CPTSA Conference 2019: Rebuilding Curriculum and Assessment (2)

home-flyer CPTSA Conference 2019 landscape


This Saturday saw a welcome return for this gem of an edu-conference, choreographed by one of the most well-connected couples on edu-twitter, the ‘Batman and Robin’ of education research conferences, Keven Bartle and Helene Galdin-O’Shea (I will let you decide who you think is who?).  A big thank you to both of you for all the time and effort that goes into putting this together and the other superheroes who help run the day.

I must disclose a personal interest in this event as I am lucky enough to be a member of staff at Canons High School, which has given me a sort of insider insight that has built up my excitement for this stellar line-up.

Despite the amber weather warning, colleagues came from far and wide with big hearts and open minds managing to traverse the slippy pavements and slushy car parks to question the existing paradigms and assumptions in our sector.

It is a cheering thought that the ideas in this conference are no longer considered ‘fringe’, the growth of Ofsted’s research wing is an interesting reflection on the shifting paradigm.  At the beginning of my career, the use of research and evidence would have seemed a bit quirky but thankfully, it has become much more embedded into our everyday practice.

There is a coherent and emerging canon of literature that helps us think about the what, how and the why.   It is important that we all use this time of change to help us question and rethink our practices around curriculum and assessment.

“It is so easy to be wrong – and to persist in being wrong – when the costs of being wrong are paid by others”. Thomas Sowell.

Keynote 1. Mary Myatt: Curriculum: An Entitlement.

I am not sure I can do the depth of Mary’s session justice as the ideas come thick and fast but I can recommend her book ‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence’.  Admittedly, I had to look up the word gallimaufry and I have learnt that it is not a Doctor Who reference but a ‘confused jumble or medley of things’.

Mary has spent many years as an invited guest in schools and uninvited guest as an ofsted inspector.  Principles of good curriculum and teaching practice are underpinned by similar values and a belief in the dignity and humanity of all of us in the sector.  There is no copyright on good ideas we should magpie the good stuff.

Controversies, concepts and conversations. 


  1. Priorities distorted in the pursuit of results … the curriculum has narrowed. In primary start Sats papers in year 5.

In secondary – need to justify 3 year curriculum,  KS4 courses were designed for 2 years if you are offering them in three – why?

Some curriculum offers are distorted by the desire for a school to have a good progress 8 score but this may not be good for individuals pupils.

For example, at Huntingdon – all students study a language to broaden entitlement.  It may not be a qualification that will give the school the best attainment scores but it is a commitment to broadening the diet of a mono-cultural, insular client group.

  1. Diminished diet for some – withdrawn from wider curriculum for interventions.   For example, we should be aware of the ‘ghetto table’ that limits kids learning. Some kids may need pre-teaching and post-teaching but they must still have access to the whole offer.
  2. Low expectations are set for pupils with our use of ‘all, most, some’ – this limits their entitlement to the whole curriculum.

What do pupils say … more demanding work please, some teachers try to make things accessible but they over scaffold, simplify too much and over support kids with additional needs.  Is there a way of both supporting those with additional needs without lowering our expectations or reducing their entitlement.

Mary gives us a thought experiment – imagine we are all to sit an unseen test, when complete it will be marked and then we will sit in rank order based on your performance.  This scenario makes most people uncertain and uncomfortable, the ranking changes our focus (threat).  Some do not want to share when you think you will be ridiculed.

What you want is high challenge and low threat (think crosswords & sudoku).  As we get better at high challenge – low threat, the easy ones are no longer as satisfying as success does not give us the same dopamine hit.

Creating the right conditions for this …  separate the work from the person.  There is a legacy of grading lessons where the feedback given is not heard as lesson requires improvement rather that the individual requires improvement.  Feedback is always about the work not about numbers and grades.

Pay attention to the soft stuff, the humanity and dignity of the people.  Schools that only focus on exam results are unhappy places to be.  

Mary gives us a useful reminder of how to manage student talk – we should consider asking students to stop speaking when they are ready rather than Stop talking now to allows time for the kids thoughts to come out.

Student voice.  Able but idle students … y9 boys is there any subject you do not mess about in. In this school it is geography … why? Homework – given articles from national geographic, teacher says you will not understand it all but we will talk about it when you come back.

Children can cope with and want more demanding work as long as it is offered in the right way.

