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John Pallister :: Blog :: A Busy time for curriculum thinkers and planners

February 06, 2009

  “Nationally, our challenge is to create a curriculum that:·         raises achievement in all subjects, particularly in English and mathematics·         equips learners with the personal, learning and thinking skills they will need to succeed in education, life and work·         motivates and engages learners·         enables a smooth progression from primary, through secondary and beyond·         encourages more young people to go on to further and higher education·         gives schools the flexibility to tailor learning to individual and local needs·         ensures that assessment supports effective teaching and learning·         provides more opportunities for focused support and challenge where needed.”http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/organising-your-curr  

The National Curriculum that has been revised to address this challenge, emphases the value of personalised learning and requires schools to re-think their curriculum and practice. Schools are expected to design “dynamic, forward-looking curriculum that creates opportunities for learners to develop as self-managers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, problem-solvers, team workers, independent learners, and effective communicators.” http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/skills/index.aspx  They will need to provide learners with opportunities that engage them in their own learning and equip them with the Personal, Learning and Thinking skills (PLTs) that they will need to succeed in education, life and work. http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/organising-your-curriculum/the_secondary_curriculum/index.aspx

The emphasis has shifted from teaching to learning; the learner is placed at the centre of the process and it is expected that they will be challenged to reflect on their learning and identify how they can improve and exercise choice as they develop as independent, lifelong learners.

This curriculum, reflecting the UK skills agenda, values skills and gives particular importance to Functional Skills. They are embedded in the revised programmes of study for English, mathematics and ICT and are an essential part of the new Diploma qualifications.

Functional skills are “those core elements of English, mathematics and ICT that provide individuals with the skills and abilities they need to operate confidently, effectively and independently in life, their communities and work. Individuals possessing these skills are able to progress in education, training and employment and make a positive contribution to the communities in which they live and work.”  http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/skills/functionalskills/index.aspx?return=/key-stages-3-and-4/skills/index.aspx 

Schools are committing effort and resource to work out what it is that they need to do to introduce Functional Skills and Personal Learning and Thinking skills (PLTs) into their curriculum.


The learners currently in Year 8 will be the first cohort of learners that will need to have demonstrated mastery of Functional Skills before they can gain a GCSE in Maths, English or ICT, or any Diploma qualification.  While Functional Skills and PLTs underpin the new curriculum, their introduction is likely to create significant curriculum development challenges.

 The common message is that Functional Skills are important and should be integrated into the curriculum of all learners; that learners should be provided opportunities to develop the skills and to practise applying the skills in a range of different situations and contexts, before they are placed in an assessment situation. The situations and contexts should be real and should engage learners in problem solving, critical thinking and independent learning.  They will be expected to be able to apply their skills to solve real-life problems.   Learners will need PLTs if they are to develop Functional Skills, and will need PLTs if they are to succeed and achieve in this ‘new’ learning environment. As Reflective learners, they will be expected to "evaluate their strengths and limitations, setting themselves realistic goals with criteria for success"; they need to "monitor their own performance and progress, inviting feedback from others"; they will be expected to "organise themselves, showing personal responsibility, initiative, creativity and enterprise with a commitment to learning and self-improvement". Learners will need to operate independently and take more responsibility for planning and organising their own learning. http://www.qca.org.uk/libraryAssets/media/PLTS_framework.pdf 

The learning environment that we are beginning to explore here will require the heralded shift in emphasis from teaching to learning. To create this learning environment and design the curriculum will require imagination, determination and significant planning.

This ‘new’ environment for leaning relies on, and values collaboration. Learners are expected to "form collaborative relationships” while schools and colleges are expected to collaborate to design their Diploma courses, and then to collaborate as they deliver them. As learners work in a number of different settings; school based, college based and training provider based it will be vital that all partners have a common understanding of the Functional Skills and PLTs. This common understanding must permeate through into the experiences and opportunities provided for the learner in each of the settings that they work in.

New qualifications, learners working and being assessed in different schools and colleges, the increased emphasis on life long learning and the need support learner progression has led to the development of national frameworks and systems to record achievements in a common electronic format. The learner achievement record (LAR) aims to track all learners' achievements through the use of a unique learner number (ULN). It is also hoped that it will give the learner control of their record of lifelong learning and achievement, while streamlining the collection, handling and sharing of information.   http://www.miap.gov.uk/benefits/ 

Individual schools and providers will need to review their current curriculum provision and engage in processes that will help them to integrate opportunities that will enable their learners to develop and practise their Functional Skills and PLTs. They will also need to provide opportunities for Functional Skills assessment.


