Cambridge Assessment publish international curriculum analysis

18 November 2010

Recent reviews of the National Curriculum have failed to harness the insights emerging from high quality transnational comparisons, according to a top academic.

In a Cambridge Assessment paper out today (Thursday 18 November 2010), Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development, said: "We should appraise carefully both international and national research in order to drive an evidence-based review of the National Curriculum and make changes only where justified, in order to avoid unnecessary disruption to the education system.

"However, simply importing another country's classroom practices would be a gross error. A country's national curriculum - both its form and content - cannot be considered in isolation from the state of development of these vital 'Control Factors'*. They interact. Adjust one without considering development of the others, and the system may be in line for trouble.”

The paper - Could do better: using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England - acknowledges that any revision of the Curriculum is a sophisticated undertaking and yet it is not the sole instrument of educational success.

In a foreword to Tim's paper, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, supported the call for international evidence to be at the heart of curriculum reform and said:

"This fascinating and insightful paper offers a concise analysis of some of the problems with our current National Curriculum and helps explain why so many other nations are outpacing us in educational performance. The debate about our National Curriculum now has to be seen in an international context. The best-performing education nations deliberately set out to compare themselves against international benchmarks - learning from each other and constantly asking what is required to help all children do better.

"Shortly, my Department will launch its own review of the National Curriculum and the remit will explicitly, for the first time, require benchmarking against the most successful school systems. This - as Tim makes clear - has to be done with great care to avoid learning the wrong lessons from countries with very different cultures. But it is essential if we are to keep pace with the world's best."

*Tim's 'Control Factors' for transnational analysis include:

  1. curriculum content (national curriculum specifications, textbooks, support materials, etc.)
  2. assessment and qualifications
  3. national framework - system shape (e.g. routes, classes of qualifications)
  4. inspection
  5. pedagogy
  6. professional development (levels and nature of teacher expertise)
  7. institutional development
  8. institutional forms and structures (e.g. size of schools, education phases)
  9. allied social measures (such as that which links social care, health care and education)
  10. funding
  11. governance (autonomy versus direct control)
  12. accountability arrangements
  13. selection and gate keeping (e.g. university admissions requirements)

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