6.4 The sixth-form curriculum
Most schools have recently reviewed, and are continuing to review their sixth-form curriculum, and are conscious of the need to extend their provision to cater for the larger numbers and differing abilities of the students who are staying on. The subjects and courses offered in sixth forms are determined by several factors - continuity of teaching, the availability of staff, students' choice and the need to offer an appropriate range of subjects to meet their requirements. Most schools go to considerable trouble to accommodate students' requests.
Most sixth forms now provide GNVQ courses in addition to a range of GCE A levels, and usually a much smaller number of AS courses. Intermediate level GNVQ is offered most commonly for one-year students, with a somewhat smaller, but growing proportion of schools offering Advanced GNVQ. A few sixth forms, often in grammar schools, continue to concentrate just on GCE A levels, and a smaller number of schools, usually former secondary moderns, have set up new sixth forms providing only GNVQ courses.
The large majority of students in school sixth forms follow GCE A-level programmes of study. With the introduction of GNVQ courses, the proportion of students studying GCE A levels fell slightly from 91 per cent in 1993 to 86 per cent in 1996, but A levels form the basis of the post-16 curriculum in all but a few sixth forms. About 60 per cent offer some AS courses alongside A levels, but take-up has remained very modest, and few students take more than one AS course.
Entry numbers for most GCE A-level subjects remained fairly stable over the period 1993-97. Numbers for physics declined up to 1996, and then steadied in 1997, whilst those for biology increased, particularly in 1997. Numbers in English, the most popular A-level subject, also increased markedly in 1997. A substantial drop in entries for economics was largely offset by increases in business studies. Numbers in mathematics showed encouraging increases in 1996 and 1997 after falling throughout the early nineties. AS entries in total amounted to only 8 per cent of those for A level. Long-established gender patterns in choice of A-level subjects have persisted, with mathematics, physical sciences and economics predominantly studied by boys, and English and modern foreign languages by girls.
The quantity of work undertaken by A-level students can vary quite considerably. Although three A-level subjects is the norm, a small number of students successfully complete four; most commonly these are science students, often taking further mathematics as a fourth A level. Some students also combine an AS course with three A levels, and this often serves to broaden the range of their studies. In contrast, in most sixth forms there are some students who find three A levels too demanding, and drop down to two subjects by the second year of their course; the additional non-taught time thus created is often not used in as effective a way as it could be. The potential for extending the amount and variety of advanced level work undertaken by A-level students is illustrated by the small group of schools offering the International Baccalaureate in place of, or in addition to, GCE courses. Here, students successfully study what is broadly the equivalent of three A levels and three AS courses, in addition to other requirements for the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
The period 1993-97 has seen the progressive introduction of GNVQ courses into many schools, providing for the first time a realistic alternative, at Advanced level, to GCE A levels. Take-up of Advanced GNVQ has not been as great in school sixth forms as in FE colleges, but the proportion of sixth-form students taking these courses increased from 0.4 per cent in 1993 to 9 per cent in 1997. Business has been by far the most popular GNVQ vocational area, followed by Health and Social Care, Leisure and Tourism and Art and Design; very few schools offer GNVQ Engineering or Manufacturing, partly because of their resourcing demands.
The introduction of GNVQ has transformed the provision for those students who choose to stay on in the sixth form for one year to improve on their GCSE performance. Most schools have now dropped their one-year GCSE resit courses, where students just repeated previously unsuccessful work, and which were largely ineffective in significantly raising attainment; it is usual now to provide resit facilities only in the core subjects of English and mathematics. The GCSE resit programmes have been largely replaced by GNVQ Intermediate courses which generally motivate students, enable them to be successful, and provide a more worthwhile educational experience than was previously available.
Most schools accept the importance for effective sixth-form education of providing a broad programme of "enrichment" studies, in addition to students' main A-level or GNVQ courses. Though very well intentioned, the range of this additional provision, and the time allocated for it, vary widely, and few schools have a clear rationale for defining the content provided. Programmes often include general studies, sports studies, courses on IT, personal and social education, modern foreign languages and drama, as well as activities suggested by the students themselves.
Many girls achieve very high standards in mathematics and science at GCSE but are still seriously under-represented in the sixth form in subjects which lead to careers in mathematics, science, engineering and technology. This has two effects: it narrows their opportunities for personal development, and it limits national resources in a crucial area for economic development. This is all the more disturbing given that girls achieve at least as well as boys in mathematics and the sciences at GCSE and that the minority of girls who study these subjects at A level perform well.
