Planning and Assessing for National Curriculum 2014

With just 7 months until National Curriculum 2014 needs to be implemented by all schools (unless you work at a brave Academy, who design and run their own curriculum) the planning process is well and truly underway. As a Head of Department (PE) I have begun the process of reading the new programme of study and thinking about how my current curriculum map, schemes of work and especially the assessment procedures need to be reviewed and refined to meet the needs of the curriculum. In this blog I will share some of my thought process about these changes and outline how I believe a curriculum should be adapted to suit the needs of the learners following the 2014 National Curriculum.

Be warned I will be using PE specific examples in the curriculum planning section, but I will try to keep the assessment section as ‘unsubject specific’ as possible!


The Key Stage 3 National Curriculum for PE states that pupils should taught to:

  • use a range of tactics and strategies to overcome opponents in direct competition through team and individual games [for example,           badminton, basketball, cricket, football, hockey, netball, rounders, rugby and tennis]
  • develop their technique and improve their performance in other competitive sports [for example, athletics and gymnastics]
  • perform dances using advanced dance techniques in a range of dance styles and forms
  • take part in outdoor and adventurous activities which present intellectual and physical challenges and be encouraged to work in a team, building on trust and developing skills to solve problems, either individually or as a group
  • analyse their performances compared to previous ones and demonstrate improvement to achieve their personal best
  • take part in competitive sports and activities outside school through community links or sports clubs

Below is a copy of the Key Stage 3 Curriculum Map used in my department from January-July 2014. This has been designed with Curriculum 2014 in mind and I believe that once the September-December terms have been incorporated including Rugby, Health Related Fitness, Netball and Basketball/Handball that it will achieve all but one aspect of the programme of study.


I agree with the programme of study that pupil’s should experience a wide range of sports and activities. A local school who I meet with regularly have adapted their Curriculum Map so that pupils follow either an individual sports pathway (Badminton, Tennis, Health Related Fitness, etc) OR a team sports pathway (Football, Rugby, Rounders, etc), For me, this limits the experiences available to learners and builds quite a dangerous fixed mindset about what they can and can’t achieve in sport, i.e. pupils will believe that they can only do well in activities where they work alone.

I believe that the curriculum that I have designed aims to offer enough breadth and depth to create an holistic programme of study, where pupils are challenged in a wide range of activities. In the summer term I have created an option block where pupils can chose which summer sports they study. This was a recommendation from members of my department who were concerned that due to the lack of time in summer term pupils may not have the opportunity to study sports in enough depth to make suitable levels of progress. For me, this serves another purpose: it creates an opportunity for pupils to make decisions about their own performance. It gives them the freedom to either target an activity where they feel that additional lessons would help them improve, either due to perceived under performance or if a pupil feels that they can excel in a particular activity.

This idea of pupils selecting particular activities continues through the key stage 4 programme of study, where pupils select a new activity every 4 weeks. We have begun trialling this and so far it has had a good level of success in increasing pupil engagement, which is a traditionally difficult time for PE departments with disengagement becoming an increasing challenge (ages 14-16 are the main time when pupils tend to drop out of sport).

Alternative activities such as boxercise and Sports Leaders Level 1 are offered to encourage pupils to “continue to take part regularly in competitive sports and activities outside school through community links or sports clubs” (National Curriculum 2014).


The one area where these curriculum map’s don’t cover is “take part in outdoor and adventurous activities which present intellectual and physical challenges and be encouraged to work in a team, building on trust and developing skills to solve problems, either individually or as a group” (National Curriculum 2014). The main reason for the admission of this aspect  of the curriculum is time and space.

With so many other aspects of the curriculum to cover it would be very difficult to incorporate this into the curriculum as a stand alone topic. The other issue is the lack of space and facilities to deliver this to a suitable standard. Without specialist equipment such as trim trails schools will find this aspect of the National Curriculum extremely difficult to deliver effectively.

At the start of year 7 our pupils complete 2 team building and settling in days where these sort of activities are used to develop team building, trust and problem solving skills. In order to progress these aspects of learning to a suitable standard we have attempted to incorporate these sort of skills into other schemes of work, i.e. problem solving when looking at tactics in Football and team work when creating partner routines in Gymnastics.


One of the most contentious issues in National Curriculum 2014 is the scrapping of assessment level descriptors, which have now been replaced with a statement to say what pupils should be able to achieve by the end of a Key Stage.

