Curriculum, Teaching to the Test, Teacher Identity and Professional Efficacy.

Through recent interactions, I’ve have been challenged with questions around teaching content to key stage 3 pupils which do not appear on the GCSE specification. I have always believed that I came into this profession to ignite the flame for a love of learning, we are not exam coaches.


However, I am aware that through the introduction of performance management (which to my knowledge was never intended to include pupil outcomes, the local union meeting, Wolverhampton, 2006/7) and performance-related pay, teachers are judged on their exam results.

The nature of this blog may read as polemic. The way I have justified this through my career is that I will attempt to inspire my pupils and equip them with the tools I believe will serve them well, through this they should perform well in exams. Seeing the learning and the acquisition of knowledge and skill as the end goal and exam performance as a by-product.

“To do this (a generality of knowing), teachers need to be able to channel pupils” thinking in ways that relate to contexts beyond schools and schooling, classrooms and classroom culture. They need not only to understand the concepts and skills they are trying to develop, but also how they relate to broader inter-connected frameworks that are not limited by the boundaries of the curriculum or school.’ (Twistelton 2002)

Teacher self-identity is of paramount importance in this process, if teachers see themselves as task managers and that their primary role is to keep pupils busy, the connection between classroom learning and the world and beyond will not be made. (Twistelton 2002)

Counsell (2018) describes in detail the work of Hammond and her work with fragile and non-fragile ‘A’ grade History students and identifies the difference between these students in being the way they write specifically

‘She began to conclude that some pupils appeared to have formed extensive, secure schemata from studying a wide range of history, not just this early twentieth-century topic but other twentieth-century topics, wider European history and other periods and cultures at Key Stage 3 or earlier.’

This absolutely nothing to do with exam literacy and mark scheme box ticking. Viewing the curriculum as a narrative, which enriches the lives of pupils and prepares them for life as a historian, scientist, mathematician, etc. Every single one of us is all of those things every single day.

This is echoed within andragogy and heutagogy where the aim of educators should be to develop capable as opposed to competent learners.


Lots of lessons can be learned from the heutagogical approaches where the onus for the learning model with the learner. This is how learning happens within the early year foundation stage, which if you have never observed, as a secondary practitioner I cannot urge you enough. This approach all but disappears until the graduate stage of universities.

Schools should mirror universities and beyond, set pupils up for the highest echelons of academia. If we are aiming for anything less, we are putting the needs of the school and pupil results before the need of the pupils. Long have I advocated that teachers are as graduates best placed to deliver an education, a curriculum, which serves their pupils best.

Yes, the delivery of the curriculum is important (core) but the journey around that (hinterland) is essential. Expert practitioners should aim to understand the best measure of learning is rarely exam success.

“The trick here is to handle paradox. Even though clearly, as the word suggests, ‘hinterland’ is just supporter or feeder of a core, when it comes to curriculum, the hinterland is as important as what is deemed core.” (Counsell 2018).

Counsell goes on to describe ‘core’ as being a measurable quantity that can be captured as propositions, and reducing teaching to solely focus on this makes teaching harder and in some cases, kills it.

Twistelton 2002 categorises three stages of teaching (from ITE), normally teachers move towards concept and skill builders through the gaining pedagogical experience.


Due to the environment of school league tables, performance related pay, performance management, teachers have lost their agency over the last 15 years, teachers in the main prescribe to curricula. This is the over-riding factor in their teaching, I’ve had conversations with more and more teachers who openly state if it’s not in their exam what’s the point in teaching it.

Task Managers– Through a self-identity which heavily influenced by their own experience as pupils, task managers appear to mainly rely on a knowledge of educational contexts. Where they employ teaching priorities that involve authority, order and ‘busyness’.

Curriculum Deliverers-Their modus operandi involves a broader knowledge base than Task Managers. Curriculum Deliverers’ primary focus is curriculum knowledge. When working with groups of inexperienced teachers, it’s tempting, as a leader, to put this at the heart of teacher’s daily planning routine and core purpose. However, this is not the aim of teaching, as Counsell (2018) stated simply distilling the residue of ‘core’ can ultimately lead to teaching being more difficult and detrimental to the whole process.

With the implementation of the National Literacy Strategy and the National Curriculum in the 1990s. Twistleton (2002) postulates that this possibly explains why there was a cluster of teachers as curriculum deliverers. This is an extremely pertinent point at the moment with the vast changes to the secondary curriculum and movement to the grade 9-1 system.  More and more teacher are forced (and remain stuck) into this category, through a fear of the unknown. As a classroom teacher, middle leader or senior leader, mark schemes and specimen papers provide solace in a world where you know little about the nature of the new assessment framework.

Concept/Skill builders – “… they saw the task as important only in so much as it contributed to the ultimate goal of an increased understanding related to the broader framework of the subject Insight allows the expert teacher to see deeply into a problem in order to seek the most effective solution. Selective encoding helps in selecting the relevant information to do this. This obviously provides the expert with an insight into the situation, which will: a) enable her/him to make the most efficient use of the time available and b) draw on the most useful areas of knowledge.”

How do we move towards this final category? It is risky, scary to deviate from the mark scheme and the specification, however, it is absolutely the right thing to do. As practitioners, we need to take back our agency and dictate that we have the power and the knowledge to produce well-equipped learners, and as leaders accept this as the aim and move away from the reactionary strategies of last minute (year) games in years of examination.

Taking back teacher agency comes through an increase in self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as, “How well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations” (Bandura 1982).

Self-efficacy has the effect of teacher’s taking more risks with the curriculum (Guskey, 1988), attempting new teaching approaches (Gibson & Dembo, 1984) and increasing pupil’s motivation (Midgely et al. 1989) and consequently their overall achievement (Brookover et al. 1979).

Bandura 1997 state that self-efficacy may be increased through,

  1. Mastery experiences (repeated successful experiences doing it- this is the most powerful)
  2. Vicarious experiences/Role modelling (seeing others do it and learning from that experience)
  3. Verbal persuasion (being told that they can do it)
  4. Controlling Physiological arousal (controlling your emotional states such as anxiety, etc)

In conclusion through raising the collective efficacy of the of an organisation, or the professional efficacy of the teachers. Leaders should look to provide opportunities for teachers to reclaim their agency through the above point, as the people best place to deliver the narrative of the curricula. I would advocate that teachers understand that they are the experts in their individual fields and are experts (to at least a post-graduate level) in pedagogical knowledge.


Counsell, C. (2018). Senior Curriculum Leadership 1: The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (B) final performance as deceiver and guide. [Blog] The dignity of the thing. Available at:[Accessed 30 12. 2018].

Counsell, C. (2018). Senior Curriculum Leadership 1: The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (A) curriculum as narrative [Blog] The dignity of the thing. Available at: 30 12. 2018].

Twiselton, S. (2002). Beyond the curriculum: learning to teach primary literacy. PhD. University of Birmingham

Blashke, L. (2012).Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning . The international review of research in open and distance learning, Volume (13), Page61.

Bandura, Albert (1982). “Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency”. American Psychologist37(2): 122–147. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.37.2.122.


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