The statutory National Curriculum forms a core part of the totality of the St. Pancras curriculum. It is from this that the school’s Milestones derive.
The Milestones – What is the philosophical rationale?
The new (September 2014 / 2015) National Curriculum is founded on the principle that teachers should ensure that pupils have a secure understanding of key knowledge, understanding and skills before moving on. It places more emphasis on specific knowledge that should be acquired by the end of each key stage and requires greater depth of learning.
The Milestones have evolved from a longstanding mission to acknowledge the incremental, step by step, linear nature of learning. Not that all learning is linear; much of life’s learning is incidental, ad hoc or experiential. But for most children most of the learning required at school is fundamentally causally connected. If you understand A, then B is accessible to you; and, without B, C is a closed door.
St. Pancras children, like their peers across the UK and much of the world, are capable of learning more – and more deeply – than they do. Much teaching is ultimately ineffective because it is superficial. Teachers themselves talk of coverage, seeing the process of imparting capability from the supply side, rather than tailoring what they do to the needs of the consumer. The Milestones have been conceived as a holistic approach designed to root all teaching in the conviction that the best learning is the learning that is retained and, effectively, becomes a lasting part of the learner. It is not momentary – in one minute, gone the next. It is thorough, deep and fertile. Fertile because new learning can take root in it.
The most immediate feature of the approach is the nature of the milestones themselves. Drawn from the statutory curriculum, key learning steps have been rigorously identified. This has necessitated a long, streamlining process to which a number of St. Pancras teachers have readily contributed. The criteria were – and remain – demanding. For example, a National Curriculum objective only qualifies as a milestone if it is ‘key’ learning – that is, learning upon which other learning is predicated, opening the door to further learning. This has filtered out fluffy objectives which are not ‘key’ in this sense and often absorb disproportionate teaching time. Milestones also have to be unambiguous and testable. Objectives in the National Curriculum that are either too woolly or cannot be reliably assessed have been re-written – if ‘key’ – or rejected. A strong, meaningful and practical ‘key’ curriculum has evolved.
It is essential that the Milestones are understood in a pedagogical context as well as in a curriculum context. It was always an integral part of the approach that it should promote new and better ways of teaching. If learning is to shift from superficial coverage to deep mastery, then teaching needs to shift too. The Milestones approach refuses to let gaps develop. Where they appear, the response should be a prompt and effective closing of them. The Milestones approach, equally, declines to allow pupils who learn fast and retain learning to sit and wait for the others. It pushes them on because professional judgements allow for easy retention. Similarly, and particularly for middle attainers, the Milestones approach does not allow learning to seep away so that pupils are never quite at the level receiving teachers expect. Teaching and assessment go hand in hand all the time - so that teaching and learning continue until the teacher can judge – with moderated professional certainty – that it is acquired forever.
And here is another key distinguishing feature of the Milestones; at some point in the Milestones approach, assessment matures into a critical judgement. Teachers are expected to say whether a Milestone has been achieved – that is, internalised long term – or whether further teaching is required. It is a high level judgement and, because of its importance in terms of the future teaching based on it, is moderated by senior colleagues to make sure that it is secure. It raises the status of the profession because it commits the teacher to a diagnostic decision upon which a prescription for future teaching will depend. In adopting a demanding professional judgement like this, we are effectively saying that the popular use of terms such as emerging, developing and exceeding are not sufficiently robust. These terms can be ambiguous and do not lend themselves to effective formative teaching. They downplay the professional judgement, they do not commit the teacher and they complicate the process of next steps.
If learning is not wholly assimilated, then more teaching is required. Only when learning is fully internalised is a Milestone achieved. Anything less is insufficiently rigorous and would not be conducive to a clear and formative response.
We have opted for high status binders for pupils because we want each pupil’s learning journey to be captured in an important volume that is personal and celebratory and can be presented to each child on entry into the school and presented again, with sincere congratulations, on transfer. The binder sets out the milestones in each subject for each year group, commensurate with the expectations of the National Curriculum. It has sticker pages because children love stickers. It has guidance to guarantee that judgements are sound.
