Evaluating the impact of curriculum planning

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.


A good curriculum is a living organism, forever changing in response to reality. Curriculum design, therefore, should be a cyclical process. A curriculum should not be designed then left to stagnate. Rather, we should design a curriculum, teach it, assess it to see if it’s working as well as we had hoped, then redesign it in light of our findings and so on.

To help oil the wheel, so to speak, I think we should use assessment data to answer the following questions about our curriculum:

Is our curriculum ambitious enough?

Does our curriculum teach the knowledge and skills pupils need in order to take advantage of the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life? Does our curriculum reflect our school’s local context? For example, does it address typical gaps in pupils’ knowledge and skills? Does it bring the local community into school and take pupils out into the community? Does it respond to our pupils’ particular life experiences?

Is our curriculum sufficiently broad so as to ensure pupils are taught as many different subject disciplines as possible for as long as possible? Is it sufficiently balanced so that each subject discipline has a fair amount of space on the timetable to deliver both breadth and depth? Are pupils able to study a strong academic core of subjects but also afforded a well-rounded education including in the arts?

Do we account for the hidden curriculum and ensure there are no inconsistencies or contradictions between what we explicitly teach in lessons and what we teach by way of the values, behaviours and attitudes all our staff display daily, and by the quality of the learning environment and our rules and routines?

Have we identified the right end points?

Is it clear what ‘end points’ we are building towards as a school and in each subject discipline that we teach? Is it clear what our pupils need to know and be able to do at each stage in order to reach those end points? Will the end points we set all our pupils on course towards fully prepare them for the next stage of their education, employment and lives?

Do we make explicit links between related end points within and across subject disciplines? As well as subject-specific knowledge and skills, do we also identify the research and study skills – and indeed other cross-curricular skills – that our pupils need in order to succeed? Are these skills explicitly taught and reinforced? Are they taught consistently across all subjects where applicable?

Do we ensure that the end points of each part of our curriculum seamlessly join to the starting points of the next and so on, so that we achieve curriculum continuity and so that transitions between the various years, key stages and phases of education are as smooth as they can be?

Have we planned and sequenced our curriculum effectively?

Does our planning ensure that new knowledge and skills build on what has been taught before and towards these clearly defined end points?

Is there an appropriate pace that allows for sufficient breadth and depth?

Is content taught in a logical progression, systematically and explicitly enough for all pupils to acquire the intended knowledge and skills?

Is there an appropriate level of challenge for all?

Does our progression model allow for a mastery approach where the higher-performing pupils are sufficiently stretched and lower-performing pupils are effectively supported, and yet the integrity of our teaching sequence is still maintained so that no pupil runs too far ahead or falls too far behind?

Do we bake retrieval practice into our curriculum to ensure we activate prior knowledge as and when appropriate and keep that prior knowledge accessible to pupils so that they can make connections between what they learned yesterday, what they’re learning today, and what they will learn tomorrow? Does this enable pupils to forge ever-more complex schemata in long-term memory and aide automaticity?

Does our curriculum help to tackle social justice issues?

Have we planned to teach the knowledge and cultural capital our pupils need in order to access and understand our curriculum and go on to thrive in later life?

Are there high academic ambitions for all pupils, and do we offer disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND the same curriculum experience as their peers rather than ‘dumb down’ or reduce the offer?

Do we identify the barriers some pupils face in school and within each subject discipline, including though not solely a potential vocabulary deficit, and do we plan effective support strategies to help overcome those barriers? Whenever we use additional intervention and support strategies to help disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND, do we monitor their effectiveness as they’re happening rather than wait to evaluate their eventual success once they’ve ended?

…The above is by no means an exhaustive list but at its heart is a simple self-evaluative question: Is our curriculum working for all our pupils?

I would argue that our assessment practices need, among other things, to answer this crucial question. And the outcomes of those assessments should be used to tweak our curriculum when – as will inevitably be the case from time to time – the answer is ‘no’.

So, when considering ‘curriculum impact’, we should ask ourselves: how do we assess the effectiveness of our curriculum and what do we do with the findings?

Now visit our Curriculum Central page for more curriculum resources including a preview of Book Three. 

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