Why a Broader Understanding of Curriculum Will Soon Become Essential

9th November 2018 - Drew Rowlands

Ofsted are in the process of revising their inspection framework and all indications suggest that the key focus in the future will be around curriculum. It is therefore crucial that school leaders consider curriculum in their thinking.

In this blog, former Senior School Leader and current IVE Business Development Director Drew Rowlands outlines how schools can begin thinking about curriculum in a broader way that will provide the most benefit for their school, pupils and staff.


 What We Currently Know

So, what is meant by a “broad and balanced curriculum?”

From my experience as a Senior School Leader and my countless conversations with other School Leaders since joining IVE, I’ve found that curriculum is generally meant as a shorthand for what subjects and content is taught day to day. Broad and balanced then becomes another box-ticking exercise of ensuring that every subject gets touched on.

What I Hope

Ofsted have repeatedly used the words Intent, Implementation and Impact in outlining what they mean by curriculum and I believe these offer a powerful mechanism on which school leaders might build their vision.

For example, I would argue that every school leader’s starting point in relation to curriculum intent should be to serve the needs of their pupil population and community. This means they need to truly understand the context of the community they serve and design a bespoke solution that addresses those needs. A ‘one size fits all’ curriculum is not appropriate, and hopefully, the new inspection regime will offer a means of tackling this.

Once a school has determined their intent for the curriculum, they will need to design mechanisms in order to implement it. Again, if the intent is to serve the needs of the pupils the school serves, the implementation needs to be malleable and certainly not set in stone. I see this as a real opportunity for innovation in what learning is developed, and more importantly, an opportunity to examine how learning is acquired. It will hopefully allow school leaders to start a new dialogue around what disciplines are crucial, what skills need to be developed and what knowledge is needed in order to be an effective global citizen.

However, I would go even further and build a curriculum without subjects. Given the times in which we live, the global disruptors and indeed opportunities that we face as a society, ridding ourselves of the archaic 19th century model of schooling that is in situ in this country would be my top priority. Learning through subjects is quite frankly, archaic. Do away with subjects and build learning around real-life briefs that require pupils to apply learning in varying contexts; working in partnership with employers, business and different industry sectors so that pupils develop understanding and awareness of careers and employment.

For many, this, at least in the short term, will be a step too far so a far simpler step that would help curriculum implementation become more appropriate would be a change in the language we use to describe learning. We have become pre-occupied with the terms ‘Academic’ and ‘Vocational’, with vocational learning being seen as something less than academic, and yet both words are fundamentally flawed when used to describe learning. ‘Academic’ – dictionary definition – purely theoretical, nothing to do with practical application – so music, drama dance has no theory that needs to be learned?! Science and Maths have no practical application?! We need to be using a different language that blurs learning; for example– theoretical learning and applied learning. This simple change would, I believe have a dramatic effect. If a prerequisite of curriculum implementation was that pupils were required to respond to challenges by incorporating both types of learning, and outcomes were gauged in relation to how successfully both types of learning were articulated in the pupil response, then there would no longer be the divide that currently exists and the hierarchical system in which the misinterpreted ‘academic’ is seen as being better that other types of learner.

Cheerful high school student concentrates while building a drone
So, if the curriculum that is judged by Ofsted has to reflect a broad and balanced curriculum in which a coherent vision of intent is  translated into clear models of implementation, then in gauging
impact, it seems likely that a logical way of evaluating success would be to seek evidence of progress from across the full spectrum of a child’s life; encompass their contribution to local community, their engagement in clubs and teams and the skills and knowledge built by doing so. A broad and balanced view of curriculum should surely not require impact to be gauged purely on what a child exhibits during a school day. I believe impact of the curriculum should be triangulated between evidence drawn from activity within school, activity out of school and of course, through assessment data.

In addition, this shift would put the pupil at the very heart of the learning process and ultimately lead to improved standards. Having been a school leader for over 30 years, in my experience, the only way of embedding sustainable improvement in schools is by developing the independent learning capacity of pupils. By building the curriculum around their needs and ensuring the mechanisms for implementing that intent are built upon clear models of learning as suggested here, then an increase in the independent learning capacity of pupils will be far more likely to be ensured.

To support this view, I have used my experience to develop a programme of staff development that looks to develop independent learners through creativity. This programme is focussed on developing practical solutions for how school leaders and teachers might build their vision for curriculum and offers a process on which to build learning. It uses simple and playful techniques to explore how pupils might take control of their learning and fundamentally equips participants with a comprehensive set of principles on which to build curriculum.

Developing Independent Learners can be delivered as 4 separate sessions (for example as twilights) or in a single session over the course of a whole day (for example as an INSET day). Attendance per session is £60 per person or £200 per person if you attend all 4.

However, we’re making this training available for free to any school which can meet the following criteria.

We can also deliver flexible in-house training focussed on the elements that are most relevant to your goals. To enquire, please contact drew@weareive.org

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