Strategies likely to promote greater take-up by girls of mathematics and science at A level include a review of the courses provided at Key Stage 4, the use of outside agencies to demonstrate the career opportunities and the applicability of these subjects, and the further development of relevant extra-curricular opportunities. Individual mentoring of pupils has also been found to be successful in similar fields in boosting girls' confidence about entering male dominated careers. Schools need to continue to improve careers-related initiatives to broaden pupils' thinking about subject options post-16, especially with regard to boosting the confidence of girls who have the potential to do well in science and technology.
There is an increased interest nationally in key skills being incorporated into the programmes of study of all students following post-16 courses. However, the wide agreement about their importance is not matched by a common view of precisely what is meant by key skills, what purpose they serve, and how they are to be taught, learned and assessed. This uncertainty, combined with what has been until very recently their relatively low status in schools, has resulted in their forming the least satisfactory part of the GNVQ programmes; in many cases they have been regarded as a somewhat irritating add-on extra to the main vocational work.
The number of GCE A-level subjects taught tends to depend on the size of sixth form, but can vary from as low as 5 up to more than 30. A minimum of 12 A-level subjects is needed if students are to be offered a reasonable choice, and most schools are able to provide this. Since GNVQ is a self-contained course, schools do not need to provide a large number of vocational areas, but more options do provide greater choice for students.
For a school deploying current levels of resourcing equitably between the sixth form and main school, a minimum of 80 students is needed to provide economically a basic curriculum of 12 A-level subjects. To provide, for example, 16 A levels, two Advanced and three Intermediate level GNVQ courses a school needs to recruit a total of 200 students. Where numbers in AS and A-level classes are small, schools are frequently able to operate more efficiently by combining Year 12 and Year 13 groups, for at least some of their lessons; there is no evidence that these arrangements have an adverse impact on examination results.
Some schools enhance their sixth-form curriculum provision through links with other institutions. The extent of such co-operative arrangements varies considerably. There are some integrated sixth-form consortia with joint planning and publicity, shared resources and timetables and jointly delivered programmes. An example is in Lowestoft, Suffolk, where three upper schools, in a compact geographical location, have co-ordinated timetables and students travel by consortium-operated buses to whichever school provides the subject they are taking. There are clear advantages to the schools, both in terms of breadth of curriculum and economies of scale. When the smallest of the three schools was visited in 1995, it would have required an extra six staff to have been allocated to the sixth form to provide the curriculum available to its students at that time, if the consortium had not been operating; for a school with a total staff of 42, this would have been quite impractical.
In other areas, co-operative arrangements are frequently on more of an ad-hoc basis, with another institution providing the teaching of a particular course for a small number of students in a school where teacher expertise is lacking or whose numbers do not merit timetabling the course in the school.
Although these link arrangements are not without their difficulties, when they work well students benefit considerably from the greater choice of courses and diverse experience which institutions working together can offer. Such arrangements have recently become more problematic, and in some cases have ceased because of the increased competition between schools themselves and between schools and colleges.
6.5 The whole curriculum: spiritual, moral, social and cultural development
The contribution of National Curriculum subjects to pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development in schools is usually ad hoc. However, in some schools attempts have been made to draw out the threads in order to evaluate the strength of provision and make it more explicit.