What do children think about ability tables? Should we ban the word ability as all we can talk about is prior attainment and it may not be helpful.  Kids on top table loved it, kids in middle were frustrated and kids at the bottom thought they would never get a chance. 

Too many pupils get stuck on ghetto tables with a diminished curriculum diet.  Those pupils in bottom sets are more likely to be pupil premium?  Our most vulnerable children often have the least experienced and least qualified adults working with them.


  1. Dan Willingham – why don’t kids like school.

Humans are curious but thinking is hard (sweet, sweat)

Problems to be solved – where are the problems to be solved?

Working vs long term memory

Conceptual knowledge,rich connection.

Power of stories,  conflicts and dilemmas – our brains privilege stories.

What is the meaning of the material?  The pupils need a hinterland about where this learning is sitting.  We come into the profession to give young people a passion about the subject and pass exams along the way.

Keynote 2.  Daniel MUJIs – researching curriculum how, why and the what?

Head of research at Ofsted.  An interesting overview into what the new Ofsted focus on curriculum means and how they are engaging with their own research into how to measure it.

What does a focus on curriculum mean?  In the past, there has been too much focus on data and attainment. Ofsted has lost its purpose over time, Lost sight of what is at the heart of education – what teachers teach and what pupils learn.

Ofsted’s definition of curriculum

“A framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage” (Intent)

“… for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context” (Implementation)

” … and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations” (Impact)

We need to make a distinction between curriculum and teaching and learning.

Curriculum – What is taught

Teaching  – How content is taught

Assessment – desired high level outcomes and measures of those outcomes.

Curriculum research: findings so far

There was not much evidence about what makes a successful curriculum lots of theory but nothing empirical, so Ofsted has embarked on caring out its own large-scale research in three phases

Phase 1. Exploratory 40 schools in inspection and surveys of all stakeholders 

Use ofsted inspectors as data collection this brings some advantages and disadvantages.

Phase 1 findings.- what were the problems?

Lack of curriculum knowledge and expertise in schools.

Curriculum confused with assessment and qualifications.  An element of this is systemic as exam boards decide what is learnt?  The subjects on offer are not the curriculum, the question is why those subjects and how do they fit into a broader curriculum entitlement.

Curriculum narrowing.

Teaching to the test.

Social justice issues.

Gaming the system with meaningless qualifications like ECDL.

Phase 2 – what is good practice?

23 schools – purposive sample, Two hour discussion with curriculum leaders – questions on curriculum management and development.

Three types of schools.

  • Knowledge-rich
  • Knowledge-engaged.
  • Skills-led. (gasp of breath from audience!).


Role of subject leaders invested in designing the curriculum – subject leads given some autonomy 

Progression model. A sequence of knowledge steps.


Literacy and Vocabulary – cross curricula focus.

Phase 3 – focus and objectives.

How do you create a research model to assess intent, implementation and impact of curriculum.  Ofsted have created some curriculum indicators.  Sampling criteria – more mixed and a larger sample.  The research question is how well do the indicators work across different contexts.

25 curriculum indicators. (Quantitative scales)

For research purposes not inspection purposes.

The indicators are aligned with the proposed quality of education.

Phase 3 – Findings

Mismatch between leaders intentions and the actual implementation.





We can validly assess curriculum?

What is your curriculum rationale – proactive thinking?  More than what the exam boards prescribe.  Borrow models from other schools.  

Be clear about the sequence of content.

Provide kids with transferable knowledge.

What isn’t a high quality curriculum 

Not the same as teaching (how) not the what.

More than list of qualifications.

New framework 


Curriculum lies at the heart of it.

How will ofsted collect evidence

Triangulating different sources of evidence.


Session 1.  Helen Ralston.  Putting data back in its box.  The research and principles behind a common sense approach to assessment.

An interesting case study of Helen’s own school and the journey that they have been on it rethinking curriculum, assessment and data.  Helen clearly outlines the different stages in this journey with an analogy about bricks and buildings.

Helen outlines a range of key books, research and writers who have helped her with her hearts and minds journey.

Daisy Christodolu – Making Good Progress

Important parts of the Jigsaw

  1. What
  2. How
  3. Definition of learning
  4. Retrieval 
  5. Knowledge – cog. Load 
  6. Assessment 

How do you design a curriculum template?

