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Redesigning Schools

Redesigning the School’s Curriculum: Find Your Compass

The world of education is changing again and like many changes it is bringing us almost full circle.  If you are a teacher of about fifty years or older you may just about be able to remember a time before the National Curriculum and when levels weren’t part of your life (even if like me you are struggling to remember what you had for lunch or where your car keys are).  This is not quite taking us back full circle to pre-1988 as the sharp edge of accountability means you aren’t likely to tell a new Science teacher that you “can teach them (less able Year 10 group) anything you like as long as you keep them in the classroom.”  The latter part of this instruction proved more difficult than I at first thought.


Much has changed in education with respect to the level of informed professional practice of teachers and the degree of accountability we all experience.  The excellent SSAT Redesigning School Symposia are up and running in both Manchester and London.  With Dylan Wiliam leading on the development of new curricula and assessment – the “what” we have to do – and Andy Hargreaves on Professional Capacity – the “how” to do it – we can move with both excitement and no small degree of trepidation into the next phase of education in this country.  It’s time for the profession to take the lead, working with government and other interested parties, to deliver an education fit for the 21st Century and fit for our students.

Dylan’s classic one liner was “don’t implement things you don’t believe in.”  I wonder what your school’s response was to the E-Bacc a number of years ago.

  1. Didn’t make any impact as we already required students to opt for two Sciences, a MFL & either History or Geography
  2. Didn’t make any impact as we thought it was a bonkers idea, didn’t fit with our curriculum philosophy and so we ignored it and carried on regardless.
  3. Panic – get all students opting for the E-Bacc (or at least the most able as they will get a grade C), options changed rapidly and you’ve either now seen the light of Mr. Gove’s wisdom or wondering what you’ve done and why.

We need to get our curriculum compass out and make sure we know which way we are heading particularly if, after years of being told what to do, we’ve lost sight of why we are doing certain things within the curriculum.  At the symposium we were challenged to think about seven curriculum principles and which where the most important three.  I failed miserably to identify just three but managed to realise it is the tension between the different principles that was going to be key in breathing life into the curriculum at St. Mary’s.

Dylan’s principles for a good curriculum were: balanced, rigorous, coherent, vertically integrated, appropriate, focused and relevant (you need to take care with these terms as they had a technical meaning that doesn’t necessarily relate directly to everyday use and meaning).

In developing our new curriculum what would teachers need to know if they were going to be effective?  Here’s my starter for teachers but you will need to add your own thoughts as well:

  1. How their subject knowledge and concepts are vertically organised and integrated – what order do students learn these ideas and so what order should we teach them?
  2. What are the habits of mind, attitudes and skills students must develop if they are to be successful learners within the subject?  What gets better when a student’s understanding of your subject increases?
  3. How does the subject relate to other subjects and society – what numeracy or Mathematical skills do students need to be successful in Science & Geography in Year 8?
  4. How do students learn – can we transmit knowledge and understanding or must they construct it?

What does research say about the most effective teachers and the pedagogy they use?  Hattie goes for: teacher clarity (learning intentions & success criteria), feedback (but make sure the learner has to respond to it by improving his/her work), relationships and peer discussions.  If you have fifteen minutes this is a great summary of Hattie’s work presented by himself on what to do and what not to do.

I had the chance to listen to Dylan a couple of year’s ago at a SSAT Think tank and immediately went back to school to redraft the College’s Curriculum Policy.  After discussions with staff it was written in the style of a handbook and may give you some ideas about what to do and what to avoid.  We are currently challenging ourselves to increase the pace in Key Stage 3 by building programmes of study based on learning intentions written in SOLO Taxonomy style.  We want to make seven sub-levels progress in Key Stage 3 for all students and more with the most and least able.

Now that brings me to the afternoon’s work which nearly made my head explode.  What are we going to do if, as it seems likely, levels disappear?  If you are a teacher under fifty you won’t know life without levels.  Now don’t get me wrong I realise that levels were pretty much made up by subject groups sat in rooms, have been revised, revised again, had sub-levels introduced and by now probably don’t really link to how subject knowledge and concepts are vertically organised and integrated.  I know this but there is something very comfortable about the familiar.  I sense the comfort blanket is about to be taken away and we are going to grow up rapidly as a profession – we are more than capable of meeting this challenge with a little more wisdom from Dylan and some assessment principles.  We focussed on summative assessment.  The principles to guide in building a reliable system are:

  1. Distributed (so that evidence collection in not undertaken entirely at the end)
  2. Synoptic (so that learning has to accumulate)
  3. Extensive (so that all important aspects are covered)
  4. Manageable (so that costs are proportionate to benefits)
  5. Trusted (so that stakeholders have faith in the outcomes)

The introduction of data and its use in schools over the last decade has taught us much: make sure you know a student’s starting point (teach them from this point), set challenging and explicit goals linked to specific knowledge, understanding and skills that s/he needs to attain and check how they are going during lessons, at the end of topics and periodically through the key stage.  The information generated from assessments can be used to monitor progress and intervene when necessary.  This is great learning for us as professionals.

As we hopefully take the lead in matters of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment there is a need to make sure we build the professional capacity within our school, localities and nationally.  That was day two of the Redesigning Schools symposia with Andy Hargreaves, PC = f [HC, SC, DC], the “how” we can do it.

This is my second ever blog, the first attempt to write one I have managed to lose in the ether.  If you find it please send it back to me.  I’ll gather my thoughts on the building of professional capital, courtesy of Andy Hargreaves and blog again.

Thanks to Dylan Wiliam for a fantastic day and to Sue Williamson who is leading the SSAT onto fertile and crucially important ground.  Interested in Redesigning Schools?  Get involved.




5 thoughts on “Redesigning the School’s Curriculum: Find Your Compass

  1. I very much enjoyed reading your second ever blog and have found this plus the Hattiesburg video clip posted recently thought provoking….I look forward to future instalments.

    Posted by Nkh1970 | March 11, 2013, 9:52 pm


  1. Pingback: Redesigning Classrooms: Is Your Summative Assessment Trustworthy? | headstmary's Blog - April 12, 2013

  2. Pingback: Redesigning Classrooms: Is Your Summative Assessment Trustworthy? | Leading Learner - July 22, 2013

  3. Pingback: Redesigning the School’s Curriculum: Find Your Compass | Leading Learner - July 22, 2013

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