This is an edited extract from the book, School and College Curriculum Design 3: Impact. For more information on this book and the first two in the series, as well as to access a raft of free curriculum resources, visit our Curriculum Central page.
School & College Curriculum Design 3: impact is the third of three guides to the school and college curriculum design process.
Taken together, this series seeks to navigate you through the process of redesigning your school or college curriculum, in order to ensure that it is broad and balanced, ambitious for all, and prepares pupils and students for the next stages of their education, employment and lives.
The journey began in Book One with curriculum intent – the ‘Why?’ and the ‘What?’ of education.
The second book, meanwhile, tackled curriculum implementation – the ‘How?’ of education.
This book concludes our journey with curriculum impact – the ‘How successfully?’
The story so far…
Book One was about all the planning that happens before teaching happens.
In Part One of Book One, we defined that slippery term ‘curriculum’ and argued that a curriculum is not a single entity; rather, it is a composite of at least four different elements: the national, the basic, the local, and the hidden curriculums.
We also defined the words ‘broad’ and ‘balanced’ and explored what a broad and balanced curriculum looked like in practice.
We examined the primacy of the curriculum over teaching, learning and assessment, and defended curriculum’s role as the master, as opposed to the servant, of education.
We considered the true purpose of a high-quality education and, by so doing, articulated the intended outcomes of an effective school and college curriculum.
We explored the vital role that senior leaders can play in the curriculum design process whilst also defending the rights of middle leaders and teachers – those with subject specialist knowledge – to create their own disciplinary curriculums with a degree of freedom and autonomy.
We analysed the importance of creating a culture of high aspirations where each pupil is challenged to produce excellence.
We considered the centrality of social justice to effective curriculum design, too; and concluded that a curriculum is a means of closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more privileged peers.
In Part Two of Book One, we examined why designing a knowledge-rich curriculum was important because, contrary to popular opinion, pupils can’t ‘just Google it’. We discussed what knowledge mattered most to our pupils’ future successes and how to identify the ‘clear end-points’ or ‘body of knowledge’ of a whole-school or college – and indeed subject-specific – curriculum.
Also in Part Two, we discussed ways of ensuring our curriculum is ambitious for all, including by adopting (and possibly adapting) 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. We talked, too, of modelling the same high expectations of all, albeit accepting that some pupils will need additional and different support to reach that destination, and not all will do so.
In Part Three of Book One, we discussed how to assess the starting points of our curriculum, both in terms of what has already been taught (the previous curriculum) and what has actually been learnt and retained (our pupils’ starting points – their prior knowledge, and their knowledge gaps and misconceptions).
We explored the importance of curriculum continuity, too, and considered the features of an effective transition process. And we looked at ways of instilling a consistent language of and for learning.
In Part Four of Book One, having identified both our destination and our starting points, we plotted a course between the two, identifying useful waypoints or checkpoints at which to stop along the way – which might take the form of ‘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.
We explored the importance of having a planned and sequenced curriculum, ensuring we revisit key concepts several times as pupils travel through the 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 ever finer detail and, in the case of curriculum sequencing, more – and indeed more complex – 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 and towards expert.
We explored how these ‘way-points’ or threshold concepts might be used as a means of assessment so that curriculum knowledge – rather than something arbitrary such as scaled scores, national curriculum levels, GCSE or A Level grades, or passes/merits/distinctions on vocational qualifications – is what we assess, by means of a progression model.
In Parts Five and Six of Book One on curriculum intent, we turned to the subject of differentiation – arguing again that all pupils deserve access to the same ambitious curriculum, no matter their starting points and backgrounds, and no matter the opportunities and challenges they face in life.
We accepted that, of course, some pupils need more support and more time in order to reach the designated end-points of our curriculum, or to master the ‘body of knowledge’ we assign them, and even then not all will do so, but we argued that we should not ‘dumb down’ or reduce our curriculum offer for disadvantaged or vulnerable pupils, pupils with SEND, or learners with High Needs, because by so doing we only perpetuate the achievement gap and double their disadvantage. Rather, we should ensure that every pupil is plotted a course for the same destination, albeit accepting that the means of transport and journey time may differ.
Accordingly, in Part Five we defined excellence and explored the importance of ‘teaching to the top’. We looked at how to model high expectations of all pupils. And we looked at ways of ‘pitching’ learning in pupils’ ‘struggle zones’ (delicately balanced between their comfort zones and their panic zones where work is hard but achievable with time, effort and support).
Then, in Part Six, we looked 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 a fair – if not equal – chance of academic success.
We looked 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 that this, in and of itself, is not enough. Rather, we asserted that cultural capital took myriad forms and had different definitions, and, as such, we should also plan to explicitly teach pupils how to speak, read and write in each subject discipline, and fill gaps in their world knowledge.
We also looked at how to make a success of in-class differentiation and additional interventions and support. And we looked at how to develop pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills in order to help disadvantaged learners to access our curriculum. Finally, we examined ways of developing pupils’ metacognition and self-regulation skills to help them become increasingly independent and resilient as learners.
In short, Book One in this three-volume series followed a six-step process of curriculum design which went as follows:
1. Agree a vision
2. Set the destination
3. Assess the starting points
4. Identify the waypoints
5. Define excellence
6. Diminish disadvantage
Book One – as I said earlier – was about all the planning that happens before teaching happens.
Now read a summary of Book Two.