A curriculum needs to be an expression of the knowledge and understanding that we believe the future generation need to be successful, encapsulating the best of what has been thought and preparing the sort of citizens that will help our country flourish.
It’s absolutely right that politicians get involved in expressing the values and skills that society wants our schools to teach. However, as Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) has so frequently said, the written curriculum is likely to be quite different to what is actually learned by students.
I’d go further than this and point out the stages that the curriculum has to go through:
- The vision and values for the curriculum –> the ‘input’ curriculum
- The curriculum that ends up being written down
- The curriculum as interpreted by teachers
- The scheme of work that is then created by the teachers
- The content that is taught by teachers after interpreting and adapting this scheme
- The content that is understood by students and fitted to their own context and preconceptions
- The content that is retained in the long term as students progress beyond their school career. -> The ‘output’ curriculum
The gap between each stage is likely to be absolutely enormous, so that what we see in stage seven will bear very little resemblance indeed to the original vision in stage one. However, the sometimes ridiculous curriculum media debate seems to ignore this entirely and note that a proportion of young people know very little of something that had originally been intended.
I doubt there is a single human being who leaves school able to recall all of the knowledge and skills that were originally specified in the curriculum under which they were taught.
Given that what education policy makers are trying to do is influence stage seven then you would really think that more attention would be paid to improving the links between each stage, wouldn’t you? Given what we know about the relational nature of transmission of knowledge and evidence in to practice then if we really wanted to improve the ‘ouput’ curriculum then we need to:
- Ensure that teachers, as far as possible, connect with the original vision and values that underpin the curriculum.
- Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for teachers to engage in debate with colleagues to compare and contrast their own interpretations of the curriculum with each other.
- Facilitate the effective sharing of schemes of work which go beyond simply sharing documents but extend to deeper discussion of the underlying logic and theory of the sequence and activities chosen. This requires extended collaboration, co-planning and discussion.
- Ensure teachers have multiple and extended opportunities to observe, refine and adapt their own interpretations of the schemes through a process of collaborative enquiry – e.g. Lesson Study.
- Use the same approach to examine the learning that is taking place and compare this to the original vision in the curriculum. Use a range of different tools to evaluate, including tests, interviews, extended assessments/projects, observations, etc.
- Use our developing understanding of memory to ensure that material is covered repeatedly – e.g. use spaced learning and repeated assessments to ensure that the learning that is retained is closer to what was originally understood.
All of these processes require a national effort to promote teacher professionalism, collaboration and enquiry. This is an enormous cultural shift in many schools away from being told what to do and then being expected to deliver in isolation. It requires a national infrastructure to make the shift happen and ensure that future iterations of curriculum development will result in significantly less superficial change than is, unfortunately, inevitable in the current circumstances.
In order to help this process the Teacher Development Trust is crowd-sourcing a free advice document which you can read, amend/edit/refine yourself here:
We have also launched the National Teacher Enquiry Network which is a partnership of schools who are looking to develop and share world-leading practice in teacher development and research. Our members are developing the sorts of practices which are needed to ensure that a curriculum change results in more effective learning for students rather than just a way of keeping teachers busy.