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Curriculum, OFSTED

Talking Curriculum; Let’s Avoid Confusion

There’s a lot of chatter, courses and blog posts appearing with the word “Curriculum” in these days. Accountability, as ever, is the tail that wags the dog. The curriculum is and always has been important; it breathes life into a school’s or teacher’s philosophy of education; it is purpose enacted.

The problem of discussing curriculum, in part, is that: there is no agreed definition; curriculum is often used as a proxy for much deeper beliefs about the purpose of education and its tier 3 language is often not well understood.

This is such an example taken from a recent and interesting Ofsted document about the Primary Science Curriculum:

The title comments on the “lack of coherence”. In curriculum terms coherence has a specific meaning – explicit connections and links are made between the different subjects/experiences encountered. The important giveaways that this is not about coherence are that the passage refers to building “a meaningful science curriculum” and then “a limited understanding of what progression and sequencing of knowledge and skills looked like in topics across the subject”.

The references to science curriculum and the progression and sequencing of knowledge and skills within it are more correctly associated with a rigorous and a vertically integrated curriculum.

A rigorous curriculum seeks to develop intra-disciplinary habits of mind; the subject matter is taught in a way that is faithful to the discipline from which it is drawn.

Vertically Integration focuses on progression within a subject: knowledge is carefully sequenced – builds on what was taught earlier and is a prerequisite for future learning – and is clear about what gets better when someone ‘gets better’ at the subject.

Ofsted’s framework and handbook assume that the curriculum will be rigorous and vertically integrated; strongly subject based and linked to a curriculum philosophy of cultural transmission. These are two of the key principles which influence the overall curriculum a school offers. They need to be held in tension with five other principles of curriculum design, unless explicitly determined otherwise.

For example, whilst the inspection handbook refers to a broad curriculum or broad range of subjects on nine separate occasions only once does it refer to a balanced curriculum. Balanced in curriculum terms is not the same as broad. This is why you often see the terms used together. Support for the aesthetic aspect of the curriculum and the creative arts is often undermined when a curriculum lacks balance.

Given the support of the framework for the implementation of the Ebacc; the dropping of balance may simply be part of a growing realisation that the most difficult curriculum choice is often deciding what you must leave out.

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