this way about the assessment of writing itself, highlighting this as a particular area for concern.

Classroom teachers and senior leaders

An interesting element of the survey was the comparison of classroom teacher and senior leader perspectives. For all four areas, more classroom teachers feel unprepared rather than prepared to teach. Senior leaders were consistently more inclined to answer that they feel “prepared” than classroom teachers. Though noticeable, these percentage differences remain relatively small, and are arguably explained by the greater number of classroom years accumulated by most senior leaders.

On the issue of the difficulty of assessing aspects of writing, senior leaders were generally slightly more confident than classroom teachers. For spelling, punctuation, grammar and writing composition respectively, a higher proportion of the senior leaders rated the assessment of these aspects of writing as “not at all difficult” compared to classroom teachers. However, the proportion of senior leaders at each of the other points on the scale was more similar to the proportion of classroom teachers.

Both groups of respondents were least confident about the assessment of writing (composition). On the positive side, the proportion of classroom teachers who feel that the assessment of grammar punctuation and spelling will be “not at all difficult” is at least double the proportion of classroom teachers who feel that it will be “very difficult”.

Of all the findings, perhaps the most important are those which indicate that almost half of classroom teachers and a third of senior leaders feel unprepared to teach the new science curriculum, and that teaching and assessing writing seems to be a particular worry to the profession.

However, it is important to note that at least 20 per cent of all respondents to each question indicated the mid-point of the rating scale, suggesting that they were neither prepared nor unprepared, or that they were unsure how difficult the assessment of writing would be. 

It is clear that large numbers of teachers remain uncertain. Given the proximity of the reforms, with some schools having already begun delivering the new curriculum, it is hoped that by the end of the year, with relevant training and access to the various types of support on offer, teachers will be feeling better prepared.

Why preparedness matters

Understanding how prepared teachers feel is important, as these feelings reflect not only confidence, but the efficacy and relevance of previous training. Crucially, teacher preparedness has been found to operate with student engagement in predicting achievement. The 2011 TIMSS and PIRLS studies of international student achievement in science and mathematics, and reading consider well-prepared teachers to be one of the six crucial components of “effective schools” –  defined as schools which have “an effect on student achievement over and above home influences” (Martin & Mullis (eds.), 2013). 

The studies, which include data from 180,000 students, 170,000 parents, 14,000 teachers, and 6,000 school principals, claim that there exists an interaction between teacher preparedness and student achievement, mediated by engagement. Teachers who are more prepared, the authors argue, are better equipped to provide “effective, engaging instruction” (Martin & Mullis (eds.), 2013), while students who are engaged are more likely to be high-achieving.

Overall, our survey seems to suggest that classroom teachers and senior leaders alike remain cautious about the new curriculum. Therefore, headteachers need to ensure that appropriate training and support is in place during this important phase of preparation and transition. 

  • Elizabeth Pope is a researcher with NFER.

Sources of help

 

Are you prepared? Key survey findings

  • Very few teachers feel completely prepared to teach the new curriculum for reading, writing, mathematics and science.
  • Furthermore, a larger number of teachers do not feel at all prepared to teach the new curriculum for reading, writing, mathematics and science.
  • Very few teachers feel that assessing spelling, grammar, punctuation and writing under the new curriculum will be very difficult.

Are you prepared? Key areas for concern

  • The percentage of teachers who feel completely prepared to deliver the new curriculum is very low (between four per cent and six per cent).
  • The percentage of teachers who feel confident in assessing writing (composition) under the new curriculum (‘not at all difficult’) is much lower than that indicated for grammar, punctuation and spelling (six per cent compared to 11, 15 and 17 per cent respectively).

What is Teacher Voice?

Teacher Voice is NFER’s teacher omnibus survey. It is a regular survey that reports up-to-the-minute views from more than 5,000 teachers on topical issues. The panel represents the whole teaching workforce from headteachers to NQTs, drawn from a representative sample of publicly funded primary and secondary schools in England. The sample of primary schools from which the 750 respondents to this survey were drawn is nationally representative. Visit: www.nfer.ac.uk/teacher-voice


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