And the guidance is for parents as well as teachers. Extending the capacity of parents to help their children is another key feature of the Milestones approach. Through class-based open sessions, parent-teacher consultations and regular progress reports, parents will see precisely where their children are. Then, equipped with their own Milestones packs, they will see what their children need to do to achieve the next learning step and will know exactly how to help.
With school staff and parents right with them – and even if parents are not – the approach envisages that pupils will take a more proactive role in driving their own learning. The approach requires staff to sit with pupils – individually, perhaps in groups – to understand where the stickers are and where there are gaps and to see how progress measures up against age-related expectations. It requires pupils to focus on the next Milestone- with absolute clarity about how to achieve it. Managed well – and with the enthusiasm that should enrich all learning interactions – pupils will be encouraged to achieve as many stickers as they can, with each sticker valued highly because of the important learning step it represents.
And a commitment to staff wellbeing is the final key feature of the Milestones initiative. Teachers and teaching assistants will know that their teaching is effective in a climate of certainty that they have not known before. Research consistently shows that stress in the workplace often derives from ill-defined measures of success – which, on a day to day basis, leaves people insecure about their own performance and vulnerable to anxieties and fear. The Milestones effectively strip out the uncertainties. And, inspired and encouraged by leaders and colleagues, teachers and TAs should be able to go home each evening sure of their work practices and sure of their effectiveness.
The Milestones – What is the technical rationale?
The Milestones initiative starts from a statement of what children at primary age should know, understand and be able to do. This is the curriculum. The National Curriculum provides a statutory framework for any school’s curriculum. But – within reason – schools like St. Pancras can tailor it to their own particular local needs and aspirations. Most do not modify it much, largely through fear of stepping too far from the mothership or because they don’t have the professional confidence and expertise to do so. Or, worse, because commercial pupil progress tracker packages, unable to respond to a potential myriad of bespoke local solutions, have geared their systems to the National Curriculum in its entirety and, in a world without reassuring levels, schools have followed suit.
A significant number of St. Pancras children enter school with little – or no – measurable literacy or numeracy capability. A significant number of the school’s pupils come from backgrounds characterised by a restricted spoken communication code, low value placed on academic achievement, no previous experience of academic qualification and few books, with consequent low expectations of their performance at school. The school is committed to doing what it can to enable these children to do as well as their peers who do not suffer these constraints. Its staff believe that to adopt the National Curriculum wholesale would not be conducive to giving these St. Pancras children the opportunity to do as well. Therefore, and with every care that the curriculum should remain broad and balanced – an entitlement for every pupil – the Milestones modification of the curriculum puts a premium on basic knowledge, understanding and skill so that those children who need it can catch up.
St. Pancras has the experience, expertise and track record – longstanding and recent – to make these modifications with confidence.
If the school’s curriculum is to prepare pupils for favourable comparisons with their contemporaries nationally and, at the same time, give a boost to those who are disadvantaged on entry, then it must also provide fast-track opportunities for those who enter school ahead of their peers, who learn fast and who benefit from a wide and varied curriculum. Again, local modifications have been made to strike this balance. Some Milestones extend learning beyond the confines of the National Curriculum. Others enhance the knowledge-base or degree of understanding implied by NC objectives. However, the most telling adjustments have occurred where staff such as Mr. Ross Evans and Miss Lucille Southgate have re-modelled objectives in the interest of unambiguous clarity – or rejected them because they are too abstract to be re-written.