The senior management team at Heathland School, Hounslow, identified SMSC as an area for development in advance of their OFSTED inspection. To this end, they agreed that a post of responsibility would be given to a member of staff to investigate and develop this area. There followed a comprehensive curriculum mapping exercise, accompanied by a survey of all staff from the perspectives of teacher and tutor. Additionally a questionnaire was sent to parents, and other members of the local community were interviewed to gain perceptions of the school's ethos. The mapping exercise revealed that a great deal was already being done, both explicitly and implicitly. In Year 8 drama, for example, pupils' moral development is promoted by consideration of moral dilemmas, examining the rights of the individual versus those of the community, considering the concepts of good and evil, power and revenge. As a result of the mapping exercise a number of recommendations were made, including that each department should have a statement on SMSC and that the subject contribution should be explicit in the schemes of work. Since then there have been several important departmental initiatives. For example, the mathematics department has begun to use approaches and tasks from a commercially produced Key Stage 4 scheme; during the course, explicit links were made between tessellations and Islamic art and design work and data were used which drew upon topics from areas with social and cultural links. The department is now designing its own materials for Key Stage 3 based on these principles. In English, Year 9 pupils studying "The Merchant of Venice" deepened their understanding of prejudice through an analysis of Shakespeare's portrayal of Shylock and his relationships with his Christian neighbours, understanding the need to look carefully at the positive and negative aspects of a person's character rather than make a judgement on the basis of superficial knowledge. The scheme of work for geography incorporates explicit reference to moral issues. For example, when studying flooding in Bangladesh, pupils consider moral issues related to deforestation, international aid and corruption. Particularly significant is the fact that subjects' contribution to SMSC is continually monitored by the member of staff responsible. Interviews with heads of department identify progress made and look at plans for making SMSC more explicit. The explicit nature of SMSC elements is seen as particularly important: implicit messages may be obvious to teachers, they are not necessarily so to pupils.
HMI inspection, 1997
Where subject departments give due thought to their contribution to SMSC, and emphasise it in schemes of work and in planning, this supports pupils' development and enriches the subject. Rarely, however, is this a consistent position across a school.
Effective schools provide their pupils with knowledge and insight into values and religious beliefs and enable them to reflect on experiences in a way which develops their self-knowledge and spiritual awareness. The main responsibility for spiritual development in the curriculum naturally rests with the teaching of RE, but other subjects can also promote spiritual development. In art, for example, where teachers are able to set tasks which call on pupils to express emotion and reflect on abstract concepts, the results can say much about the unspoken spiritual nature of art. In one school, a sixth-form student had made abstract paintings about his family's experience of the Holocaust in an unmistakeable demonstration of the capacity of painting to show feelings. English teaching can also make a significant contribution to spiritual development.
At Broughton High School, Liverpool, the English department regularly uses opportunities to explore the nature of spirituality through language and imagery. For example, in a Year 10 class studying "Twelfth Night", pupils explored the notion that the Duke was in love with Cesario's 'spirit'. The concept of 'spirit' and the range of meanings of 'love' were discussed by the class. Pupils concluded that qualities such as loyalty and love describe our spiritual nature and give individuals their unique character.
HMI inspection, 1997
Although most schools have difficulty with the idea of spiritual development that is not directly associated with religion, the effect of good practice of the kind described above can be seen at St Michael's School, Southwark.
Pupils' spiritual development is excellent. Religious education, inspected separately under Section 23, is planned to enable pupils to examine the Roman Catholic faith, the progress of Christianity and note the variety of faiths which help people develop a reasoned set of values, attitudes and beliefs. Other subjects make suitable reference to and contribute to pupils' spiritual growth. For instance, in history, pupils discover the significance of persecution in reinforcing people's faith. In English, poetry provides an opportunity for spiritual reflection. Spiritual awareness is reinforced during listening to music and from time to time in the performance and composition of pupils' own pieces. OFSTED inspection report, 1997
In sixth forms, with the exception of denominational schools, there is generally little formal provision for spiritual development. Some general studies courses include modules on religious issues, but otherwise, unless they are in church schools, the large majority of sixth-form students have no religious education within their programmes. Many students have strong beliefs or views about religion, but these are largely sustained by their experience out of school.
Where schools are making good provision for pupils' moral development across the curriculum, teaching strategies successfully emphasise school values. Perhaps most important of all, teachers and other adults effectively promote moral principles through their interaction with pupils and each other. For example, in PE and games, teachers provide good role models and successfully encourage a sense of fair play. RE makes an important contribution to pupils' moral development by teaching principles which distinguish right from wrong, and developing rational thinking. For example, in examination classes, in particular, a wide range of personal, social and ethical concepts are explored in depth and pupils are challenged to reflect on their own values and principles. In other subjects, too, moral development is supported where pupils are encouraged to think for themselves and to discuss a range of moral issues.
Geography lessons in many schools involve pupils in discussing population, settlement and environmental issues relating to equity, compromise, fairness and tolerance. Some science lessons include planned opportunities to discuss moral issues arising from their work, such as genetic engineering, nuclear power, AIDS and drug abuse. In history lessons pupils are encouraged to discuss issues such as war and conflict, prejudice, and rich and poor. In sixth forms, moral issues are often addressed through general studies and other enrichment activities, as well as sometimes within students' main studies. In art, for example, a GNVQ graphic design brief required a powerful symbol for a victim support agency; students had discussed and researched at length the feelings and attitudes of victims of crime as part of their preparation for this task.
