Do children need to catch up or to prepare?

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Obviously my main focus here is for year 6 children but I am very concerned, as is everyone in education, about the phrase ‘catch-up curriculum’. If we spend too long looking back we will run out of time to look forward!

For year 6 children, now is the time they are able to start to really think about their future. They know which secondary school they are going to be going to. So this year, above any other, thanks to the removal of statutory assessment they have an amazing opportunity to spend quality time preparing for their next stage of education. The buzz of excitement is one to be harnessed, to be taken advantage of. The press, and of course social networking sites were filled with comments about how lovely it was to finally hear children filling corridors and classrooms again. Teachers thrilled to have their classes back and families happy to hand back the reigns of learning! Those 10 and 11 year olds are not only now happy to be back in school but are also starting to think about what comes next. Schools have a wonderful opportunity to take this buzz and run with it! When talking in lessons, don’t make the contact about what is needing to be caught up on, but how this will be preparing them for what comes next. The year 6 to 7 transition does not hold the monopoly with this way of thinking and working. Nothing we are doing in school at any stage needs to be about catching up, it is about helping our pupils move on. Yes, that may mean that we have to cover things that should have been covered before but that does not mean that we need to focus on the missed work. We should be making sure that whatever curriculum is being delivered is preparing the children for the next stage and not focusing on the previous.

This can only be achieved if the class teacher knows what is coming next. I have written, and spoken many many times on the need for all staff to have a real overview of the National Curriculum across all Key Stages, not just the year groups either side of your class in your own setting. This is more important than ever, the children we are talking about haven’t had an uninterrupted school year since year 4. This means that with the best will in the world it is going to be almost impossible for these youngsters to ‘catch up’. The press are full of doomsday worthy headlines saying how much these children have lost. Should we not focus on how much these pupils can gain though? If everything goes to plan and the roadmap does not alter, we should (in theory) be all but back to normal by the end of June. Who needs normal? Was normal really giving our children the best deal? I have been reading blogs, articles and books about Transition for years. All of which are wonderful and filled with great ideas and ways of supporting the process. How much has actually changed as a result of this though, actually very little. The first book I ever read about Transition was written over 25 years ago and many of the problems that were highlighted there are still in play today. It is not good enough for our children and things need to change. Maybe now is the time to embrace this and really move forward.

The removal of statutory assessment again this year means no more SATS pressure, and provides the perfect opportunity for children to be able to throw themselves into preparing for the next stage of their school career. Much of how this will work across the phases will depend upon the relationship that schools have with each other but even with the worst case scenario, of little or no communication, there are things that can help.

I say it again – use the national curriculum. Compare the Key Stage 2 and 3 Programmes of Study for each subject. The beauty of the NC is that it is very clearly a spiral curriculum. When you consider the overview of all year groups the connections are clear. In year 6, why not focus on the areas of the curriculum that will be cropping up again in Year 7? Secondary school, consider adapting your Schemes of Work to ensure coverage of those areas that you know have been learned in year 6 and making sure the children start their secondary lessons with at least a level of confidence to support them moving on through the year. We all know happy, confident children make better learners. So lets stop telling them how much we all have have to catch up and start to tell them how exciting it is that they get to prepare. The beauty of this way of looking at things is that it, of course, fits with all children of all ages. There are so many if’s, what’s and maybe’s in schools right now. Tests/exams were on now they they are off. Children were learning in school but the majority were at home, now almost all children are back in school although there are still some who remain in the virtual classroom. Every child and almost all adults have had to make a transition of some form, several times this year. The one thing that has remained constant has been the National Curriculum, love it or loath it, it has stood steady. It may need to change usual practice and delivery method, it may even mean picking up from where children were before lockdown 3 but they are not catching up! They are being prepared for the future, as they always have been.

Getting transition right has always been a balancing act, but this year if we focus too much on catch up and not enough on preparation we run the risk of an entire generation of children moving on who are not ready to do so. Secondary ready means many things to many people, but spending the remaining time in year 6 catching up from the missing curriculum since year 4 (in essence) means there is very little time to make sure that they are ready for year 7. We cannot get that time back so we need to ensure the months we do have is spent making sure children are ready. Anxiety is high at this period of time every year but this one has given us all the opportunity to focus on the skills we have learned during lockdowns and how they will translate to moving on educationally.

To summarise:

  1. Know and use the NC that has passed but that will follow
  2. Harness the excitement of the return to school and channel it into transition.
  3. Highlight the changes that the children have already been though, and point out the move to secondary school will be easier thanks to their new found skills.
  4. Stop thinking catch up and start thinking preparation.


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