As the end approaches to a very large assignment of planning a customised whole school curriculum for a primary school chain, I realise that this initiative has challenged my thinking on the curriculum and its role in learning in ways this type of work never has done before.

Perhaps this is due to previous naivety? Or ignorance? Or arrogance? It is very difficult to wind back the clock and know why.

Or perhaps it is due to greater clarity of thinking at national level, with many highly informed educationalists speaking out without a culture of fear? Certainly, those voices have forced me to answer some questions that were not relevant in the turmoil of previous constant curriculum change.

 

Should a Curriculum Be Knowledge Driven or Skill Driven?

Every curriculum in existence identifies the knowledge to be taught throughout the curriculum. There is no curriculum without knowledge.  In identifying the skills to be taught, developed and refined it is necessary to do this in a context of knowledge as skills change or morph as contexts change. Thus the application of research skills – for example – may vary when required for a study on the ‘gastric brooding frog’ last seen in Australia in 1985, or on the existence of a massive step pyramid exposed recently in China, with the 4,300 year old city that once flourished around it. Although both areas to be researched are ‘historical’ in that they are in the past, the approaches to the research might be significantly different and the outcomes of one might remain purely historical whilst the other will be more likely to be scientific and environmental. Planning an entirely skill driven curriculum renders the subject knowledge to be unpredictable, lacking in long term co-ordination, sometimes repetitive and sometimes lacking in direction towards academic goals.

A 21st century curriculum should be designed to enable teaching across subjects, embedding knowledge and understanding through a wide range of diverse but relevant and challenging opportunities and experiences, whilst exposing pupils to a rich, varied and rigorous education about the school, the locality of the school, the region and the host country of the school, the continent and the wider world it is located in, including its associated features, processes and vulnerabilities.

I recommend that a quality thematic curriculum be organised in three annual medium-term plans (or ‘maps’) one for every term of each academic year of the school. These maps should provide a summary of the key teaching points and experiences to take place within that term, organised by subject and presented in sub-divisions by the curriculum subject they address. There should then be an associated support document that gives further detail and guidance with some suggested activities when felt helpful, in sections labelled by curriculum subject. It is assumed that the medium term map and the ASD will be the class teacher’s main point of reference for short term or lesson planning.

 

How are theme titles identified?

Identification of titles for the themes sometimes occurs naturally during the process but is never finalised for all terms until completion of the process. The titles are purely for ease of identification, for cohesion and for pupil motivation and comprehension. They should never dictate the content for content-driven subjects.

 

Why do we not recommend half termly themes?

The length of half terms is an unpredictable process in many schools, driven by external factors such as religious holidays, public holidays and the needs of the society in which the school is located. Thus, the likelihood of a precise allocation being completed exactly within any given half term is slim. In England, in recent years, some half terms have been as long as ten weeks or as short as four weeks.

The coherence of working to one theme with several changes of direction or shifts of focus within the term means teachers are able to develop a meaningful programme that enables real continuity of learning, knowledge, skill progression and understanding.

 

Summary

Rethinking something you assume you know quite a lot about is a worthwhile exercise. Even if the conclusions that you come to are ‘I still believe what I say is correct’, the process of review will have enhanced your thinking and clarified the ‘why?’ that every thinking person should be asking.

For me, this process led me to realise that the recent initiative I embarked on was still too restricted by the confines and requirements of a national curriculum, however it empowered me to find ways of enhancing the many opportunities that do exist for creativity and independence within the national curriculum and for enriching the children’s experiences through a wealth of discovery, investigation, creativity and exposure to reality, to experts and to authentic learning experiences.

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