The extent to which pupils and students are encouraged to think about moral issues varies considerably between, and sometimes within, schools. A dilemma for schools and individual teachers is the degree to which moral issues should be dealt with in a 'value free' way, in particular in order to avoid any danger of indoctrination. The danger of this is that opportunities for exploring moral issues are sometimes lost. As noted in HMCI's Annual Report for 1993/4, even in schools which have strong policy documents and high levels of awareness, 'more often than not moral issues appear to be ignored, ducked or else explored in a "value neutral" manner. It is clear that for many pupils, the one opportunity to hear the views of a significant adult on an important issue of the day - not least those pressing on their lives - is often missed'.
Where the provision of opportunities for social development is good, schools provide many opportunities for pupils to develop their inter-personal skills across subjects. These include, for example, paired and group work used to develop collaborative skills, sharing ideas and equipment and participation in team games. Explicit attention to pupils' personal development is usually found in Personal and Social Education lessons or tutorials (see below, section 7.15)
In most schools, however, more thought could be given to strategies for the development of pupils' social awareness through the subjects of the curriculum. For example, it is assumed that pupils know how to work co-operatively in pairs and small groups; often this is not the case, and mixed groups quickly resort to gender stereotypes, particularly where computers are involved. Insufficient attention has generally been paid by schools to analysis of pupils' behaviour to identify successful and unsuccessful forms of grouping, organisation and activity. In a significant number of lessons pupils are allowed to sit where they choose, and as a result behaviour patterns are based around the friendship groups of the pupils; sometimes this can conflict with the purpose of the lesson.
Around a half of secondary schools make good provision for pupils' cultural development, as at Helston School, Cornwall.
Cultural development is a major strength of the school. Pupils are provided with very good opportunities to follow an area of personal interest in a range of music, sporting and other clubs and societies. Awareness of local traditions is high. Personal writing in English researches family background and shows respect for local life and tradition and the Celtic dimension is celebrated in some religious education work and in music, where Cornish Christmas carols are sung. Pupils are made aware that they are part of a much wider community through some multicultural work and through the culturally diverse novels and poetry which form the GCSE English syllabus. There are trips and visits to further pupils' cultural awareness, and their involvement with the local community through art and musical performances is very strong. OFSTED inspection report, 1997
RE generally makes an important contribution to pupils' cultural development by teaching about Christianity and its influence on British culture and about the world's major faiths, so giving pupils some insight into a range of cultures. Well chosen syllabuses take into account the range of cultural diversity in the school and the scheme of work includes units which make pupils aware of the richness of cultural diversity in Britain. Where schools take cultural development seriously, a range of lessons include the use of paintings, pottery, music, literature, poetry, architecture and costume to develop pupils' cultural awareness and appreciation. Often RE rooms also contain artefacts which provide pupils with tangible contact with a range of religions.
Art provides many opportunities for cultural development through contact with the work of artists in the form of reproductions, books and videos. Displays of "live" art are important, as when one school set out some superb ceramic pieces and allowed pupils to touch and explore the work. Art plays an ever-increasing role in developing awareness of cultural diversity through, for instance, the use of Asian styles of stitchery, learned by pupils at home from their mothers and grandmothers and used in a GCSE textiles project. Where schools employ artists-in-residence, a clear agenda set out at the start of the placement is invaluable in making the best use of this potentially powerful resource for cultural development. This has become a regular and important feature of art in secondary schools. Other subjects can also make valuable contributions to pupils' cultural education, although often this dimension of the work is insufficiently explicit.
Some schools offer opportunities for cultural development to some pupils but not to all. In sixth forms, for example, the level of involvement and range of experience of cultural activity is highly dependent on the particular A-level or GNVQ courses chosen. Increasing opportunities for sixth-form students to travel abroad as part of their studies, including for example, GNVQ units in business or leisure and tourism in Europe, allow them to experience cultures other than their own.
