Curriculum intent

I’m busy writing the first of three books in a series called ‘School and College Curriculum Design’.

Taken together, this 3-book series will navigate you through the process of redesigning your school or college curriculum, ensuring that it is broad and balanced, ambitious for all, and that it prepares pupils and students for the next stage of their education, employment and life.

The first book is entitled ‘Intent’ and is concerned with the ‘Why?’ and the ‘What?’ of education.



Here is a sneaky peek at the contents of this book…



A note on the text

The Ofsted context

Part One: Agree the vision 

Chapter One:              What is a curriculum?

Chapter Two:              What is a broad and balanced curriculum?

Chapter Three:           Why does the curriculum matter?

Chapter Four:              What is the purpose of education?

Chapter Five:              The role of senior leaders

Chapter Six:                Creating the culture

Chapter Seven:           Teacher professional development

Chapter Eight:             Teacher workload

Part Two: Set the destination         

Chapter Nine:             Why knowledge matters

Chapter Ten:               What knowledge matters

Chapter Eleven:          Identifying key concepts

Part Three: Assess the starting points

Chapter Twelve:         The importance of curriculum continuity

Chapter Thirteen:       Improving transition

Chapter Fourteen:      The language of – and for – learning

Chapter Fifteen:          Identifying individual starting points

Part Four: Agree the waypoints     

Chapter Sixteen:         Plotting a course through the curriculum

Chapter Seventeen:    Using waypoints as the progression model

Part Five: Define excellence           

Chapter Eighteen:       Equal access to the curriculum

Chapter Nineteen:      Teaching to the top

Chapter Twenty:         High expectations

Chapter Twenty-One: Pitch perfect

Part Six: Diminish disadvantage    

Chapter Twenty-Two: Closing the gap

Chapter Twenty-Three: Cultural capital

Chapter Twenty-Four: Three waves of intervention

Chapter Twenty-Five: Cross-curricular literacy and numeracy

Chapter Twenty-Six:   Metacognition  and self-regulation



And here is an insight into what to expect inside…

In Part One of this book, I will explore what is meant by the term ‘curriculum’ – or rather ‘curriculums’ because a curriculum is a composite of at least four different curricular elements: the national, the basic, the local, and the hidden curriculums.

I shall also define the words ‘broad’ and ‘balanced’ and explore what a broad and balanced curriculum looks like in practice.

I will examine the primacy of the curriculum over teaching, learning and assessment, and defend curriculum’s role as the master and not the servant of schooling.

I will consider the purpose of education and, by so doing, determine the intended outcomes of an effective curriculum.

I will explore the vital role of senior leaders in the curriculum design process whilst simultaneously defending the rights of middle leaders and teachers – those with subject specialist knowledge – to create their own disciplinary curriculums with freedom and autonomy.

I will also explore the importance of creating the culture of high aspirations where each pupil is challenged to produce excellence and consider the centrality of social justice to effective curriculum design – using the curriculum as a means of closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more advantaged peers.

In Part Two of this book, I will examine why designing a knowledge-rich curriculum matters and why, contrary to popular opinion, pupils can’t ‘just Google it’. I will then discuss what knowledge matters most to our pupils’ future success and how to identify the ‘clear end-points’ of our whole-school or college – and subject-specific – curriculums.

I will discuss ways of ensuring our curriculum is ambitious for all, including through a mastery approach whereby we set the same destination for all pupils and students, irrespective of their starting points and backgrounds, rather than reducing the curriculum offer or ‘dumbing down’ for some. I will talk, too, of modelling the same high expectations of all, albeit accepting that some pupils will need additional and different support to reach that destination.

In Part Three of this book, I will discuss how to assess the starting points of our curriculum, both in terms of what has been taught before (the previous curriculum) and what has actually been learnt (our pupils’ starting points – their prior knowledge, and their knowledge gaps and misconceptions).

I will explore the importance of curriculum continuity, too, and consider the features of an effective transition process. And I shall look at ways of instilling a consistent language of and for learning.

In Part Four of this book, having identified both our destination and our starting point, I shall explain how to plot a course between the two, identifying useful waypoints at which to stop along the way – the ‘threshold concepts’ through which pupils must travel because their acquisition of these concepts (be they knowledge or skills) is contingent on them being able to access and succeed at the next stage.

I will explore the importance of having a planned and sequenced curriculum, ensuring we revisit key concepts several times as pupils travel through our education system but, each time, doing so with increasing complexity, like carving a delicate statue from an alabaster block, each application of hammer and chisel revealing greater depth and detail and, in the case of curriculum sequencing, further connections to prior learning – or schema – that, in turn, help pupils to learn more and cheat the limitations of their working memories in order to move from novice to expert.

I will explore how these ‘waypoints’ or thresholds may be used as a means of assessment so that curriculum knowledge – rather than something arbitrary such as national curriculum levels or GCSE grades – is what we assess by means of a progression model.

In Parts Five and Six of this book, I will turn to the subject of differentiation – arguing (as I say above) that all pupils deserve access to the same ambitious curriculum, no matter their starting points and backgrounds. Of course, as I also say above, some pupils will need more support and will need more time in order to reach the designated end-points of our curriculum, and not all will do so, but we should not ‘dumb down’ or reduce our curriculum offer for disadvantaged, vulnerable or SEND pupils because that way we only perpetuate the achievement gap and double their disadvantage. Rather, we should ensure that every pupil is set on course for the same destination, albeit the means of transport and journey time may differ.

First, in Part Five, I will define excellence and explore the importance of ‘teaching to the top’. I will look at how to model high expectations of all pupils. And I will look at ways of ‘pitching’ learning in pupils’ ‘struggle zones’ (delicately positioned between their comfort zones and their panic zones where work is hard but achievable).

Then, in Part Six, I will look at ways of diminishing disadvantage – accepting that if we want to offer all pupils the same ambitious curriculum, we must also identify any gaps in their prior knowledge and skills, and support those pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities to access our curriculum and have an equal chance of academic success.

I will look at the role of cultural capital in closing the gap, arguing that vocabulary instruction (particularly of Tier 2 words) is a useful means of helping disadvantaged pupils to access our curriculum, but I will also assert that this alone is not enough and that cultural capital takes myriad forms and, as such, we should also plan to explicitly teach pupils how to speak, read and write in each subject discipline, and fill some of the gaps in their world knowledge.

I will also explore ways of making a success of in-class differentiation and additional interventions and support. And I will look at how to develop pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills in order to help disadvantaged learners to access our curriculum. Finally, I will examine ways of developing pupils’ metacognition and self-regulation skills to help them to become increasingly independent, resilient learners.

The book is due out in the autumn of 2019 (presuming I manage to finish it on time). Between now and then, I will blog on some of the themes.

Watch this space for information about forthcoming webinars and workshops based on this book, in partnership with AoC and Keynote Educational.


Follow me on Twitter for updates: @mj_bromley

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