Here is an example of a modified National Curriculum objective:
En 1 / 1B Ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge becomes EN Y1.2 I ask questions
And here are two examples of rejected National Curriculum objectives
En 1 / 1L Select and use appropriate registers for effective communication
En 1 / 1G Use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas
Key learning, it is argued, is learning that pupils cannot do without. Therefore, it has to take priority, even for relatively advantaged learners. Much key learning is linear, incrementally gaining in complexity, demanding a higher level response and offering a wider and deeper range of application. It offers a logical progression, a clear direction, often lost when it is allowed to be crowded out by a plethora of lesser learning. Equipped with a strong grounding in all the key areas of learning, the argument goes, pupils can more readily and more effectively – more imaginatively, more creatively – apply their knowledge, understanding and skills. For many this will mean that a slightly narrower curriculum to begin with, to achieve a catch up or close gaps, is more than made up for with the wherewithal to explore far wider academic horizons thereafter.
It should be noted that the Milestones approach jettisons the populist belief that learning is only worthwhile when it is applied or solves problems. The Milestones acknowledges that, for the great majority of people, learning at primary school is a necessary passport to application and problem-solving. An apprenticeship, if you like. An acquisition of the necessary tools and skills. When educationalists bleat about the real gains to be made by problem-solving and applying and the corresponding losses incurred by relentless paper-based exercises, they raise an important point. Rightly so, sometimes - but way off the mark if they include within their argument’s scope, which they nearly always do, all those unfortunate children who never sufficiently acquired the basics and for whom, therefore, all further learning was inevitably compromised. How can you apply knowledge that was never yours? And, equally, you need secure intellectual tools to solve problems, a simple truth that strangely eludes many of those who would consider themselves to be among the intellectual elite.
Numbering the Milestones is useful because it highlights priority, emphasises learning continuity and facilitates electronic number-crunching for formative, reporting and accountability purposes. The system gives primary place to year group – the prefix Y1, for example. This ties each Milestone to an age-related expectation. Beyond the year group identifier the Milestones in any given subject are numbered continuously. Thus, in English, Y1.37 – the final Year 1 Milestone – is followed by Y2.38 – the first Year 2 Milestone. This promotes ‘moving on’ – accelerated progress into the next year’s learning. The fact that there are more Milestones in some year groups than in others is not significant. It simply reflects the fact that, in some year groups, there are more relatively simple bits of key learning and, in others, more relatively complex bits.
However, the discrepancy in the number of Milestones across subjects is both interesting and enlightening, as it suggests that some subjects require very different forms of learning, not just different content. Music, for example, has only 14 Milestones across a six-year curriculum, whereas Physical Education is defined in terms of 62 bits of key learning. Another subject with 62 learning steps is Geography - and yet History has just 22. Close analysis of what is required to achieve Milestones in these different disciplines indicates that some subjects are naturally comprised of lots of smaller items of learning, whilst others are made up of fewer but larger chunks of learning. The Geography / History comparison is a useful one. The Geography Milestones are knowledge-heavy, reflecting the wide spectrum of knowledge about the world and its places demanded by today’s connected and increasingly global society. The History Milestones, in contrast, are understanding-heavy, reflecting cause-consequence and the capacity to be able to articulate the interrelatedness of key aspects of the past in understanding any one event.
Where a judgement about achievement of a Milestone is not cut and dried by reference to the wording of the Milestone alone, or needs to be defined in terms of quantity or nature of learning, the Guidance Section provides definitive advice. So, for example, for Science, Y4.63 – Knowing how to make an electrical circuit and naming its parts - the Guidance Section makes it absolutely clear that the pupil needs to know and understand the respective names and roles of cells, wires, bulbs, switches, buzzers and motors. On the other hand, for Science Y2.25 – I know that animals and humans need air, food and water for survival – there is no guidance because the wording is sufficient for a judgement about learning to be made.
In summary, therefore, the Milestones are items of key learning, commensurate with age-related expectations, benchmarked nationally and adjusted for local expediency.
Measuring progress for individuals will be automatic in that a sticker in the pupil’s Milestones Passport and a corresponding click on the database will continually update the pupil’s attainment profile. The child can consult the Passport. The teacher can consult the Passport or the database. The parent can consult the Passport or the latest progress report. How well a pupil is doing will be gauged by reference to the Milestones for the pupil’s year group which are in line with age-related expectations. At the close of each academic year, there will be a floor expectation that all pupils will have all the stickers for every subject in the year group they are completing - with no gaps in that year and no gaps dating from previous years. There will be a parallel expectation that many pupils will have stickers relating to upcoming Milestones, reflecting the capacity for faster progress and higher or advanced attainment.