  1. Flight paths are flawed.

Refers to Tom Sherrington’s blog on the flawed nature of the bell curve.  False ladder or flight path based on human judgement.

  1. TEs article – Do Not Drown in Data James Pembroke

Objective tracking is very time intensive and flawed.  In primary schools, this may take up 24 days of time.  How reliable are they as we sit at the spreadsheet and make snap judgements?

  1. Separate both summative and formative assessment.

Summative is used to create a shared meaning for different audiences.  Valid inference over a large domain of material.  What were the conditions of the assessment?  We will need to distinguish between students

Formative assessment has consequence for teacher and students.  It has a narrow domain to inform learning. Good for learning as you are breaking down a complex skill into constituent parts.  Descriptors not always helpful as they mask what they know and don’t know.

Claire Sealy – Keep Your Data Raw. (Blog)

Use percentages?.  But might lead to false comparisons?

Standardised scores?

Calibration – the curriculum is the progression model do they assessments reflect the curriculum ?

You need to keep data as raw as possible and design an assessment model that has valid inferences.

Session 2. Phil Stock – Assessment for Purpose: What’s worth assessing and how can you do it effectively?

What is assessment? Why we do it?

It tell us about the past, present and future.

We spend too much time in the past and the future which are summative vehicles. We should focus on formative assessment of the present.

Summative assessment is tricky, time consuming, bloody hard work to do right.  Are the tests we use reliable and valid?  Do they have predictive validity?

Summative well looks like


It is bloody hard.

Are the tests reliable and valid.  Do they have predictive validity?

We spend too long on the past and not enough using assessment for the present.


How consistent are they?

Is there a strong positive correlation between both tests.  0.85 has high reliability  …. class assessments tend to have a reliability coefficient of 0.7.  We need to appreciate the difference between our observed score and the true score.  Once you isolate all the extraneous variables you may have a more consistent measure.

Why does it matter?

We triage classes into high medium and low but based on false data.  How accurate are your instruments? How reliable are your instruments?  Summative assessments do not improve learning?  You cannot tell what the problems are in a summative assessment.

What should we be doing?

Design formative assessment which bridge the learning journey rather than summative assessments.

  • Improve assessment literacy.

Some people in the school need to know a lot about it.  

  • Improve formative assessment.

Too much time gazing at summative assessments. Use Mini-whiteboards. Hinge questions. Targeted questioning – plan your questions.  Checking for understanding.  Use protocols for using the whiteboards, big writing and hold it up. Be consistent.  Before lesson – craft some short m/c hinge questions.

  • How do we respond when kids get stuff wrong.
  • Improving validity.

Collaborative preparation – plan your assessments with others. Trial tests. Standardise conditions. Make notes on how they do the test. Review item difficulty.

  • Targeted questioning.

Repeat, extend, connect.

  • Checking understanding.

What do you expect the answer to look like?

  • Build a curriculum around ‘big ideas’ how do you build an assessment model around this.

Deliver big threshold concepts – disrupt their understanding and then start again, test what they know.  Formative assessment stops kids falling down.

In Phil’s school

  • Formative assessment hour – builds in retrieval from last week, month, year.

Useful for curriculum manager and class teacher.  Missing part is involving kids in learning … they get a feedback sticker which gives them what they need to address.

  • Online tests and resources.
  • Teacher Knowledge Organisers.
  • Level 3 vocabulary.
  • Curriculum connections up and down the year group and across the subjects.

This is not a feature of ITT, it should be.

Session 4. John Tompsett.  25 years of hurt. Coherence between culture, CPD, performance management, and evidence to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

John entered teaching due to a love of literature and a love of the curriculum.

Nothing is said that has not been said before.  The curriculum has always been the thing.

The curriculum triumvirate 

  1. Content
  2. Responsive teaching 
  3. Assessment

Let middle leaders drive the curriculum not SLT.

Dylan Wiliam

“The main job of the school leader is to improve the work performance of those they lead”

Improve teaching and learning 

  • Culture

Doug Lemov

“Teacher development is most effective when it’s embedded in a school culture where teachers and leaders speak a common technical language, are committed to getting better, believe they can improve and feel a bit of urgency.  In other words, the culture in which teacher development occurs is the biggest driver of improvement”

John asks his staff – how can we observe you to help you improve your practice?

“It is so easy to be wrong – and to persist in being wrong – when the costs of being wrong are paid by others”. Thomas Sowell.

