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National Curriculum

Question 3: How well are we achieving our aims?

 

Introduction

It is critical that schools reflect regularly on the changes they are making to their secondary curriculum. Are they helping more of their learners to achieve their aims? Not only will this reflection help them recognise success, it will also highlight areas that are less effective and that might need to be adapted. As learners and staff change, so the school curriculum will need to be reviewed. Some schools refer to this as a ‘curriculum journey’ – an ongoing development that uses information gathered through evaluations to keep the curriculum exciting, relevant and up to date.

Schools have found these activities useful in helping them to evaluate the impact of their curriculum provision.  

Deciding what information to collect

If you really want to know that your curriculum development work is having the desired impact on your learners, you need to establish a clear baseline and then carry out regular, planned evaluations to check the progress of your work.

All schools are rich in information about what is working well and what is working less well. In particular, schools tend to be very good at analysing the information they have about student achievements in subjects that are tested externally, either through national curriculum tests or qualifications. However, your curriculum priorities are likely to be much broader than this. What other measures do you need to have in place to help you determine the progress your learners are making?

Considering a range of measures

Consider the curriculum as a plant and the ways you evaluate it as sources of light. If there is only one light source shining on the curriculum, it will grow towards that light. What other sources of light – as well as test results – would you like to have shining on your curriculum to help you determine that it is working? Bridge High School recognised that it needed to balance exam and test score data with information about their students’ skilfulness and motivation. They used resource sheet D to note the torches they wanted to shine on their curriculum. You could use the blank version to do the same.

For each of the aims you have identified for curriculum development, consider what evidence you need to collect in order to show progress. Remember that you only need to collect evidence that is directly relevant to each aim. For example, if you want your learners to have enquiring minds and be independent thinkers, you might collect information on the number and type of questions they ask, their willingness to contribute and their ability to work independently.

When collecting evidence, try to translate qualitative information into quantitative, measurable data. If only a minority of your class can do something, is it less than 40 per cent? Less than 20 per cent? The more specific your measures of performance, the more likely it is that you will be able to demonstrate a link between your curriculum changes and their impact.

Collecting people’s views

The best way to demonstrate the progress you are making is to let the curriculum developments speak for themselves – to be self-advocating. The words of those directly involved, particularly learners, are often the most powerful evidence of the impact of change.

Does the learning experience have a built-in mechanism for reporting progress? This could come through the learners’ work directly, through presentations, displays, websites or performances in a variety of contexts. You might want to enhance these measures with instrumental evaluation techniques such as using surveys, questionnaires, assessment tasks and personality profiles. You could use a student forum to gather information about learners’ attitudes to school and their understanding of themselves as learners.

A range of stakeholders, including governors, parents, co-development partners and Ofsted, can also provide valuable views and information to help you evaluate your curriculum development. You could use resource sheet G to help you make notes on each group, including learners.

Planning evaluation

When and how often you collect evidence will depend on:

  • the type of information you are collecting
  • when you need information to make decisions about moving forward.

Evaluation should be an ongoing process and planning specific opportunities to gather, analyse and act on the information you collect needs to be part of your curriculum development journey.

As a team, consider when you need to evaluate your work over the next year. If you have not already done so, start putting together some baseline information about your learners that relates to your vision for what you want them to achieve. What are your learners like now? How do you know?

At this point it can also be helpful to think about trends in relation to your baseline. What will your learners be like in five years’ time if you are really pleased with the way your new curriculum is working? What will they be like if you are satisfied? And what will they be like if you are unhappy with the outcomes you see? Some schools have found it helpful to ask different staff to complete resource sheet E, which addresses these three questions and can be a useful tool for discussion.

Who will collect and analyse the evidence?

Talk with colleagues about the way you collect, record and analyse evidence at the moment. Can you tap into or develop systems already in place? How can you plan to measure success regularly by listening to your learners?

The voice and views of other professionals – for example colleagues, staff from other schools, the local authority or independent advisers – can make a valuable contribution to evaluating the success of curriculum development. Consider using:

  • internal review – inviting others who work at your school to review a specific part of your curriculum development at one of its milestones
  • external review – asking representatives from other schools to review aspects of your curriculum
  • formal review – inviting an accrediting or approving agency to review your curriculum.

As a team, make sure that you’re clear about who will be involved in and take responsibility for each aspect of evaluation. To make the most of the information you collect, you will need to build in opportunities to sit down together and look for trends, hypothesise, suggest and agree key messages, and change plans if necessary.

Completing an evaluation plan

Based on your discussions about what evidence to collect, how to collect it, when to evaluate and who will take responsibility, complete an evaluation plan to share with colleagues. Resource sheet H is a template for an evaluation plan that you could either complete as it stands or modify to meet the particular requirements of your curriculum development work.

Communicating your achievements

Many curriculum innovations are well documented and reported by schools, but often the reports focus on activities rather than outcomes. One way to become a better self-advocate for your curriculum is to develop an evaluation portfolio from which you can extract the evidence you need to tell a convincing story.

Putting together an evaluation portfolio

A good evaluation portfolio will:

  • encourage you to collect evidence regularly
  • focus on outcomes rather than activities
  • include contributions from everyone involved
  • be a good source of information for internal reviews, peer review and reporting, the self-evaluation framework (SEF) and external reviews and inspections
  • become a permanent record of achievement.

Talk with colleagues about what to include in your evaluation portfolio.

  • What are the key points in your curriculum development work? What evidence of achievement are you planning to collect at these points?
  • What format will this evidence be in? How could you best present it in your portfolio?
  • What type of portfolio are you going to create? A whole-school portfolio, capturing the complete story of your curriculum development? Separate portfolios for groups of learners? Or online portfolios for individual learners to demonstrate and record their learning?
  • How can you draw on the ways that learners in your school already demonstrate their learning?

Make sure that your portfolio is brief, clear, persuasive and supported by evidence (including learners’ work). It is a record of achievement rather than a formal report, although you will probably find it invaluable when you do need to report your findings to different audiences, such as governors, parents, staff and Ofsted.

Many schools have found it useful to structure their evaluation portfolio around the three key questions shaping their curriculum thinking. Resource sheet I suggests the type of information you might include in your portfolio for each key question and offers a structure that you can use to start planning your own portfolio.

Sharing your success

It is important that you share information with learners and other key stakeholders about the progress of your curriculum development work, its successes and the difficulties faced. If you have put together an evaluation portfolio you will find this an invaluable source of information.

You could use resource sheet J to help you plan how and when to communicate your progress and success to others. Think about communicating appropriately for different audiences and situations – for example on the school website, at a governors’ meeting, for a parents’ evening display, on a self-evaluation form for Ofsted, or as part of the staff professional development programme.

Summary

Working through these activities should have helped you identify the information you need in order to evaluate the impact of your curriculum changes on learners. You should also have clear ideas about how and when you are going to collect this information and how you are going to store and communicate evidence of your progress and success.

Use resource sheet F to record the ways in which you are going to evaluate the impact of your new curriculum.

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