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One approach to schemes of work

When I began teaching in 1980 departmental schemes of work did not exist. You had a text book and tapes which were, effectively, the scheme of work or syllabus as it was then called; then in Y11 teaching content was largely led by the O-level exam, subsequently GCSE. If there was a common approach to practice in a department it was formed to a minor extent by the nature of the text book. My experience was that that teachers did not work much as a team, but did share clear common aims in terms of timing and exam content.

This was still the case when I became a Head of Department in 1988. I think it was the coming into being of Ofsted as well as a general growing professionalism which led schools to firm up practice on schemes of work.

In my department we decided to create a scheme which was a working file. Each teacher had their own ring binder for each year with a general list of objectives for each unit based on the course book. The course sequence was very sound and well suited to the pupils at our school. The file then contained a set of resources which the teacher could dip into. Some of these would be from the course book, some our own or taken from other sources. These reflected and reinforced the common approach adopted by the teachers in the department. Resources included worksheets of various types, visual aids (OHP transparencies for example) lesson ideas, links to online interactive activities and websites, copies of unit tests and exam papers.

There were no detailed lesson plans, since although I hoped we were pretty much in tune as regards methodology (a target language, communicative oral approach with rigorous teaching of grammar and vocabulary). In addition, because my colleagues were skilled and fluent, I did not feel the need to stifle them with specific lesson plans. Our structure of 40 minute periods four or five times a week also made this hard to achieve. We found that it was better to have some flexibility. Some classes would go faster than others, some lessons less well than others. Furthermore, a scheme which was not overly prescriptive allows teachers the freedom to develop their own ideas which, I believe, makes for more motivated, creative and happy colleagues.

We did set time targets for units in order that we covered all the material needed for assessments, but some teachers would get ahead of others. We would regularly compare notes on this and, if necessary, be flexible enough to adjust the content of exam papers.

Differentiation was not built in specifically to the schemes of work. This was in part because our school was a selective grammar school with a setting system from Y9. Even so, there was obviously a considerable range of ability (just think of an intelligence bell curve and where the "top 30%" of the ability range can descend to). We would use differentiation by outcome and selective use of resources for each class to ensure effective differentiation. When combined with sensitive classroom techniques and "assessment for learning" this always seemed effective enough to me.

In the early days of Ofsted a specialist MFL inspector would take a look at our schemes of work. In recent years we found they did not have time to do this as the focus moved more and more to results and value added scores.

Over the years the scheme of work was regularly updated, with each year group being revised every four years or so. This was usually done by a teacher as part of their personal development. Updating a scheme of work would often involve adding new resources and reorganising existing ones.

I cannot claim that this approach would work in every context, but the balance of prescription and freedom worked well for us. I would certainly commend the idea of using the scheme of work as a working file, not a document to be locked away in a filing cabinet.


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