Revisiting old posts: rebuilding the curriculum

POSTED ORIGINALLY IN FEBRUARY 2019

When I joined my last school, it was inadequate. Over three years, the staff worked relentlessly hard to move that judgement to the good judgement it received during its last inspection. It is a school that still hovers between the brink of RI and good, usually because of the data. Like a lot of schools, data has been a core focus with termly data collections, meetings to interrogate the data and, sadly, a move to track each pupil against each learning objective to ‘support’ staff in confidently identifying and discussing the progress of their pupils.

However, having spent the majority of my career in inadequate to good schools, it has become clear to me that in order to make the shift from inadequate or RI to good, two things need to happen:

  1. A school needs to tackle poor behaviour in a robust way with all staff members pulling together. Initially, I believe this requires a zero tolerance approach.
  2. A school needs to ensure a tight infrastructure (incl. curriculum) with cohesion between departments and excellent systems in place.

The recent Ofsted framework and school inspection handbook is, therefore, a blessing. It reduces the focus on data and instead places the spotlight firmly on curriculum and behaviour.

Thanks in part to Michaela school, folks on Twitter have really embraced the ‘knowledge’ curriculum over the past few years. Many HODs, especially within English, have re-written their curriculua with a focus on knowledge, rigour and the embedding of research informed practice such as interleaving and retrieval practice. As a result, this new framework doesn’t feel like a new initiative but, instead, it feels like the pulling together of the great work many people have been doing for quite some time.

I was fortunate enough to attend Rebuilding the Curriculum this weekend, an event organised by Kevin Bartle and his colleagues at Canons school. At the event, leading voices on curriculum spoke. It was an inspiring event and reinforced much of the dialogue and work that has been done recently. Here are my key takeaways from sessions 1 and 2 on curriculum with Mary Myatt and Daniel Muijs:

Why the need for a new framework?

The new curriculum framework has come about for two reasons: schools have become increasingly focused on outcomes. As a result, many curriculua have been narrowed. Narrowed in the sense that more and more pupils find themselves preparing for exams at a young age. And narrowed in the sense of the curriculum offering which has lowered expectations of what pupils can achieve. This narrowing was recognised by Ofsted when conducting preliminary research into curriculum knowledge and expertise. Therefore, in placing the emphasis back on curriculum, schools can really focus on making the right decisions for their students. The argument being that if schools strengthen their curriculum, the results will follow.

Three layers when we think about the curriculum:

Ofsted feel it necessary to distinguish the curriculum from assessment. To be clear

  • Curriculum = what is taught.
  • Teaching activities = the ways in which we think about how we approach the teaching of the curriculum
  • Assessment = how we measure what has been taught.

And when thinking, redrafting or designing a curriculum, Ofsted have offered a three pronged approach:

  1. The Intent – the framework for the curriculum in which we identify the knowledge and the understanding that we want pupils to gain at the end of each stage.
  2. The Implementation – translating the framework into a narrative and a structure
  3. The Impact – in which we evaluate what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against our expectations.

Muijs argued that a high quality curriculum will

    • Be proactive and will have a clear rationale in articulating why the curriculum being offered is right for the pupils in a particular school
    • Be the product of clear consideration. Schools will have thought about the sequence of content necessary to enable children to make good progress.
    • Provide children with the knowledge they need for subsequent learning.
    • Provide a deeper understanding and development of key skills (knowledge has to underpin key skills)

From this Ofsted arrived at a bank of 25 curriculum indicators. It should be stressed that these do not form a tick list for use during inspection but, instead, are the result of the research conducted into what constitutes effective curriculum provision.

ofsted-3-e1549279000791.png

What are some of the other key considerations when evaluating our curriculum provision?

  1. The curriculum is a progression model – a clear sequence of knowledge and then skills needed in order to develop. Considering what year 6 needs to know to impact on curriculum choices in years 5 and below. Similarly, what a year 11 pupil needs to know to impact on what is done at KS3. Or what an Oxbridge student might study and how we could prepare pupils for this.
  2. In addition, creating a curriculum centred around key concepts Mary Myatt argues should be at the heart of the curriculum to enable pupils to make rich connections. We cannot forget the power of stories, conflicts and dilemmas.
  3. Strong subject knowledge is key of course with CPD centred around enhancing subject knowledge vital. I loved the analogy from Jon Hutchinson about how it is impossible to make pupils ‘critical thinkers’ (one of the IB skills). Pupils can’t just become critical thinkers. They need to have the relevant knowledge about something in order to think critically about it. For example, a critical thinker about the work of JB Priestley or a critical thinker about a particular composition.
  4. Pupils want harder stuff and we need to consider the opportunities our curriculua offer in terms of high challenge and low threat. Myatt argues that the word ‘ability’ should be banned. All we can talk about is prior attainment so ensuring we have the highest expectations of all pupils is key.
  5. Literacy underpins the curriculum. The ability to read and understand subject specific and general vocabulary is central to the curriculum as a whole.

What was most refreshing when people were talking on Saturday was the recognition that this work takes time. Some people referenced being on their third year of curriculum implementation with further work to do. This reflects a huge shift from a reactionary education system to one that is invested in ongoing improvement and development. Ofsted, also, recognise this and state that schools should be able to provide a narrative for their ongoing curriculum development rather than consider it a finished product. Furthermore, Mary Myatt talked about the importance of schools getting both the soft stuff and the hard stuff right. It is essential for schools to pay attention to the soft stuff with a real core focus on paying respect to ‘deep humanity and the integrity of those within the organisation’. Understanding that any real quality of change takes time is paying attention to this.

And finally, how will Ofsted measure curriculum effectiveness?

  • Through conversations with leaders (intent)
  • Lesson observations (implementation)
  • Work scrutiny (impact)
  • Conversations with pupils (implementation and impact)

The first two sessions on curriculum both inspired and energised me. The direction that Ofsted is now providing is strong and the pragmatic nature about its implementation is evident. I am excited for England and the work that lies ahead.

Personally, I now need to consider how this impacts on what I do in my new school and in my new context, especially given my role as classroom teacher rather than leader. Something I am going to take my time to ponder…

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