Teaching is the thing for deprived kids as they do not have support and resources to be successful.

  • Performance development

Getting people to get better is difficult, teachers plateaux after 3 years.  People must present some evidence of their improvement –

At Huntingdon they must … Review their results, Resources and maintain a TFL  notebook – reflections on what you are doing as a teacher.

The role of teachers – to improve their practice through disciplined enquiry.

  • CPD (marry performance development with CPD)

More time for CPD – kids go home early every other Monday to make time for 2 hours ring-fenced training.

Inquiry question with an IQ festival.

The process of completing the inquiry is the objective rather than whether or not it is successful.

Teaching as an intellectual exercise which makes it more interesting.

  • Evidence.

Cognitive Apprenticeship – people learn from one another through observation, imitation and modelling.

The processes of thinking are often invisible to teacher and student.

Walking talking mocks. 

Policies come from bottom up – no micromanagement 

Session 4. Mary Myatt – Curriculum: Concepts and Conversations.

Mary carries on the conversation she started at the beginning of the keynote.


  • Peter Brown ‘make it stick’

Learning should be effortful.

Spaced repetition


Regular tests

Paradox of forgetting

Highlighting, rereading, cramming are a waste of time.

Six Strategies for Effective Learning.

  • Doug Lemov -teach like a champion.

Small things that have the greatest return.

No opt out

No half-answers

Complete sentences, correct grammar.

Stretching answers abc

Answer, B – build on, Counterpoint

Begin with the end.

Double planning – responsive teaching – responding in the moment.

No cheap praise – don’t praise mediocre work – praise outstanding work.

Most marking in books is bollocks and too vague ..  what do we mean by more detail.

Mistakes are good.

  • Ron Berger ethic of excellence …

Austin’s butterfly

  • High challenge and low threat.
  • We recognise good work when we see it.  Does child have a sense of making progress.
  • We are obsessed with curriculum coverage and not excellence.
  • We  should plan for challenge.
  • We should focus on the concepts as they contain the big ideas within the curriculum.
  • Too much of curriculum offer is made up of worksheets and not enough on understanding.
  • Most worksheets are crap!  Too much task and not enough understanding.
  • Concepts are holding baskets for hidden gems of language – we should unpack the roots of words and the bigger story – etymology.


Isosceles  = iso means equal.

Dinosaur = Dino is scary saur means lizard.

Incarnation = in / carn  = flesh

Greatest gains for kids with lowest grades.


  • National between DOE and ofsted, senior leaders, subject leaders and SLT, conversations in the classroom.
  • Think of curriculum as a story or storyboard?
  • What is the hinterland?
  • What is the point of this sequence of lessons?
  • What is the broader context of what we are learning?
  • How can we use talk in classrooms?  We privilege writing above everything else.  School 21 are using Oracy strategies to value the talk alongside other skills.

Session 5. Tom Needham – Standing on the Shoulders of Giants:  How to build and sequence a research informed curriculum.

Another detailed case study of Tom’s school and how they have rebuilt their English curriculum to reflect an evidence-informed approach.  I am afraid my notes do not do justice to the depth and detail of Tom’s model.  I will add a link if one becomes available.

Tested all kids reading skills – 50/60 kids 3 levels lower in reading age.  Effective interventions – Greg Brooks.  With ‘Thinking Reading’ kids made 5 year gains!

Kids locked out of curriculum as they cannot read.  You gain 1 Year for every 3 hours of intervention.

At Tom’s school, Engelman’s DI schemes offered to all bottom sets which includes, corrective reading, expressive writing, morphographs.

Once you can decode you can access the domain knowledge but you still need domain subject.

Ideas from Engleman.

15% of lesson should be new content

85% practice, recap and application to build fluency.

Build in tiny steps and split content across lessons.

Don’t do full exam practice until the end.  They need good knowledge and background to be able to transfer to new contexts.  Vocab provides the building blocks especially – Tier 2 vocabulary.

What are the morphographs of your subject?

Toolkit of sentence construction .

5 principles from Englemen’s direct Instruction.

  1. Wording principle -be consistent in words you are using to enable clarity of communication.  Are we all using speech marks or quotations.
  1. Setup principle.

Only alter the thing you are teaching, keep other aspects constant.

  1. Difference principle.
  2. Sameness principle 
  3. Testing principle

Shift in task design.