Schools are very familiar with change. They frequently audit their curriculum looking at what they need to ‘include’ as a result of their revised thinking, aspirations, external demands or expectations.  The revised curriculum will be documented, stored and presented in many different formats ranging from simple text based paper documents to linked database systems. 


While common, agreed formats for storing information about learner’s achievements are in place, there does not appear to be any standardisation in terms of the way in which a learner’s curriculum is described or presented.  If a learner is to be involved in making choices about their learning, they should be able to ‘see’ their planned curriculum. If a learner in one school gets used to using a curriculum described in one format, it would be useful for them, if the curriculum plan that they access in others schools or colleges that they work in were in the same format. If schools are to collaborate on the design and delivery of courses, it would be useful to provide all partners with access to common curriculum documents. There would be an argument for a common format for a learner’s curriculum plan and for learners and teachers to be able to share and access curriculum plans and documentation.


All secondary schools are re-thinking their curriculum and are working through an audit and mapping process as they attempt to introduce Functional Skills and PLTs. Tens of thousands of teacher hours are being consumed by this process.


A discussion with Paul Mayes at Teesside University about the UKAN project   http://lis.tees.ac.uk/ukan/, prompting me to do some thinking about Web-based curriculum mapping processes and whether they might have something to offer schools as they begin to address the challenges of  the 11 – 19 curriculum. Might the process save some teacher time and effort? Might it engage teachers or provide something that might help us to engage learners more in their own learning?


Web-based curriculum mapping is a process that focuses on what is taught, how it is taught, when it is taught and how it will be assessed.  Teachers start by translating an existing planned curriculum into a standardised digital format. The format requires the curriculum to be broken down into topics or units that are then defined in terms of content, skills, assessment methods, the resources required and the teaching strategies that will be used. The topics or units are allocated learning/delivery time and are organised on a timeline.

The immediately obvious outcome from the mapping process is the curriculum map itself, however the actual process of constructing the map has the potential to engage and empower the teachers involved. This would be a very valuable by-product from a curriculum development process that in turn can feed the process. Supercharged curriculum development!  It might prove useful in the current environment as teachers review what they teach and more importantly how they organise and provide learning opportunities.

Most of the demands or initiatives that present themselves to schools require a change in the way they organise their teaching, or manage and support their learning environment. The initiatives or challenges often require a shift away from traditional teaching towards independent or personalised learning.

A Web-based mapping package with search and export facilities would allow the learner to select courses, modules or activities that would help them to meet their personal learning needs. By selecting programmes and materials that are ‘visible’ and available to them in the curriculum maps, they will use the curriculum maps to support their personal learning. This would go some way to satisfy the requirement for learners to be “actively engaged with, and help to shape, the curriculum they experience.”http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/organising-your-curriculum/personalisation/index.aspx?return=/search/index.aspx%3FfldSiteSearch%3Drevised+curriculum%26btnGoSearch.x%3D28%26btnGoSearch.y%3D9%26btnGoSearch%3DGo  

This process, by enabling the learner to search for and select appropriate learning activities, might also encourage them to plan their learning and provide opportunities for them to take more control over their learning. By providing learners with links to the resources that would enable them to complete the units or activities as well as to activities that would enable them to demonstrate their understanding or mastery, the Curriculum Map could support anywhere, anytime, personalised learning.


By being able to ‘see’ the map, learners would be better able to see the ‘big picture’ and that in turn could result in greater learner engagement. Having a map available that shows them what their available, planned learning diet is, and has the potential to support the assessment for learning process and in turn improved achievement. If we encourage learners to use maps showing their planned curriculum it might help them to understand what the Functional and Personal Learning skills are. The conscious competence model suggests that this would, in turn, help them to realise that they need to do something to develop their competence.


Accepting that things rarely go to plan, the planned learning will not always be the same as the learning that actually took place. Curriculum Mapping acknowledges the discrepancy between the plan and what has actually taken place. It recognises the need for the ‘diary’ map, a map updated by the teacher that documents what actually happened or what the learner had actually experienced or learnt.  The curriculum map is really a database that stores details of the past, present and future curriculum; what learning is planned in the near future and then a record of what actually happened. The ‘what happened’ becomes the history that informs the plans for future learning.


