Think before you write is probably a pretty obvious statement. As with pupils and their thinking; to think deeply about something it helps if you have a level of prior knowledge. You need something to guide and frame your thoughts.
Part of a knee jerk reaction to the latest Ofsted inspection framework is to start frantically writing a curriculum policy; a lack of deep knowledge of curriculum development, at a whole school level, and shared tier 3 curriculum vocabulary may well hinder the process. Below are some well-established curriculum design principles which can help shape curriculum thinking, discussion and, in time, determination about what curriculum should be implemented. They can also form the basis of a shared vocabulary around curriculum.
The post 7 Principles of Good Curriculum Design provides more detail. It emphasises that these principles are held in tension and prioritising one principle has implications for others. It also states that, “Curriculum is purpose enacted”. You cannot discuss curriculum without thinking about your fundamental beliefs about why we educate; this also allows you to critique other people’s view of the curriculum.
The finalised and published Ofsted Handbook for Section 5 inspections, states, pupils “are able to access a broad and balanced curriculum at key stage 2. In secondary education, inspectors will expect to see a broad, rich curriculum.” (page 42, section 174) Parts of this are hugely problematic for me.
Our fundamental beliefs about why we educate is encapsulated in this statement from our Teaching, Assessment & Learning Policy written four or more years ago:
“The Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust believes that all children and young people are gifted and talented in their own unique ways. Each is capable of being successful in their learning. The Trust will strive for excellence within its curriculum, teaching and learning, supported by assessment processes, to enhance pupils’ life chances.
The Trust will remain true to its Christian roots by prioritising the development of the whole child as part of an education for wisdom through which our young people will be enabled to make enriching choices in their lives, for themselves and others. The hallmarks of our pupils will be their respect for people particularly those who are disadvantaged; a depth of knowledge and understanding; a love of and desire for further learning and the ability to benefit society through their positive contribution.”
In developing the whole child, there is the need for a balanced curriculum; that is, one that promotes the intellectual, moral, spiritual, aesthetic, creative, emotional and physical development as equally important.
Looking back at the Ofsted quote; Key Stage 2 so far so good. However, there is clearly no need for a balanced curriculum in Key Stage 3 – a broad one (range of subjects) and a rich one (no idea what this means; it’s a nonsense term). This is not an accident or simple omission. In the joint Headteachers’ Roundtable and ‘WorthLess?’ response to the draft inspection framework we pointed out, “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.” I originally thought the lack of mention of “balanced” was an oversight or exposed a lack of knowledge about the curriculum. It clearly was not; the final inspection handbook doesn’t refer to a balanced curriculum at all for Key Stage 3 (or Key Stage 1)!
This screams at me that the intellect must be our overriding priority – the moral, spiritual, aesthetic, creative, emotional and physical development of children are a lesser priority. This isn’t a simple argument about right or wrong. Rather, it’s about what you believe education is for and the imposition of Ofsted’s beliefs on all schools.
It also matters because as you seek to implement and then enact your curriculum, what is learnt by children and young people is brought sharply into focus. Frank Coffield (emeritus professor of education at the UCL Institute of Education) expresses it very well:
“Ofsted’s definition reads: “Learning is defined as an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.” This definition is not fit for purpose; it is one-dimensional, individualistic and, though it may be appropriate for psychological laboratory experiments, it is not appropriate for education. We need, and I offer, this educational definition: “Learning refers to significant enhancements in knowledge, capabilities, values, attitudes or understanding (including but going beyond the acquisition of factual knowledge) by individuals, groups, organisations or society.”
In thinking about your curriculum there is much to ponder; don’t start to write too quickly.
The five statements below I wrote to engage staff in a debate about our Trust’s curriculum. They took me about twenty minutes to write (including interruptions) as I am able to pull on my experience of leading curriculum at a subject and whole school level and a Curriculum Policy written circa 2009/10. The policy was considered irrelevant and superfluous by the inspection team who visited us at the start of the decade. Remember, curriculum is inexorable; Ofsted frameworks come and go on a regular basis.
We Believe a High Quality Curriculum:
- Is appropriate, broad and balanced; promoting intellectual, moral, spiritual, aesthetic, creative, emotional and physical development as equally important. This must be available to all pupils.
- Is vertically integrated, to ensure progression, and focused on the big ideas and concepts that underpin understanding within each subject.
- Is coherent within Early Years; becoming increasingly rigorous, developing intra-disciplinary habits of mind, as pupils progress from Key Stage 1 to 5.
- At Key Stages 4 & 5, has increased relevance through pupils’ informed choice and allows for a greater depth of study with more limited breadth.
- Involves systematic development of literacy, in particular reading and vocabulary acquisition and understanding.
I’ll blog about these five statements later this week: the nuance, tensions and competing priorities to help develop people’s understanding of the important of the individual terms about our curriculum priorities and how some change between early years and Sixth Form. It’s important to view curriculum from a holistic level as well as the subject level; the whole and the parts are a complex interaction.