In recent years, there has been a slow but steady shift in education: data is losing its crown as the main thing to focus on and curriculum is getting the attention it deserves. I am in no way saying that data is not important, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the focal point when you have so many other things that you could be looking at; things that will benefit the children and their learning in a different way. And we know that one of these areas is the curriculum.
Ofsted’s definition of curriculum is:
The curriculum is a framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (intent); for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context (implementation) and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (impact/achievement).
In plain terms, this means that the curriculum should be designed to give children the opportunity to develop their learning as they go through their school lives, so that they build on the skills they have learnt in previous experiences and don’t simply repeat the same skills over again. I recently read a blog post by Christine Counsell in which she traced the word curriculum back to its Latin roots where it means to ‘run’ or ‘proceed’. In this blog, that definition is then used to show how curriculum can be looked on as the whole running race, not just a final sprint. This struck a chord with me and made me think back to all the hours of work that subject leaders put in over many months to ensure that their subject’s curriculum did exactly that. Whilst on a year group level, the skills and knowledge you teach the children may make sense, looking at the bigger picture of their time at your school and across their whole education, are they learning lots of different things, or simply repeating the same ones?
The task of making sure your curriculum fulfils this may seem like a massive uphill struggle. Like the curriculum itself though, making any changes doesn’t have to be a sprint. It is something that can take a whole year, maybe even longer! It is also important to remember that whilst you are planning the curriculum, you are not planning the lessons! The key to getting it right is having a plan and keeping an eye on what you want to achieve. Starting with the National Curriculum, decide what skills the children need to learn, and what knowledge you need them to retain. Map these out so they build on each other. What are the fundamental areas that run through the subject in all year groups? There might only be 3 or 4 of these, but if they can be developed every year, that is a great starting point for your plan. For example, if you are looking at the Science curriculum, you may want to have ‘questioning’ as one of the fundamental areas that runs through each year group. Starting from the youngest children, the early years curriculum covers this really well in the characteristics of effective learning area of playing and exploring, whilst also encouraging children to develop their questions through the speaking and understanding the world areas of learning. Once you start looking at the National Curriculum, you can then build on the skills that the children have already developed so that they are able to use secondary sources to find the answers, as well beginning to consider how practical activities can raise more questions. Where these fit into your curriculum depends on the children at your school, but the journey is there.
The difficulties that you may find when creating your new curriculum really depends on your school. Implementing the changes can lead to challenges, such as ensuring that the teachers have sufficient subject knowledge, especially if new topics are being covered, so giving time to develop this knowledge and understanding will help in the long term. Developing an assessment method that is effective at checking the children’s understanding and fluency, so that it informs teaching without becoming an unnecessary burden on the staff and children, is also a challenge that must be approached with a lot of thought. Getting this right will help the impact of your curriculum, and if the impact is right, the children will be well equipped to deal with future learning and topics.
Getting a sequenced curriculum in place can bring so many benefits to the children’s learning and understanding, as well helping them become more interested in a particular area, such as history or science. It takes time to get right, but this time is outweighed by the benefits for children and teaching staff. When a child in Year 6 is able to link back to something they learnt in Year 3, which then triggers something in the rest of the class – you know you’ve got it right.
Edited by Jules