Closing The Gap

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How does a narrow curriculum disadvantage the disadvantaged?

New research suggests that “both teachers and parents think that exam pressures are leading schools to narrow the curriculum as more time is taken up for exam preparation. The research also highlights that people believe the problem has worsened over the past three years.

Over 900 teachers and 1,000 parents of children under 18 were polled in September and October of 2018. The results were conclusive. This research suggests a narrow exam focus is having “serious consequences on student wellbeing and behaviour and, ironically, on eventual academic outcomes.”

Research Findings

  • Over three-quarters of teachers (76%) and three-fifths of parents (60%) agreed that schools were offering a more restricted curriculum from an earlier age over the past three years than they had been previously.
  • There was little doubt among respondents about what was to blame – 92% of teachers and 76% of parents cited the pressure placed on schools to deliver good exam results.
  • Two-thirds of teachers (65%) said parents ought to be worried about children being moved onto a so-called ‘GCSE flight path’ too early, with almost as many parents (61%) agreeing.
  • Regardless of the type of school, teachers believe the problem is widespread. Nine in ten of them (90%) think too many schools are pressuring teachers to concentrate on an exam-driven syllabus to the exclusion of the wider curriculum.
  • This is despite the fact that similar proportions believe that teaching a more rounded curriculum from a younger age would better prepare children for later academic success (87%) and for life after school (91%). Parents echo those beliefs, with 76% and 78% respectively agreeing with those propositions.
  • Seven in ten teachers (71%) are concerned that teaching a more restricted curriculum has a negative impact on classroom behaviour, almost eight in ten (78%) think it doesn’t address children who develop at a later stage than their peers, with similar proportions saying it is bad for pupils who have minor learning difficulties (71%), those who have switched off from school because of earlier experiences of exams (72%), those with behavioural problems (61%) or children with latent but not obvious potential (55%).
  • Parents agree, with three-quarters (75%) believing that too much of a focus on exam results might negatively affect their children’s wellbeing and half (50%) worrying that it would make school less enjoyable for their children than their own time at school.
  • Teachers, it seems, are feeling the pressure. According to our survey, over four-fifths of them (82%) said that if they had to teach an exam-driven curriculum they would find teaching less enjoyable. And well over half (56%) said they would support their school in efforts to make the curriculum more than just about the final exams.


Last week I chaired a webinar with GL Assessment discussing the findings of their Closing the Gap report. I was joined by Hilary Fine from GL Assessment as well as Stephen Tierney, CEO of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust.

Some will be aware that creative subjects have been on the decline prior to goverment reforms in 2010, but what is crystal clear, is that nine years later with increased focus on testing and a narrow English Baccalaureate curriculum, these policies have made the problem much worse. The result? Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are finding it increasingly difficult to succeed, and mental health and exclusions are at an all-time high. (~Ross Morrison McGill)


Closing The GapThe report concludes that there seems little doubt that both teachers and parents share the views of many education experts, that exam pressure is leading to an unacceptable narrowing of the curriculum, particularly at Key Stage 3 but also in primary school in the run-up to Key Stage 2.

There are widespread fears about the immediate and negative effects exam pressure is having on student wellbeing and behaviour, as well as the long-term implications on performance and career success. Yet there is also an acknowledgement among parents and teachers that schools are not to blame for this.

You can listen to the webinar below and/or download the full research report.

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