Do not ‘blindly narrow’ the curriculum, schools urged


School leaders have been warned against “blindly narrowing” the curriculum based on changing examination requirements.

Delegates attending the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have instead been urged to “stand fast” to their principles and not be driven by a “parasitic accountability regime”.

The call came from ASCL general secretary, Brian Lightman, as he addressed members on Saturday (March 21).

He warned that with an over-reliance on external testing we risked deskilling the profession and creating a “low trust culture which drives the curriculum into the stultifying straitjacket of what can be assessed in a written test”.

Mr Lightman said all teachers needed to access professional knowledge and skill in assessing and enabling students to make progress. He also advocated a “profession-led assessment ethics framework” to end allegations of schools ‘gaming’ the system.

Ultimately, he said that formative assessment must be at the heart of pedagogical practice and that schools and teachers must be trusted to build their own curriculum based on a core framework.

He used the example of practical work in science, the assessment of which at GCSE has been controversially dropped by exams regulator Ofqual.

He said: “The importance of this has nowhere been demonstrated more vividly than in the recent heated debate about practical science. 

“Schools do not need to blindly follow decisions that have been made about testing. If our vision for the curriculum says that science practicals are important, then let’s do them.”

Mr Lightman questioned why practical work and assessment could not be built into the final exam grade in science.

He added: “The answer lies in trusting the teaching profession, and the profession showing it is ready to step up to this challenge. For that to happen we must refuse to blindly narrow our curriculum to exclude practicals because they are not in the exam.

“We must stand fast to our principles and not allow ourselves to be driven by a parasitic accountability regime. Our message to policy-makers is clear: allow us to develop the self-improving, school-led system you have said you want.”

A key theme of ASCL’s conference, which was entitled Trust to Transform, was its blueprint for education, published earlier this year, which sets out a number of proposals designed to put school leaders in control of improving England’s school system.

Part of the blueprint is the proposal for a core curriculum framework that would be set by an independent commission with wide representation and reviewed every five years. It is this core that schools would then build on under ASCL’s vision.

Advocating the approach, Mr Lightman said: “Such a body would be independent of both government and the profession and therefore necessarily separate from a profession-led College of Teaching, but having a strong relationship with it.

“Beyond that schools would build their own curriculum bringing creativity, dynamism and relevance into curriculum development.”

However, Mr Lightman’s plea was quickly rejected by education minister Nicky Morgan, who addressed the conference on the same day.

Ms Morgan said she agreed with much of the ASCL blueprint, but not its curriculum proposals. She added: “It’s my belief that what our children learn in schools must be something that is decided by democratically elected representatives. 

“I think that parents should be able to hold us to account for the decisions we make about what their children are learning and what they’re not.”

For more on ASCL’s blueprint, visit



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