What is the curriculum? It is not a timetable, GCSE syllabi – or indeed the National Curriculum. It represents the “totality of the experience of the child within schooling…it includes wider elements, including opportunities to acquire vital ‘personal’ and ‘social’ capitals” (Myatt, 2018).
Increasingly, influential voices in education have been calling for consideration to be given to curriculum; what is taught, how it is taught and how it is learned. They often emphasise how the curriculum can be a driver for social justice; sharing the ‘powerful knowledge’ that human endeavour has gathered. These voices have influenced Ofsted, who now signal intent to take a ‘rounded view’ via a new judgement called the Quality of Education. At its heart are the three elements intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum. This is a serious refocussing; with an admission that too much store has been put by what can be learned from data alone.
What are the implications?
HMCI, Amanda Spielman, in her commentaries on Ofsted curriculum research made the following observations:
• The curriculum has been narrowed e.g. 2 year Key Stage 3 and GCSE ‘flightpaths’
• ‘Teaching to the test’ is common
• There is a lack of understanding about curriculum in the profession
• There is a misunderstanding about the purpose of Key Stage 3
• ”11/12-year-olds should not be taught to GCSE assessment objectives.”
• There has been too much focus on measures
• The curriculum is not the timetable…or what we think might be on the exam
What are the implications? Firstly, we have the opportunity to reflect on, and shape, our curriculum. We can ask ourselves some fundamental questions: What is our curriculum for? Does it do what it needs to? How is it driven by our values? How do we teach it? How do students learn? What does success look like? Are we providing the right level of challenge? What is the purpose of assessment?
There are 7 key principles of curriculum design for us to consider (more to follow on these):
4 Challenge and enjoyment
7 Choice and personalisation
Let me reiterate, no longer do we need to be performative or formulaic with assessment. What I mean by this is that we don’t need students in a hall under exam conditions. Instead, we need to be intentional about what and how we ask (to assess understanding around the threshold concepts, to address misconceptions etc.), when we ask it (does not have to always be at the end of a lesson but can be) and most importantly what we then do with that information in order to plan what next. It is the never-ending, inseparable loop with teaching that makes assessment in this way transformative.
Be intentional about what and how we ask
Curriculum is inextricably linked with teaching, learning and assessment. We’ll be examining what it means to deliver a knowledge-first curriculum; the classroom practice that most effectively supports this. In terms of assessment, there is quite a culture shift to deal with. This should shift the emphasis onto formative assessment, or, as we’d like to view it, responsive teaching. Forthcoming Think Pieces will explore these ideas in more detail.