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Embracing Curriculum Opportunities by Nav Sanghara
The proposed Ofsted framework for 2019 is here. How can primary school leaders embrace the curriculum opportunities it brings?
Prior to the release of the proposed Ofsted framework, the concern was that curriculum would be more aligned to a knowledge rich, subject-specific model. However, the initial mood on the ground and from sources such as Teacher Tapp, is cautiously encouraging. The tone and language provide a somewhat balanced response, ‘Inspectors will consider the extent to which the school’s curriculum sets out the knowledge and skills that pupils will gain at each stage (intent). Equally, inspectors will also consider the way that the curriculum selected by the school is taught and assessed in order to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills (implementation).’
As ever, the challenges rest in how inspection teams measure the quality of education and whether the process and time constraints of the inspection allow for this to be done well. There will also be questions about how inspectors interpret the framework and their understanding of the constraints at primary level in terms of resources and the shortage of subject specialists. The latter could become problematic, especially given subject-specific knowledge including knowledge progression will be a sharp focus, ‘Leaders ensure that teachers receive focused and highly effective professional development. Teachers’ subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge consistently builds and develops over time’
School leaders will feel encouraged that Amanda Spielman has ensured that curriculum is very much at the heart of this inspection reform. This underlines why schools should own the territory of curriculum making. As Sir Michael Barber argued as far back as 2011, education transcends knowledge acquisition and has a much deeper purpose. Knowledge in itself can be meaningless without a moral framework of thinking skills, leadership and, crucially, an ethical framework which underpins the fabric of community. The accumulation of specified bodies of knowledge located within subject domains is critical for coherent curriculum design but will never be enough in itself.
Leaders across the Inspire Partnership have invested greatly in our curriculum philosophy, including why and how this translates into our curriculum design planning. We believe all learners are entitled to an education that equips them with the knowledge, skills and values they need to embrace the opportunities and challenges they encounter; creating a future that they want to live in. Learning is brought to life through rich contexts that connect to our experiences - who we are, how we fit into the world and how we contribute. This connection also elicits deeper learning, intrinsically linked to the possibilities for application and making sense of the world around us. It becomes impossible to separate curriculum knowledge without considering our human desire to reason and construct meaning.
Teachers are uniquely placed to shape learning experiences which provide a multi-dimensional and deep relationship with learning concepts. It is therefore pleasing to see the reference to ‘cultural capital’ in the proposals and that ‘It is the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.’
So how should school leaders respond to the opportunities which a new inspection framework provides us with? How do we become designers rather than deliverers of curriculum?
- Define and own your curriculum
The definition of curriculum is both broad and complex. It encapsulates the total structure of organised learning designed to meet the needs of learners and to achieve the desired aims. This includes:
- The structure of curriculum framework
- How curriculum provision is organised, including timetabling
- How curriculum assessment is used to evaluate learning and plan for new learning
- Invest in curriculum leadership
The leadership of curriculum necessitates a shift in thinking at school and system level. Curriculum leadership includes:
- How teachers are trained to become curriculum makers
- How we build curriculum communities deeply invested in both subject and interdisciplinary content in schools and between schools
- Senior leadership values the process of ‘inputs’ of curriculum design (curriculum making) as highly as the outputs.
- Build teams and subject networks
Partnerships of schools who take curriculum design most seriously will have a significant advantage if they harness their capacity to:
- Mobilise curriculum knowledge
- Create networks of subject learning communities
- Invest in senior leadership curriculum thinking
- Maximise the potential of school based resources to support learning.