I teach, therefore I am.
I love curriculum. Talking about it, playing with it, designing it, implementing it, enacting it, assessing it. (So much so that I often find myself singing ‘Curricula, Curricular’ to the tune of ‘Spectacular, Spectacular‘.) I spend a good part of my working life looking at, and a large chunk of last year writing a book about, curriculum and its bedfellow: assessment. So I’m hugely excited about our inset day today, where I’m leading whole school CPD on curriculum.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a school dedicates so much time to discussing what I consider to be the very heart of a school, but it is sadly true that curriculum has often taken a back seat in the face of data, pedagogy and behaviour. With limited time in schools for CPD – we prioritise; the choices we make here indicate to our staff and, consequently, our pupils what it is we treasure in our school. If you want your staff to take curriculum seriously, then you need to take it seriously. I agree with Michael Fordham that ‘senior leaders […] ought to be taking a keen interest in the detail of the school curriculum, not least because that curriculum helps to define what the school is aiming to achieve in educating its children.’ Michael Young also writes convincingly on this:
‘The curriculum is not, therefore just one of the many things a head has responsibility for – it defines the purposes of a school and the journey a school wants its pupils to take […] the head’s role as a curriculum leader is crucial.’ (Young, 2014, p44, p71).
From the offset, we have taken curriculum (and meaningful curriculum driven assessment) seriously. Our training day is further commitment to this – aiming to build an understanding of curriculum design and expertise in developing your subject curriculum for all our staff. As senior leaders we have developed a clear ethos and set of principles behind our curriculum – it is important for us not only to re-affirm these with staff but also set them up to be challenged. If they continue to stand firm when challenged by our brilliant teachers and through discussion of academic theory and research, then we deserve to have confidence in them. Equally, both for leaders and for subject teachers, there is a realisation that curriculum does not stand still – some aspects will always be in flux. We have to differentiate between the essential ideas, concepts and knowledge that are fixed and the developments that occur within the body of knowledge and as a consequence of assessing how pupils respond to the enacted curriculum. Navigating these complexities is essential to ensuring we offer our pupils the best education possible.
Here is a sneak peek of what we’ll be up to today: Curriculum Inset Day Agenda, with thanks to Martin Robinson (@Trivium21c) for being our guest speaker. It’s a mixture of practical and what Martin might call ‘dialectic’. I’m particularly looking forward to our discussion on the ‘atomising of knowledge’ where we’ll be challenging our own ideas (and those of respected colleagues) on what a knowledge driven curriculum (and therefore school) should look like, including the arguments for and against prescribed curriculum/scripted lessons and rote learning. I’ll write about the outcomes of this controversial topic next week.
For more on curriculum and assessment design, including training plans and the thinking behind them, you can pre-order my book from Bloomsbury.