Curriculum changes: 5 ways to help pupils, not Ofsted

Ofsted’s curriculum focus is leading to some schools taking a certain path to curriculum change, but Zoe Enser lays out the path she thinks is best for pupils

Sifting for gold

Curriculum design is by far my favourite thing in education. So when Ofsted decided to shift their focus to inspecting the curriculum, I was excited.

Thinking about what we teach our students, when we teach it and how are some of the most interesting and important questions we can ask ourselves in any subject.

Discussing what the subject-specific "golden nuggets" are (a phrase I’ve heard most recently from Heather Fearn, inspector curriculum and professional development lead for Ofsted) cuts to the very heart of what we do.

However, finding the time to do this is not easy. So how might we embark on this process without creating reams of work for an already over-stretched workforce and ensuring we are keeping pupils' needs as the primary focus?

1. Set out your stall

I would suggest doing anything purely because you might have some less-than-welcome guests coming to stay is a bad idea.

A curriculum should reflect what we want our students to achieve and ensure each scheme provides them with the building blocks to do that.

Reviewing the curriculum is about ensuring you have the key elements to enable this and how they will be learned and embedded over time, so begin by thinking about the purpose of your curriculum.

2. Assess where you are already

It is highly unlikely you need to throw everything out and start again. More likely you already have some wonderful golden nuggets in your curriculum, but they are not necessarily in the right place. 

For example, you may have a novel in Year 7, but what are the main reasons for teaching that particular text at that particular time? "Because we had lots in the cupboard" or "because they really like it" is never going to be the answer.

However, you may have another novel, currently on the Year 8 curriculum, that really exemplifies important aspects of character, narrative development or structure which could form a strong basis on which those Year 7s could build. 

3. A flexible approach

Thinking about sequencing like this can be really powerful. Front-loading key ideas you will revisit throughout the year or key stage or five-year journey enables students to encounter them in different contexts, draw comparisons and evaluate them. 

Equally, considering what are the key text types you want them to encounter and be able to create, needs to be mapped carefully to ensure that each step builds on prior learning and prepares them for the next steps. 

4. Less is more 

I would also suggest that less is more in terms of these concepts.

Rather than trying to cover everything, we should focus our attention on what will really make a difference for our students as they progress through their education. 

Sometimes our curriculum is so jam-packed with wonderful texts and tasks that we barely have time to finish reading them, let alone to check what meaning our students have taken from them. 

It is always worth ensuring that important ideas aren’t obscured by a culture of doing or one that focuses solely on breadth and not depth of understanding. 

5. Embrace fluidity  

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a curriculum is not something that is ever done.

Discussion about what those golden nuggets are is an ongoing process.

Year-on-year, you may see that the curriculum needs adapting based on the students you have arriving and their prior learning.

After all, they certainly don’t just turn up to secondary a blank slate. 

Sometimes they are going to need more emphasis in one area, and those students who may be coming through from your new Year 7 curriculum will need something different in Year 8. 

I don’t say that to worry people about workload, but to reassure them. It is a continuous process – so best to embrace this reality and enjoy the treasure hunt anew each time it comes around. 

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