A segmented curriculum is problematic for pupils

Schools must take a holistic view to stop children struggling to piece together a fractured educational experience

curriculum, leader, education

It’s easy to forget that there’s really only one person who gets a holistic view of a child’s education, and that is the child. Only the child gets to compare nursery with primary, primary with secondary and secondary with FE or university. And only the child truly understands the differences between them.

Everyone fixates on their own part of the chain. How much does a secondary teacher know about what happens in primary, or vice versa? An emphasis on transition has helped, but this still tends to be a battleground of claims that each side could do more.

There have been, however, some admirable efforts to help disadvantaged children on this score. In Parklands Primary School in Leeds, for example, after February half term, a transition coordinator supports vulnerable children in Year 6 to access extended transition time with secondary school before they move up in September. They receive support until the following February, when the cycle starts over again.

And at Craigroyston Community High School in Edinburgh, vulnerable young people are supported at university via Facebook, text messages with teachers, catch-ups over coffee and an open-door policy at their old school.

But if the segmented reality of education causes a multitude of problems, the biggest must be curriculum. You may have a great key stage 3 curriculum that builds beautifully into a superb KS4 curriculum, but if it fails to appreciate what has gone on before, it probably won’t work that well. And in primaries, how much thought goes into what has come before and what comes after?

There is no easy fix. Having multiple primaries feeding into a single secondary, for example, means that without a huge degree of cooperation (and, more importantly, agreement and time), building a cohesive cross-phase curriculum is almost impossible.

Should secondaries dictate a curriculum to feeder schools? Should primaries have an influence on secondary? Should the answer shift depending on the subject or the child? It would be nice to think this could be done cooperatively, but – apart from a minority of well-balanced multi-academy trusts – there are too many competing ideologies, too many competing accountability targets.

And at the centre of this is a child who has to try to make sense of it all. A child who may be switching off because they have already studied what is being taught; or because there is assumed knowledge; or because the curriculum experience is just so different.

An all-through school has a distinct advantage here. Emily Maule was able to plan a curriculum from Reception all the way to GCSE and beyond. She could take a singular view of a child’s entire journey and build a cohesive pathway.

How much of an advantage is that to progression? It all depends on your metric. But it’s fair to say that a good number of all-through schools do very well at GCSE. Is that because they train for a grade 9 from age 5? Maule is at pains to point out that this is not the case. It is more likely that the learning process across phases simply makes sense – that deep knowledge is acquired and children are less anxious as a result.

We need to look more closely at these schools. If what they are doing is effective, then what does this mean for the vast majority of schools and MATs that do not operate an all-through model? Is a school’s curriculum only as good as its relation to the curriculum that is taught before or after? And if so, what does that mean for Ofsted’s inspection framework?

If we are really going to take curriculum seriously, we need answers to these questions and we need to view and understand education much more holistically. It shouldn’t be left only to the child to do that.


This article originally appeared in the 8 November 2019 issue under the headline “However you slice it, segmented curricula pose problems for pupils”