I believe that this is a great moment for all teachers! We can all finally move away from describing a pupil as a 4b or a 6c and start looking at them as an individual again. I have stated in past blogs such as “Developing a Growth Mindset Culture in the Classroom” that I believe that effort is the key to success. One of the key aspects of teaching should be creating pupils with growth mindsets who can understand that talent and ability aren’t god given gifts, but the outcome of hard work and practice. As a baby no one is more talented than anyone else, we are just a product of our environment and excel in the things that we practice and enjoy.

Many schools are waiting patiently for more guidance on how the government would like them to assess without levels the education system waits in limbo trying to guess Mr Gove’s next move (or insightful comment on education!). This makes suggesting any assessment procedure a tentative process, but I will try and outline how I believe that pupils should be assessed using the National Curriculum Assessment Statement.

Linking back to what I have previously said about effort I believe that the start of any assessment should be the pupil’s self assessing their effort levels over the past topic. This can form the basis of a dialogue between the student and the teacher over the coming weeks (and years). Once pupils understand the link between (sustained) effort and success they will achieve their potential.

How often do we hear teachers saying that pupils can achieve a C in their GCSE’s if they work really hard? How often do you hear a pupil say that they’d be happy with a C because that’s what the teacher believes they are capable of achieving? This is wrong! Teachers need to understand that with enough intrinsic motivation and effort that pupil’s in our school can all achieve well beyond the limiting and cautious targets we set them. If a pupil works hard they will achieve their potential. They don’t need to know that they are currently working at a 5b, they just need feedback based on effort in lesson. If they think they are working their hardest and the teacher agrees then they will achieve their best.

So where does the assessment statement from National Curriculum 2014 come into my plan for assessment? It should form the basis of target setting by the pupil. Once they have self assessed their effort (the teacher should have no input into this because we cannot categorically say that that pupil has/hasn’t worked their hardest) they then need to identify the aspects of the statement that they can/cannot currently perform consistently. This can form the basis for a target setting process that can be revisited at the end of every scheme of work. This process can then be used in the ongoing dialogue between teacher and pupil in the next topic.

Assessing under the new curriculum is a challenge for us all and we will definitely not perfect the techniques used straight away, but I believe that linking self assessed effort levels with target setting from the assessment statement will create an assessment procedure that produces pupils with a growth mindset, who understand the link between hard work and effective target setting to achieve their goals.

How are you planning on delivering and assessing the National Curriculum 2014? Let me know by tweeting @mikeharrowell or leaving a comment below.

Thanks for reading!


The Problem with Student Voice

Following a recent twitter discussion with another education user, who was adamant that pupils should have a big say in how they are taught, I have decided to explore my perception of the role student voice has to play in a school.

I am a strong believer in students learning to learn at an early stage. Pupils should understand different ways of revising and learning information, especially as the education system becomes more exam driven, however I have an issue when this crosses over to pupils telling teachers how to teach and deciding what’s best for them.

If you cast your mind back to when you were at school and ask yourself the question “how often did my teachers involve me in planning?” The chances are your response will be very little because the idea that students should be empowered in this way is a relatively new concept often driven by Ofsted’s view that pupils should be a bigger part  of their school community. There seems to have been a recent trend towards getting pupils to observe teaching, asking the ‘student council’ or ‘student body’ (or whatever name your school chooses for this group of pupils who meet and discuss school business) what they want to improve about their school, finding out from pupils how they prefer to learn and so on and so forth. For me this is a dangerous path to go down because if I cast my mind back to when I was at school I had no idea what was best for me- I was indecisive, I was inconsistent, I was emotion driven, I was a child and most importantly I had no training in education so I didn’t understand the concept of how to maximise learning.

I would compare this concept of student voice to a football manager listening to the fans or players of the club on how they wanted training and match day tactics to be set up. They are valid opinion and there is always a benefit to listening to the stakeholders in any organisation, but would Jose Mourinho adapt his masterplan to suit the desires of other. No he definitely wouldn’t! Why? Because he has coaching qualifications and experience that tell him that he knows best.

I wouldn’t go to a gym and tell the personal trainer how to train me, I would put my faith in the trained expert and listen to his guidance and advice and this should be the same in schools. Every teacher should gauge the response of their pupils in their formal or informal reflection on their lesson. We’ve all taught a lesson where the pupils have failed to engage because the methods we’ve used haven’t suited the needs of the learners and we’ve all walked away, reviewed what we did and planned to improve our practice. This is the feedback we want from pupils- the day to day informal feedback that we’ve been trained to use to inform planning in a cyclical, evaluative process.

