New assessment arrangements have been in place to support the Northern Ireland Curriculum since September 2012. These include arrangements for assessment of the cross-curricular skills of Communication, Using Mathematics and Using ICT in Key Stages 1, 2 and 3.
Here teachers in a number of schools share their experience regarding implementing the curriculum and how they have promoted cross-curricularity. They also share information about how they have overcome some of the challenges and the benefits they have observed.
St Pius X College, Magherafelt
Implementing a Skills-Based Curriculum
Ballycastle High School
Michael Rafferty, Head of Department for English, Ballycastle High School
“Experience of moderation was affirming for all the teachers who had engaged and there was real clarity around the standards and the strategies to improve individual pupil outcomes.”
Senior Leadership promoted the engagement with the skills in a cross-curricular way from the start. They remain convinced of the value of this approach to the skills, and are keen to develop it further. It did take some time for the school to iron out the systems to make them work, but SLT came to understand that the arrangements are flexible and therefore it is down to individual schools to work out what suits them best.
The CCEA Task Writing Support System was used widely as a staff training tool and helped to develop confidence in assessing Communication in subjects other than English, with History and RE creating tasks from their own schemes of work for Years 8 and 9. Because teachers have become more skilled in designing activities to address the specific needs of the individual pupils, pupils are consistently achieving better outcomes as the tasks set are more enabling, giving appropriate support as well as stretch and challenge.
The Agreement Trials were helpful for standard setting. Internal standardisation was carried out within the English Department during the school day using the available teacher release; then in the afternoon, the Head of English met with History and RE departments for a similar exercise. This process worked very well. Experience of moderation was affirming for all the teachers who had engaged and there was real clarity around the standards and the strategies to improve individual pupil outcomes. The Head of Department submitted the levels, alongside class teachers, and this process was straightforward and not time-consuming.
The members of the departments involved in Communication have used the Key Stage 3 Levels of Progression and the CCEA Task Support System to drill down into what skills the pupils needed to demonstrate and what areas they needed help to develop. This approach has provided a structure in Key Stage 3 which has supported improvement at Key Stage 4.
Lurgan Junior High
Caroline Walker, Literacy Co-ordinator, Lurgan Junior High
“The Senior Leadership Team has played a pivotal role in the success of the implementation of the skills. They were instrumental in ensuring that all departments understood their obligation to develop and assess the skills.”
Senior Leadership have always focused on the importance of Literacy across the curriculum and viewed the development and assessment of Communication as a Cross-Curricular Skill as a positive and welcome step. The long-standing Literacy team became the Curriculum Team, and involved members of a range of departments. The curriculum team made cross-curricularity easier to implement because everyone had equal input into the discussions. This was a smooth enough process because SLT were fully supportive; as the process embedded, the outcomes were positive and this encouraged teachers to continue.
The Senior Leadership Team has played a pivotal role in the success of the implementation of the skills. They were instrumental in ensuring that all departments understood their obligation to develop and assess the skills. The main difficulty in implementing cross-curricularity was the confidence of teachers in applying the levels. The English Department operated an open door policy, where they worked with teachers from other departments. This need for this support was vastly reduced quite quickly as teachers gained confidence in applying the Levels to pieces of work. Teachers across the curriculum have reported more engagement with their subjects.
The pupils have reported that teachers use a common language when they are giving advice about written responses and that this has been very beneficial to their own understanding about their learning and has helped them to identify targets in their own work. This is a Junior High School and therefore we do not have data on the impact on Key Stage 4. However, Literacy scores for boys have improved by 10% in the last three years (as noted by ETI in a recent inspection), coinciding with the implementation of the assessment arrangements.
The Levels of Progression have been used to develop opportunities for Assessment for Learning as well as peer and self-assessment. Pupils have much clearer understanding of the route to success at GCSE. The school plans to continue to identify specific Communication focuses for their School Development Plan, and to explore more active learning opportunities, in light of the skills they promote.