Curriculum matters: what does ‘broad and balanced’ mean?

Throughout September and October, I’m devoting my weekly SecEd column to the subject of curriculum design.  Last week, by way of a teaser, I posted some musings on what I think Ofsted is likely to inspect as part of the new ‘Quality of Education’ judgment in the 2019 Common Inspection Framework.  You can read that post here.  By way of a follow-up, here are my thoughts on what constitutes a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum…

The 2002 Education Act requires schools to provide a ‘balanced and broadly-based curriculum’ which: promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and; prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

Although only maintained schools are required to teach the National Curriculum, all school’s – including independent schools and academies, must meet the requirements of the Education Act.  However, there are no legal requirements for any school about the methods of delivery of the curriculum or the amount of time allocated to each subject.

So, within this rather vague legal framework, how can schools ensure that their curriculum is broad and balanced and will, therefore, produce well-rounded young people who can succeed in life and work as well as stand up to the increased scrutiny of Ofsted post-2019?

The regulatory standards for independent schools provide a useful way of thinking about breadth.  The standards require schools to provide a curriculum that gives pupils experience in the following areas: linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical, and aesthetic and creative, so that it promotes spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

A broad curriculum, therefore, might be regarded as one in which there are enough subjects on a pupil’s timetable to cover all these experiences.  Narrowing the curriculum for less able pupils or stretching GCSE study into Key Stage 3 clearly runs counter to this definition of breadth.  A broad curriculum offers all pupils a wide range of subjects for as long as possible.

A balanced curriculum, meanwhile, might be regarded as one in which each subject is not only taught to all pupils but is afforded sufficient space on the timetable to deliver its distinct contribution.  The danger here is that some subjects, such as art, music, and languages, are squeezed out of the timetable by English, maths and science.  It is not uncommon for English to have five or more lessons on the timetable per week and art just one, or for the arts to operate on a carousel whereby design technology is only taught for one term of the year.


In my 6-part series for SecEd magazine I will explore what I believe to be the central tenets of an effective curriculum and I will share my advice on how to design such a curriculum and then, crucially, deliver it in your classroom.


Follow me on Twitter: @mj_bromley

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