If too much choice is given to the pupils we create an environment where pupils develop a fixed mindset about learning and believe that they can only learn in one way or that learning can only happen when the lesson is fun. Unfortunately in life they will have to adapt the way they learn to suit different contexts, whether that be university or work placed training. As a teacher I have a responsibility to ensure that my learners understand that there are different ways of learning and they need to be flexible and adapt to change.

I am not saying for a minute that student’s views about education aren’t important or that we should ignore them, but we are trained professionals with years of training and experience. As a teacher you know best, that’s what you are paid to do! Teachers need to observe learners and make decisions based on response and outcome, but it isn’t productive to solely follow the opinions of pupils who have no formal training in education and whose minds are still developing.

If you have any comments or opinions on this topic please tweet me @mikeharrowell or comment below

Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better

Over the past 6 months I experienced my first teaching ‘slump’. Lessons weren’t going how I wanted them to, behaviour issues were getting away from me, I had mental blocks trying to plan lessons and most importantly I was getting angry with myself, unable to comprehend what was happening to me. This slump coincided with a move to a new school, making me question whether I’d spent too long at my previous school and become institutionalised in some way.

The slump ended 2 months ago and since then my lessons have been better than ever, planning is flowing and I feel in control again. The turning point came when I finally realised the reason for this slump and the answer was simpler than I ever could have thought- I was in a learning dip!

A learning dip occurs when we begin a new challenge (for me it was starting at a new school) and we have to take on a lot of new information and have to adapt our performance to account for this process. It’s a theory that we see in full flow everyday as teachers, but rarely recognise or acknowledge. The easiest example for me to give is the high jump. Pupils are initially taught the scissor kick and this works well for them until the bar hits a certain height, they must then remodel their technique into the Fosbury Flop. Initially results drop and the pupil gets frustrated (without teacher guidance they normally revert back to the scissor kick because this is where they experienced a relative level of success), but eventually, with time and practice, they learn to use the Fosbury Flop and their ability rises exponentially.

Once I’d realised what had happened to me I was determined to come through the learning dip. I’m going to share the steps I went through in order to survive the learning dip and come out the other end a better teacher.

The diagram below illustrates a typical learning dip:


1. Allow for the dip

The first step was for me to stop getting frustrated and just accept that I was in a learning dip. This involved a lot of faith in the process (and hope that I’d diagnosed the problem properly!) and a genuine acceptance that once I was through it I would be a better teacher.

2. Acknowledge that things will take longer

By nature I am an impatient person, maybe influenced by the current impatient climate of education in the UK! One of the things I had to accept was that planning, data analysis, adapting the curriculum maps, etc would take longer and would involve mistakes that I would need to review and correct. This is a similar process to the one pupils go through when they are learning creative writing in English- the write a draft, which normally takes them a relatively long time, they get a partner to read their work and feedback to them and they keep adapting until they feel confident using this newly acquired skill.

3. Remind yourself that a learning dip isn’t a reflection on competency

There were times when I thought that I’d pressed the self destruct button on my teaching career by accepting a new job in a new school. Was I good enough to run a bigger department in a higher achieving school? Was I able to teach to a different cohort of pupils with the same passion and ability as I had before? Was I cut out for teaching? These are all questions that ran though my head (causing sleepless nights on the odd occasion!).

The answer to these is yes- I was ready for these challenges and I am (hopefully) able to achieve these things, but I had to keep reminding myself that a learning dip happens for a reason and that the benefits would be worth the stress and worry.

4. Focus on one thing at a time

One of the problems I had was that I was adapting my teaching to a new environment- different pupils, different expectations, different processes, meanwhile trying to get used to being Head of Department in a much bigger department in a new school. This was beginning to become overwhelming when I was trying to figure out all the things that weren’t happening how I wanted them to.

I decided to focus on one aspect of my teaching each week. I began with reviewing my resources and how I differentiated, then onto the pace of my lessons and so on until one by one these things began to come together and produce some really meaningful learning experiences for the pupils.

5. Celebrate when your performance begins to improve

My celebration was a simple affair- sitting on my sofa after a greatly improved week at school with a cup of tea and a smug feeling that I’d survived my learning dip! Feel free to celebrate however you want (maybe a bit more of a rock and roll fashion than me!) – it’s important to recognise the end of the process!

Moving forward I feel that this was a defining moment in my teaching career- the first (and definitely not the last!!) learning dip. I’d survived it and now feel more confident doing my job than ever.