I think I need to set some context to this post before I begin in earnest. I am curriculum leader at my school and a year ago I introduced a new curriculum map which gave staff an outline of progression in the wider curriculum. It is by no means perfect and there is a fair amount I want to and need to do with it ready for September and this post is a reflection of those things. It is a rambling of thoughts and ideas that I need to work through in order to continue to develop the curriculum in my school.
- The knowledge rich curriculum
Well obviously! What is the point of a curriculum where the children don’t learn anything? However we need to look at how deep this learning goes and how well this knowledge is embedded. I saw a tweet this morning which hit the nail on the head with regard to this.
For our children to have the level of knowledge and understanding we want first and foremost our staff need to be equipped with that. They need to have the confidence to plan lessons which show progression in learning, deepen children’s understanding, deal with ay misconceptions that the children might have and tackle any questions which arise. Now I am not saying that they need to know everything to a degree standard – there can be a lot to be said for teachers admitting when they don’t know something and researching something together can offer many great opportunities. But a level of competence is required.
So how do we deal with this? I know that there are teachers who have been in the same year group for years; there are those that move on a regular basis for whatever reason. At this point I am going to assume that those who have been in the same year group for a number of years are secure in their subject knowledge, but what about those who jump year groups? Not just move up one year but maybe go from year 2 to year 5. Do we just presume the staff have the subject knowledge to teach to an adequate standard in their new year group? If we know this isn’t the case do we provide support through quality cpd or is it the responsibility for the teacher themselves to do this?
Last year I went back into class after a number of years out, I was thrown into year 6 with a new curriculum. Now, there were aspects of the curriculum I didn’t know – I had to carry out my own reading in order to teach it. I also worked in a team of teachers who all had different expertise and we shared good practice and developed each other professionally.
With the emphasis in schools on English and Maths I am not sure how much opportunity there is for staff to receive cpd on delivering the wider curriculum. Yes they might do this within their planning teams but what about on a whole school level? If this is the case does anything get any better? Is this then down to the subject leaders to address and if so how? If the DT subject lead identifies that there is an issue, how is that addressed if no time is allocated to support staff with that? Should it be or are we wasting time with wider curriculum in the current climate? Or do we just scrap those subjects which are less ‘academic’ as we can’t facilitate the time or standard required to teach them? (Disclaimer – I would like to point out that this is not necessarily my view but as stated earlier a rambling of thoughts and questions). Alternatively should certain subjects be taught by subject specialists? I can certainly see the advantage of this with MFL and Music.
A step on from this is how we have seen the increase in teachers using downloadable schemes of work to support their teaching, especially in wider curriculum areas such as Geography and History. I think the rise of this comes in two parts, one is the guidance for coverage and content and secondly the support it provides for workload. Teachers’ workload is often unmanageable and I fully support teachers taking measures in protecting their wellbeing. However, my worry with this is how fit for purpose these are. Are these planning supports used straight off the shelf or are they being adapted to suit the needs of the children in the class they are being used in? At times, I am not always so sure.
- Knowledge vs Skills
I think this one is obvious. Both are needed – the two go hand in hand. Some subjects have an emphasis on skills other are more knowledge, but regardless of this we need to develop skills so that they can be transferred to other concepts later. Without skills we don’t build learners for life, we don’t build independence and resilience.
- Back to basics
Basic skills in reading, writing and maths are fundamental. They really should help to underpin the wider curriculum with plenty of opportunities to develop and transfer these skills into wider curriculum areas. However we all know that this is a tricky balance to maintain – it can be like a tightrope to navigate.
Reading in the wider curriculum is a huge one that needs to be tackled. Doug Lemov talks of the need of a balanced and rich diet of Fiction and Non-fiction texts. I know this is one to be addressed within my setting and is a job for me ready for September – the matching up of quality texts to support learning in the wider curriculum. A no brainer for me is that if you are doing WW2 in History then your English lessons should be around a text that links – Rose Blanche or Goodnight Mr Tom and in guided reading you might look at a range of non-fiction texts on WW2. You may choose to mix and match this slightly but you get the idea.
I think what happens without this balance of fiction and non-fiction is that we become very good at using History to write for a range of purposes but we often forget about the History itself.
Then there is the marking. What do we mark? Do we mark against the LO or the Basic English skills. My answer is both – SPaG must always be addressed, but then id a key concept of the lesson isn’t being understood we need to pick this up too. However are we then over marking? This again comes into the issue of staff writing similar comments in books which when you have 30 kids and 4 lessons a day – that’s a whole lot of books! This could easily go off into a discussion about marking and the merits of whole class feedback but I want to stick to curriculum.
This is a big one for me and one that links back to many of the things I have already talked about in this post. Is the curriculum that your schools delivers fit for purpose? Does it work for the pupils in the context of the school you are working in? If the answer to this is no then you need to look again.
But I think it goes beyond this, it is not just about the way the curriculum is put together but the way that is delivered. Actually scrap that – its ALL about how it is delivered. Are topics put together to support a cross curricular holistic approach to deepen the learning? Are there opportunities to develop skills in other areas and build upon previous learning? Are there opportunities to ask questions, make connections and solve problems? Does it cater for the needs of all pupils in the classroom? Again I think this ties back to some of my issues with off the shelf units of work.
I think autonomy and collaboration are key here. Yes staff need to know what they must cover but the way they put that together and the way that they deliver that should be down to them. I don’t want to tell teachers that they must use Who Let the Gods Out if they are teaching Ancient Greece but at the same time I want to provide a selection of texts that could be chosen from. In regard to collaboration – the sharing of ideas is key. The diverse range of expertise a teaching staff has is a huge asset to any school and needs to be developed and valued. Collaboration can make get staff excited about the many possibilities that a new project can have. If staff are excited about what they are teaching surely this will come across when they teach it.
- Risk taking
We all love a comfort zone. The children have them and as staff we have them too. Often ours are much more deep rooted than the children’s are. We don’t always like trying new things with the fear of it going wrong. But if we don’t try new things and push ourselves do we really develop? Do we get any better?
I would want the curriculum to encourage not just the children to take risks but the staff too, for both to try new approaches. I am not quite sure how this is going to look yet but it is in definitely in my mind.
As I said at the start this post wasn’t about how I do things, about how I think things should be done or advice on how things could be done: it’s a ramble of ideas and questions which are in my mind as I look at how to move the curriculum forward in my school. If anyone has any thoughts on this or answers so some of the many questions I have then please get in touch. There isn’t one right way of doing things but many possible ways. And let’s not forget collaboration makes us all better!
Also thank you to @HeyMissSmith for allowing me to quote her tweet and to @TeacherStarr for listening to me talk through my thinking.