School & College Curriculum Design 2: Implementation is out now! Buy it in paperback or on Kindle. Preview the contents and blurb, and read a free summary of Book 1.
This is the first of two articles on curriculum implementation…
The Ofsted context
The purpose of Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework (EIF), which came into effect in September 2019, is we are told to discourage schools from narrowing their curriculum offer and to end practices such as teaching to the test at the expense of a more rounded education that better prepares pupils for the next stages of their education, employment and lives.
The EIF also aims to tackle social justice issues, ending educational disadvantage and affording every child, no matter their starting point and background, an equal opportunity to access an ambitious curriculum and to succeed in school as in life.
Under the EIF, the school curriculum is inspected as part of the new “quality of education” judgement and is defined according to its “intent, implementation and impact”.
Intent is “a framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage”.
Implementation is a means of “translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative within an institutional context”.
Impact is the means of “evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations”.
Intent, therefore, is concerned with curriculum design, the emphasis being on providing a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils.
Implementation, meanwhile, is about curriculum delivery, in other words on teaching and assessment, crucially that which leads to long-term learning.
Impact is about pupil progress and achievement, recognising that good outcomes are not just measured in qualifications but in how well pupils are developed as well-rounded citizens.
In Book 1, I tackled curriculum intent. In particular, I defined that slippery term “curriculum” and argued that a curriculum is not a singular entity; rather, it is a composite of at least four different elements: the national, the basic, the local, and the hidden curriculums.
I explored what a broad and balanced curriculum might look like in practice. I analysed the importance of creating a culture of high aspirations and I considered the centrality of social justice to effective curriculum design, concluding that a curriculum is a means of closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more privileged peers.
I also examined why designing a knowledge-rich curriculum was important, what knowledge mattered most to our pupils’ future successes and how to identify the clear end-points of a whole-school – and indeed subject-specific – curriculum.
As such, in this two-part article, and in much more depth in Book 2, I will focus on the second Ofsted “I” – curriculum implementation. If intent is all the planning that happens before teaching happens, then implementation is all the teaching that happens next…
In the schools’ inspection handbook (2019), Ofsted defines implementation as the way in which “the curriculum is taught at subject and classroom level”.
Accordingly, during an inspection, Ofsted will want to see how teachers enable pupils to understand key concepts, presenting information clearly and promoting appropriate discussion, how teachers check pupils’ understanding effectively, identifying and correcting misunderstandings, and how teachers ensure that pupils embed key concepts in their long-term memory and apply them fluently.
Further, Ofsted will want to see if the subject curriculum that classes follow is designed and delivered in a way that allows pupils to transfer key knowledge to long-term memory and if it is sequenced so that new knowledge and skills build on what has been taught before and towards defined end-points.
Ofsted also says that inspectors will want to see evidence that teachers use assessment to check pupils’ understanding, and they will evaluate how assessment is used in a school to support the teaching of the curriculum, but – crucially – not in a way that substantially increases teachers’ workloads.
Indeed, by including reference to the Making data work report from the Teacher Workload Advisory Group (DfE, 2018), which recommends that school leaders should not have more than two or three data collection points a year, Ofsted implies that it will expect schools to follow this advice or have a solid rationale for not doing so.
In short, Ofsted’s definition of effective curriculum implementation is high-quality teaching which leads to long-term learning. So, let us unpack those ingredients and consider what they look like in the classroom.
How the curriculum is taught at subject level
Here, we might consider how curriculum plans are written to ensure the subject is taught in a planned and sequenced manner, and in a way, that ensures all teachers within a department are consistent in the content they deliver, and in the broad pedagogical approaches they apply to teach their subject. It might help to consider the following questions.
What makes the subject different to other subjects on the timetable? For example, how do scientists think, as distinct from mathematicians? How do scientists speak, read and write? How is this explicitly taught to pupils?
What shape does the subject curriculum take? Is it linear or spiral? What does progress look like in this subject? Can it be extrapolated by assessing pupils’ knowledge and skills at two points in time? Or is it more complex than this? Can some skills be observed? What about knowledge, how do you know when pupils have acquired it securely and can apply it in a meaningful way? Can you know this?
What form do the key concepts (clear end-points) take in this subject? For example, are they worded as big questions, ideas, concepts, values, behaviours, facts, or skills? Or a combination of all of these and more?
How do these key concepts develop over time? Do they get reinforced each term and year? Do they get built upon and added to as pupils progress through the curriculum and as subject content is returned to with increasingly complexity? How are explicit links made between what pupils already know and can do, and what they now need to learn?
Is the subject content the same regardless of which teacher a pupil has? What value judgements are made about what knowledge and skills are most important and which aspects of the subject can be dropped? Are such decisions made as a department or by individual teachers? Is subject content taught in the same or broadly similar ways by all teachers in the department? For example, do all teachers use the same presentation slides, textbooks and worksheets? Do they all use the same schema?
What cross-curricular links are made? Do subject teachers work with other departments to identify commonalities and themes where relevant? Do subjects liaise on their sequencing to maximise the potential to support each other’s delivery? When maths is needed in science, do science teachers use the same methods as maths teachers? Do all teachers ensure they teach tier 2 vocabulary in ways that do not contradict other subjects but that make explicit the differences that exist in the meanings of command words such as “analyse” between subject disciplines? (for more on tier 1, 2 and 3 vocabulary see the work of Dr Isabel Beck).
How the curriculum is taught at classroom level
Here, we might consider the way curriculum plans are translated into practice by individual teachers. What does the subject classroom look and sound like? What makes the teaching of this subject different to the teaching of other subjects? How is the learning environment organised? What do classrooms look like? How is the space utilised – including the use of displays – to aid learning? What of the social environment? What do interactions look like and why? Does the way the classroom is run mirror expectations in the subject field? Are explicit links to the subject discipline made?
What rules and routines are particular to this subject? How are they articulated, reinforced, enforced? In subjects with a practical element, such as design and technology, how are health and safety taught and high standards upheld?
What does the teacher do in this subject? What is the balance between teacher-led and pupil-led activities? What do teacher explanations look like? How does the teacher make use of modelling and thinking aloud? How do they make their subject expertise explicit to pupils so what is invisible to the novice learner becomes visible?
Is pair and group work used in this subject? How and why? What guidelines are established? How and how often? Are they routinely upheld? Does self and peer-assessment and feedback feature in this subject? How is this managed?
What does assessment look like in this subject? What is assessed, by whom, when and how? How is feedback given? What is done with it? What is your strategy for formative assessment.
In part two of this article…
In the second part of this two-part article, we will take a look at the following aspects of curriculum implementation:
- How teachers enable pupils to understand key concepts.
- How teachers present information clearly and promote appropriate discussion.
- How teachers check pupils’ understanding effectively, identifying and correcting misunderstandings.
- How teachers ensure that pupils embed key concepts in their long-term memory and can apply key concepts fluently.
- How the subject curriculum is designed and delivered in a way that allows pupils to transfer key knowledge to long-term memory.
- How the subject curriculum is sequenced so that new knowledge and skills build on what has been taught before and build towards defined end-points.
- How learners apply vocational and technical skills fluently and independently.