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A solid curriculum is the key to a successful school

Andy Goodeve

Written by Andy Goodeve

Andy is our Head of Pedagogical Services with extensive experience in education leadership across a range of socially challenging diverse schools in varying locations. His experience includes differing age ranges including secondary, middle, primary and junior schools.

After over a decade of Government guidance on the curriculum, it seems that the 'tide has turned'. Ofsted now wants school leaders to take a 'whole school strategic approach to the spiritual, cultural and moral development of pupils'. They feel schools should be thinking less about preparing pupils for tests and exams and more about the “body of knowledge” young people will gain during their time at school. 

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Refocusing the curriculum

As we know, schools have been 'teaching to tests' for many years. If schools are being judged by results in certain subjects, then this is where resources and priorities are going to be allocated. That is why we end up with the situation in some primary schools where certain identified pupils have a school 'diet' of reading, writing and maths in the morning, followed by reading, writing and maths intervention in the afternoon. The question that is subsequently posed: why do we have pupils who are disengaged with school?  I know from my previous experiences of Ofsted inspections that the curriculum was solely judged on the quality of reading, writing and maths. Inspections didn't focus on experiences, the residentials, art, music, drama or sport. 

"Style of assessment and style of evaluation will be important in determining curriculum" -Taunton Report 1868 

It seems quite ironic that nearly thirty years ago the DES provided guidance. Curriculum should be ' a balanced and broadly based curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society and prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult and working life' - DES 1988 

When the National Curriculum was first introduced, nearly two decades ago,  it had all the ideals of building on the belief that "an outstanding curriculum provides highly positive, memorable experiences and rich opportunities for high quality learning, has a positive impact on pupils behaviour and safety and contributes well to pupils’ achievement in their social, moral, spiritual and cultural development." – OFSTED 2002 

Schools have 'lost their way'  when it comes to curriculum, often as a consequence of fearing accountability measures and Ofsted. Why did schools lose their way? Political 'interventions' and guidance have failed to recognise the social and moral changes in society. Education policy seemed to have been fixated with the strategies regarding how things are done rather than why


What is a curriculum?

Ofsted have produced a  working definition:

“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).”

So what does that mean in plain English? 

A curriculum is 'all the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is learned on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school' - John Kerr 1968 


Is your curriculum 'fit for purpose'? 

It is now time to place the curriculum at the heart of everything you do as a school. Curriculum should come first; how best to teach it follows after. Schools need to decide what children should learn to help them in the future. A curriculum is a learning journey; pupils begin the journey knowing relatively little and end up knowing a lot more than when they started. Curriculum is not all about gaining knowledge, but also about gaining life-long skills needed to adapt in an ever-changing world. A world of roles that have not even yet been invented. School leaders must be brave enough to show that they take curriculum seriously by making it the core of their school and professional development needs of their teachers.

 ‘Those who control what young people are taught, and what they experience - what they see, hear, think and believe- will determine the future course for the nation' - Blaker 2003 

At Infomentor, we recognise that all schools are unique. InfoMentor therefore provides a bespoke, easily accessible, cloud-based curriculum planning and assessment solution that can be adapted to suit the requirements of each individual school. A school's curriculum underpins their identity so with the help of InfoMentor, schools can create and manage a curriculum that is relevant and engaging. Their chosen framework is pre-loaded into the system ready to utilise as a basis for their curriculum planning, lesson planning and formative and summative assessments.

 “Young people get one opportunity to learn in school and we owe it to them to make sure they all get an education that is broad, rich and deep,” - Amanda Spielman


A shining example

Here is an example of one school that has shown the importance of the curriculum. Hartford Manor primary school has outlined a curriculum pledge for its pupils:

  • Build a den
  • See a show at the theatre
  • Perform in a theatre to a real audience
  • Conduct a science experiment in a labratory
  • Take part in a competition
  • Pay for something in a real shop
  • Spend a night camping
  • Cook on an open fire
  • Visit London and see the attractions (London eye, theatre, crown jewels)
  • Visit the Lake District (learn to climb, canoe, map read and an expedition)
  • Share work with a real audience
  • Plant a flower or tree (nurture and watch it grow)
  • Keep a wildlife log
  • Picnic outdoors
  • Visit a gallery or museum
  • Display art work in an exhibition
  • Take part in competitive sport
  • Attend a live sporting event

This pledge is about experiences because school should be about memories.  Sometimes in the accountable world of schools, we forget that our pupils are our future and we need to make sure we prepare them with as many skills as possible that will be useful to them in future life.

'The curriculum is to be thought of in terms of activity and experience rather than knowledge to be acquired and facts stored’ Hadow report 1931

 ‘No curriculum is worth teaching well that is not worth teaching at all' - Eisner 1996 

We need to realise that these pupils are our future. We need to give them a 'diet' of skills and experiences that will help in ensuring success and prosperity for the future.

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