Most importantly, there will be a working expectation, promoted through highly focused Performance Management, that receiving teachers can rely on the judgements made by sending teachers, even allowing for summer holiday slippage.
The database will provide for very quick access to individual pupils’ attainment profiles. Within three clicks teachers will be able to see precisely where each child is in each subject. This data can be retrieved in the form of simple diagrammatic reports – for colleagues, subject leaders and parents / carers. Year group or cohort data will be equally accessible and retrievable. The database has been designed to provide subject specific attainment and progress data that can be interrogated by gender, educational status (SEN/D) or socio-cultural-economic status (LAC, ASC, FSM, BME & EAL).
The performance management (appraisal) of teachers and teaching assistants is supported by the Milestones in ways which reflect the key features of the approach; Thorough teaching and new pedagogies ; high level professional judgements; a commitment to no gaps; high progress expectations; and effective engagement with parents. We expect appraisals to be sharply focused and formative, imparting a very real sense of professional direction and fulfilment for all staff.
The gaps issue is central to the approach. Perhaps more than any other shortcoming of the past, the failure of our education system to teach all pupils thoroughly has restricted progress and capped attainment, especially for the disadvantaged. Making it ‘uncomfortably’ clear where the gaps are is a conscious aim of the initiative, reflected in the Milestones Passports, where gaps will stand out like a sore thumb, and in the electronic data entry, analysis and retrieval system. There will be a big visual incentive to close gaps as well as a moral imperative!
The Milestones approach has been designed to allow for curriculum change and ever higher expectations of primary age pupils. Both the Milestones Passports and the electronic data entry, analysis and retrieval system will accommodate quick and simple adjustments. The Passports are printed one-sided and pages can be slotted in or out, replaced or supplemented with ease. Government rhetoric promises curriculum stability for at least a few years hence – but experience teaches us to be prepared for inevitable tinkering from time to time. Given the relatively high unit cost of the Passports, it was important that capacity for change should be built in at minimal additional expense.
Four statutory curriculum subjects are currently not represented in the Milestones. The most high profile of these for a Catholic school is the core subject, Religious Education. The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is currently standing by its Curriculum Directory and associated provisions which continue to use levels of attainment. Given that we should be expected to comply with this curriculum and its organisation in a Section 48 inspection – a possibility at any time – then it is prudent to wait for now. Having said this, draft Milestones for R. E. are ready for consideration. Art and Design Technology are two subjects that, at any level, are subject to wide interpretations in terms of competence and quality. Put bluntly, deciding what is good in Art – or effective for a young child in DT – is highly subjective. We tried to craft some milestones for both subjects but they were contrived and rarely met the criteria. We are actively seeking another way of bringing curriculum, teaching, assessment and progress together in a meaningful and practical way for Art and DT but it won’t be through the Milestones. And, finally, although French is not represented, we do believe that it could be – and probably will be soon.
It is implicit in the Milestones approach that its implementation will be monitored constantly. Teachers and leaders will evaluate its impact on pupil progress and attainment, first and foremost. They will also consider the extent to which the practice of teaching is shifting, the features of any new pedagogies, the reliability and security of professional judgements, the motivational effects on pupils and parents and the quality of data and reports. This is where governance must play its part. Governors need to involve themselves in the early implementation wherever they can, certainly by attending staff workshops and debates and raising challenging questions. Governors need to be sure that St. Pancras children are going to be better off with the Milestones than without.
And for a school that professes to care – Christ-like – for all its children, the parable of the Lost Sheep is apposite, particularly in relation to the issue of gaps. The shepherd, though doubtless pleased to have his ninety-nine sheep safe in their expected pen, is not satisfied until he has gone out of his way to find the lost one. The gate to the pen is closed only when all the sheep are in.