Picture the scene: you’re in a hot-air balloon, losing altitude and heading for shark-infested waters! To save yourself you must jettison your precious cargo – a stash of books from each Curriculum subject. Which ones do you chuck out first? What do you save until the bitter end?
It’s quite fun to play this game in a staffroom – you’ll see sparks fly as teachers discuss their personal views – but a preoccupation with subject boundaries is unhelpful when we think seriously about curriculum design. That’s particularly the case if we unpick Ofsted’s proposals for “broad and balanced” curriculum provision.
The proposals have both intrigued and excited a lot of leaders. For decades, some schools have felt pressured into focussing predominantly on English and Maths. We sometimes even hear of a school that has chosen or felt pushed to abandon all other subjects in Year 6, in the pursuit of better test scores. However, Ofsted’s proposals are music to our ears at TT Education because we’ve spent most of the last decade campaigning against this kind of core-subject-only approach. That’s because, firstly, quality literacy and numeracy depend on contextual experiences; and ‘greater depth’ work is achieved through testing and application in different contexts. As Amanda Spielman says, “teachers don’t have to pit one subject against another... They all enhance each other."
Secondly, a lack of context and purpose leads to only short-term knowledge and skills, but our ethical duty is surely to move past the SATs and bring about an “alteration in long-term memory”. Thirdly, and most importantly, a core-subject-only approach can seriously inhibit the fun of learning: it stops children reading for pleasure, finding things out, and viewing the world with curiosity and wonder.
So, out with the exclusive “three Rs” and in with the “three Is” (Intent, Implementation and Impact) – and that might mean a radical rethink of curriculum, staffing, and pedagogy.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: what does ‘curriculum’ actually mean? In essence it’s what you choose to teach: “the body of knowledge that a child needs so that they will flourish in the future and not be left behind,” as described by Amanda Speilman. Is it the same as ‘intent’? Dylan Wiliam says not, because the key is implementation, or how you teach that knowledge: “A great intended curriculum badly taught is... [a] worse experience for young people than a bad intended curriculum well taught.” So we need a thoughtful selection of knowledge, well-planned and well-delivered to create a long-term impact on our children.
What do you intend to teach at your school? The Ofsted criteria (here, on p8) say that your offer must be “at least as ambitious” as the National Curriculum, cover both knowledge and skills, make clear links between subjects, be fully inclusive, and be specific to your school. All subjects are important, but reading and maths underpin everything. Finally, your curriculum rationale should be understood by all your staff.
For implementation, there should be clear, whole-school progression (in every subject), full inclusivity, “no mismatch” between plans and delivery, and reliable assessment for learning that isn’t “excessive or onerous”. Your staff also need effective CPD to develop their subject knowledge and skills.
The criteria don’t specify how you should measure impact, but it will clearly go beyond statutory tests and checks. The National Curriculum is that small part of your curriculum that is tested; inspectors will want to see everything else when they come to visit. In particular, how de all subjects support "core" skills and knowledge to develop children's learning.
James Lewis, School Improvement Partner, TT Education
If you want support with curriculum design, why not take a look at our excellent course: Creating a Broad and Balanced Curriculum?
Published on 19 February 2020