What is curriculum impact?

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.

In Book One of this series, which is summarised here, I shared a process for approaching curriculum intent. I argued that a curriculum is not a single entity; rather, it is a composite of at least four facets: the national, the basic, the local, and the hidden curriculums. I explored what a broad and balanced curriculum might look like in practice. I considered the true purpose of education and, by so doing, articulated the intended outcomes of an effective school curriculum.

I also examined why designing a knowledge-rich curriculum was important and discussed 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. I discussed ways of ensuring our curriculum was ambitious for all, including by adopting a mastery approach rather than reducing the curriculum offer or ‘dumbing down’ for some. I 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.

In Book Two, summarised here, I turned my attention to curriculum implementation. I explained that Ofsted 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.

I emphasise these key points yet again here because it’s important to bear them in mind as we complete the trilogy and analyse what curriculum impact means in practice…

Why?

Because, at its heart, I think that ‘impact’ is about evaluating the extent to which we achieve all the above aims and ambitions.

Ofsted, for its part, says that, under impact, inspectors will gather evidence to help them judge whether the most disadvantaged pupils in school – as well as pupils with SEND – are given the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.

In judging impact, Ofsted says that national assessments and examinations are useful indicators of the outcomes pupils in school achieve, but that they only represent a sample of what pupils have learned. As such, inspectors will balance these with their assessment of the standard of pupils’ work from the first-hand evidence they gather on inspection.

Ofsted says that learning in schools must build towards a goal. As such, at each stage of pupils’ education, inspectors are likely to want to see evidence that pupils are being prepared for the next stage of education, training or employment, and will consider whether pupils are ready for that next stage.

Measuring outcomes

In the old Common Inspection Framework (CIF), one of the key judgments was ‘Outcomes for pupils’ but this is notable by its absence from the EIF. It’s culling signals – I would argue – that test or qualification outcomes are no longer paramount; rather, schools and colleges should focus on the real substance of education: the curriculum. And, in so doing, schools and colleges should ensure that every pupil and student is genuinely and holistically prepared for what comes next. Qualifications remain vital, of course, because they open doors to future success, but certification is not the be-all-and-end-all of an effective education.

As such, outcomes are no longer the sole lens through which our ‘impact’ is judged. Inspectors will still use nationally-generated performance information about pupil progress and attainment – that which is available in the IDSR – but they will triangulate this with first-hand evidence of how pupils are doing, drawing together their findings from the interviews, observations, work scrutiny and documentary review they gather on inspection, in order to make some judgments about impact. And even then, this evidence will only form a part of the evidence inspectors use to reach a judgment. For example, inspectors will also use nationally-published information about the destinations to which pupils progress when they leave school, and – in primary schools – they will listen to a range of pupils read.

Measuring wider impact

For me, one of the key lines from all the Ofsted documentation is this: Inspectors will judge the extent to which “learners are ready for the next stage of education, employment or training”. This is key, I think, because it sums up the purpose of education: it is not solely to get pupils through qualifications, though these are clearly important; but rather to genuinely prepare pupils for what comes next.

In practice, this means that schools and colleges need to provide for pupils’ broader development, enabling them to discover and develop their interests and talents. It means that the school curriculum needs to develop pupils’ character including their resilience, confidence and independence, and help them keep physically and mentally healthy. It means that at each stage of education, schools need to prepare pupils for future success in their next steps and prepare them for adult life by equipping them with the knowledge and skills to be responsible, respectful, active citizens who contribute positively to society, developing their understanding of fundamental human values, their understanding and appreciation of diversity, celebrating what we have in common and promoting respect for all.

It stands to reason, I would suggest, that if the purpose of education is to prepare pupils for the next stage of their education, employment and lives, then the ways in which we measure ‘impact’ must go beyond mere outcomes.

Indeed, if we are to focus on the real substance of education, provide a broad and balanced curriculum that’s ambitious for all and tackles social justice issues, then we should measure the impact of all this.

As such, I would argue that the purpose of ‘impact’ is at least threefold:

1. To evaluate the effectiveness of the way in which the curriculum is designed
2. To evaluate the effectiveness of the way in which the curriculum is taught
3. To evaluate the pace of pupil progress, pupil outcomes, and pupils’ preparedness for their next steps

In my next three blogs, I will summarise each of these ‘purposes’ in turn. 

Meanwhile, why not visit the Curriculum Central page for more curriculum resources including a preview of Book Three? 

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