Some schools fail to reach a sensible balance in the development of pupils' understanding of the cultural traditions of the United Kingdom, of modern multicultural Britain, and of other European and world cultures (see also pages 60-61). At Shelley High School, Huddersfield, a school with predominantly white pupils in an area with significant ethnic minority communities, provision for cultural development is well balanced and specific opportunities are exploited to the benefit of all pupils.
The school gives some consideration to an appreciation of the pupils' own cultural traditions through, for example, the study of history and geography and the choice of fiction in English. Their own musical and dramatic culture is celebrated and is recognised by the school community in the extended annual school assembly. They also pay frequent visits to galleries, concerts and theatres and the school environment itself is rich in display. There is a programme of exchange visits and educational field study activities in mainland Europe as well as a variety of work placements in the community and further afield. The link with Tanzania is a unique feature of the school and one that is valued by those pupils who are able to participate. At any one time a number of ex-students are spending time on voluntary service in Tanzania. This link, especially at times when Tanzanians visit the school, permeates the life of the school and successfully raises the multi-cultural awareness of pupils. This is consolidated by the subject material often chosen for devised drama productions, which have also been toured to other communities, including the Royal National Theatre. Similarly, in English effective use is made of literature from black and non-European writers. OFSTED inspection report, 1997
Teamworking in real life business
A TEAM-BASED programme for building businesses has received top marks from participants in its initial two pilot programmes. Primed! is a joint initiative between business growth consultancy Ignition Partner and Waikato Management School. It is the first programme of its kind in New Zealand, offering a team-based approach and mentoring to kick-start commercialisation of new products and services. The 14-week programme is led by Ignition Partner directors Chad Wilkie and John Cunningham, both experienced business advisers, and managed by Waikato Management School’s Enterprise and Innovation Manager Merran Davis-Havill. “We expect five or six really exciting businesses to go to market in the next six months,” says Primed! leader Chad Wilkie. “More than half of the participants are on the verge of going into business.” Some people come into the programme with their group already established and a business idea under development. Others would like to establish a business but don’t have a clear idea business idea. The programme helps individuals form teams with complementary skill bases. “Most programmes educate people individually or create teams in a static environment,” Chad Wilkie says. “We are creating teams in a new environment where innovation and teamwork are happening together.” That process adds complexity to the programme leaders’ roles. “We need to think through the shape of each team and differentiate leadership from the skill base.” Participants are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including Crown Research Institute staff commercialising research, students aiming to step directly into their own business, business people developing new ventures, and individuals keen to establish a business without a specific business idea. “Primed! has changed our mindset from conceptual to practical,” says Ilse Wolfe, whose student team is introducing a call centre-based business to New Zealand. “Without this, it would still be an idea. Now, we expect to be in business next year.” Amita Chand and her husband are well advanced in establishing a horticultural business. They have engineering and science backgrounds and the business skills they’ve gained from Primed! have been invaluable, she says. “We needed the discipline to put a business plan together and it’s definitely given us that. And Chad and John’s real life experience is very useful – they’ve helped us think through issues we weren’t even aware of.” Scientist Alison Forster is part of a team working towards a Management Buy Out of a Forest Research business. “This programme has been exceptionally worthwhile,” she says. “We haven’t had any business experience and working through this process has facilitated the MBO process and means we will be able to hit the ground running.” One of the most significant changes among many Primed! participants is a shift in mindset and vocabulary from a product to a business vocabulary, says Chad Wilkie. “That is what is required from the marketplace. Once people get a common language and some frameworks, they often make much faster progress.” In addition, says John Cunningham, it’s important that each team is action-based. “The most difficult thing in business is getting things done. So the programme is structured to establish the teams early on then help them move forward.” During the 14-week programme teams gain skills in business and strategic planning, product development, manufacturing, marketing, human resources, intellectual property, finance and venture capital. They also receive help to develop their business plans. After the programme, those teams that choose to go into business receive support to set up their businesses and pitch for capital, or entry to a strategic alliance or incubator. Working in teams to develop businesses is not a widespread New Zealand trait, says Merran Davis-Havill. But it’s an important step in helping the country establish a culture of successful innovation. A further two Primed! programmes will be run in 2005. The first will be held in Tauranga, starting in March. Individuals and groups will be selected for Primed! based on their potential for success. Primed! is funded by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) from its Enterprise Culture and Skills Activities Fund. Applications are available from Waikato Management School. THIS ISSUE Lead NZ News NZ Politics World News Features
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