Don't bother asking the DfE

Michael Dix's picture
I have read a number of stories recently about the state of morale in the Department for Education. This appears to be affecting their ability to do simple things such as answer questions about education, something you would have thought they would have been reasonably qualified to do. At a recent headteachers' meeting, the head of The Key, the online service for school leaders, told us that the Key had stopped asking the DfE for answers to questions because they never got any answers.

So, it was with little anticipation of success that I submitted a question on their website concerning the proposed 2014 National Curriculum (that isn't national) history curriculum. It had suddenly struck me that a rigid chronological retelling of history, cave men to 1588, in Key Stage 2, could run into difficulties if a school had mixed age classes. My school is not unusual in having to mix year groups because of our admission limit. This will become a real issue in September 2014 so I needed some answers.

After much consideration, I managed to come up with three possible solutions: teach all 40 children in each year together, although some children would have to stand due to a shortage of space, get teachers to teach the year 3 curriculum at the same time as the year 4 curriculum, two lessons at the same time, or maybe teach half the Key Stage 2 curriculum to children when they are in year 3 and then teach it all over again when they are in year 4. Yes, all these ideas are notable for their stupidity and wouldn't work. So how did the gurus who wrote the new history proposals envisage we would operate with mixed classes? Time for an email.

Previous experience of writing to the DfE and Ofsted led me not to hold my breath. Whatever concerns I may have about Ofsted, I cannot fault their approach to enquiries. Frequently it is an HMI who responds, and although I may not always agree with their answers, they are always thoroughly researched and argued. Not so the DfE. As far as I can tell, they never replied to my autumn term question regarding the ridiculous grading system used for English SATs in 2012, where a child who made two levels progress in both reading and writing came out with one level progress overall and in doing so moved us from significantly above average to just a bit above. Maybe the end of a combined English level this year was the direct result of having to provide a rational response to my question? I suspect not.

I received the DfE reply to my history question this week. Obviously thinking through an honestly posed query was going to be difficult for an organisation that appears to revel in repeating the same political dogma to any question: anything positive is due to free schools and academies, anything bad just reiterates our fall down international league tables (oh no, they can't say that any more as it isn't true). I was not disappointed. It is up to individual schools to decide how to teach the new curriculum, they kindly informed me. What insight, what clarity, what a hopeless, haven't got a clue and nobody's thought it through response.
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