Curriculum mapping can support reflective learning.  Reflective learning can benefit the learner in two ways;   firstly, the teacher, by reflecting on the learning that they had planned and what the learner had actually learnt or experienced,  will refine and adapt their practice. This in-turn should improve the learning opportunities available to the learner.   Secondly, if the learner is encouraged to use curriculum maps to plan their own learning and if they are encouraged to reflect on what had actually happened prior to revising their learning plans, they will develop their own reflective practice. They will develop as reflective learners, selecting and using appropriate curriculum mapping tools as part of their Personal Learning Environment.


The natural place for the teacher to record their reflections would be their Professional Development ePortfolio; the natural place for the learner to reflect on what they had planned to learn and upon what they had actually experienced or learnt would be their learner ePortfolio. Providing learners with access to Curriculum Maps and encouraging them to use them forces them to use the plan, do and review process that underpins the Personal Learning and Thinking Skills.    Asking learners to record their experiences and reflections would help to support their Personal Development Planning and would satisfy the requirement for them to evidence their Personal Learning and Thinking skills.


The developing 14-19 curriculum requires teachers working in a range of different institutions to collaborate in the planning and delivery of the new 14 -19 Diploma Courses. A Web-based Curriculum Mapping tool would have a lot to offer. It could provide both teachers and students, regardless of the institution that they are currently working in, with access to a common view of the planned curriculum. This would go some way to provide the consistent approach that both the learners and teachers, working in this new environment, will need.  It could become both the catalyst that promotes the dialogue and collaboration between teachers that will be needed at the planning stage and the vehicle for communication that will be needed between the teachers in the delivery team and between teachers and learners.


Curriculum development is a continuous process. Web-based Curriculum Mapping tools have the potential to support the constant dialogue, evaluation, revision and communication that the process requires.


Getting back to Functional Skills. If we were to map the learning required by each of the Lines of Learning of the 14-19 Diplomas we should end up with a set of common or generic skills. These should be the skills that have already been defined as the Functional Skills and the Personal Learning and Thinking skills, the skills that all learners would need, to enable them to successfully complete their Diploma studies. The same set of skills would enable them to function as effective citizens and to function in their chosen vocational area.


The curriculum maps for the 14 – 19 Diploma courses should include both the Functional Skills and the Personal Learning and Thinking Skills. This generic skills set has already been identified and defined for us. Although there is no requirement to assess the PLTS there is a need for learners to evidence their PLTs development. Opportunities for learners to develop PLTs will need to be integrated into the curriculum maps along with opportunities for learners to generate evidence that they have developed and used their PLTs.


Deciding on how to start will take some thinking. As well as being included in the Curriculum Maps for the Diplomas these skills will also need to be identified in their own right as they also constitute stand-alone skills sets with Functional Skills having their own assessment requirements. The mapping would need to show the Functional Skills as integral components of the Diploma Line of Leaning and as a collection of activities/components that constitute Functional Skills.


One approach could be to start by mapping the principal learning and then devise and integrate activities and opportunities that would satisfy the Functional Skills and PLTs requirements. Another approach would be for a school to start with the Functional Skills Standards and to design a curriculum map that all courses could then adapt to integrate into the curriculum that they had designed to provide appropriate opportunities to satisfy the requirements of the principal learning.  The same approach could be used to integrate Functional Skills into the additional specialised learning, the work experience and project.


The advantage of the second approach would be that, by beginning with a common interpretation of the Functional Skills Standards, the school and collaborative consortium would be integrating something that, hopefully they all understood an had ‘bought into’. This would help standardisation across the providers and all of the courses in a centre or consortium.  It would, for schools or providers offering GCSE Maths, English and ICT, be a very useful way of promoting the integration of Functional Skills into the curriculum of other subjects. This would provide learners with more opportunities to develop and practice applying their Functional Skills in a range of different situations.


The first stage would be to interpret and convert the Functional Skills Standards and represent them as a curriculum map broken down into activities that would provide learners with opportunities to develop and practice their skills.


Would this be a sensible starting point for schools? Would it provide a better experience for learners? Would it save schools and teachers time? Would it engage and empower teachers? Would it encourage learner to get involved with their own learning? Would it help schools to integrate Functional Skills?

Overview for Keywords: curriculum mapping, curriculum planning, Functional Skills, Personal Learning and Thinking skills, PLE, PLTS

Posted by John Pallister

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