Thinking About Curriculum

Lots of people are thinking and talking about curriculum at the moment, which is a good thing.  Curriculum, teaching and assessment are inextricably linked.  When all three are aligned and of the highest quality, they should facilitate effective learning for all students, irrespective of their starting points.  In turn, this should translate into all students making good progress and achieving strong academic outcomes.  This matters, because it gives them the best possible life chances.

The curriculum outlines the key knowledge that students need to learn over their time with us in order to be successful; this will then drive what and how we teach.  A challenging curriculum will require students to think deeply about subject and lesson content.  In other words, the level of challenge in the curriculum sets the level of challenge in our classrooms.

At Durrington we have also been thinking a great deal about curriculum.  We want our curriculum to be challenging in its depth and breadth so that:

  • All students acquire transformational knowledge that takes them beyond their experience.
  • All students are encouraged to appreciate the value of each subject and content of lessons.
  • All students are well-prepared for terminal exams at the end of year 11.
  • All students build their academic background knowledge and cultural capital by acquiring tier two and tier three vocabulary.
  • At each key stage, all students acquire and retain the foundational knowledge required for the next key stage at the very least.

In order to achieve this, we have been developing a set of curriculum principles to drive our work with this:

  • The curriculum must provide a map that directs what knowledge should be taught and when it should be taught. However, this should also allow some flexibility for teachers to respond to the differing needs of their classes.
  • The curriculum must be taught in a coherent and step-by-step sequence that allows for the incremental development of knowledge within each subject/topic.
  • When possible, each new unit of learning should build upon the previous unit.
  • Broad and deep factual knowledge is usually the prerequisite for skills such as critical thinking, creative thinking, evaluation and analysis.
  • Learning and performance should not be confused. Curriculum design should support real learning which requires durable changes to long-term memory.
  • New tier two and tier three vocabulary should be incorporated into curriculum planning.

We are then implementing this in the following way:

  • Each subject/team should develop a long-term map that clearly lays out the curriculum across the relevant key stages, so that the knowledge students are expected to acquire each academic year is made explicit. This knowledge should build cumulatively in terms of its breadth and depth.
  • Subject/teaching teams should identify the concepts that are central to the mastery of each subject. They must then maintain an unrelenting focus on helping students to learn this knowledge.
  • Regular retrieval practice and spaced practice should be built into the curriculum to help students form durable long-term memories.
  • CPD, specifically SPDS (fortnightly subject, Planning & Development Sessions), must maintain an unrelenting focus on improving and evolving the curriculum, and ensure that all teachers are developing their subject pedagogical knowledge.
  • Each unit of work must be supported by a knowledge organiser that stipulates with precision the material-to-be-learnt. This must include relevant tier two and tier three vocabulary and should be used consistently across each department.
  • Where appropriate, strategies must be in place (e.g. check lists) that support students in self-regulating their learning of the curriculum.
  • Homework should be planned into the curriculum and consistently applied across teams.  It should provide students with the opportunity to practise, embed, extend upon or apply the knowledge that they have been taught in lessons, or provide the opportunity to improve a piece of work.
  • Key curriculum documents must be centralised and made available for students, parents and carers via the VLE.

We are not the only ones thinking about the curriculum.  There are a huge number of blogs out there, written by colleagues who are thinking very deeply about the importance of curriculum.  These can serve as a really useful stimulus for others who are thinking about their their curriculum.

Here are some examples:

Weaving together the threads of the curriculum Andy Tharby

Standing on the shoulders of giants; Why a knowledge based curriculum could be the futureFran Haynes

Teaching, curriculum & assessment Shaun Allison

From Tom sherrington:

What is a knowledge rich curriculum?

Curriculum notes #1: Start out real, concrete, authentic

Curriculum notes #2: Big picture first then zoom in

10 Steps for reviewing your KS3 curriculum

From Christine Counsell:

Senior Curriculum Leadership 1: The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (A) curriculum as narrative

Senior Curriculum Leadership 1: The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (B) final performance as deceiver and guide

From Mark Enser:

Curriculum: from hodge podge to coherence

From David Didau:

What is a broad and balanced curriculum?

From Clare Sealy:

What’s all the fuss about a knowledge rich curriculum – part 1

From Mary Myatt:

Intellectual Architecture

From Adam Boxer:

Modelling Curricular Thinking

From Ruth Walker:

My plan to reform our curriculum

From Claire Stoneman:

The truth and beauty of curriculum

From James Ramsey:

Curriculum Matters

From Michael Chiles:

7 Year Curriculum Design

From Mr Almond:

Achieving coherence in primary science (why primary science needs to be less like the Simpsons and more like Game of Thrones).

From Paul Moss:

Telling your Curriculum’s Story

From Andrew Percival:

Confessions of a Curriculum Leader:  setting out a primary curriculum in meticulous detail.

From Zoe Enser:

On The Right Track

Thanks to Dawn Cox for the following links.  She has also compiled a list of blogs related to curriculum here.


The Curriculum – Gallimaufry to coherence – Mary Myatt


Other resources


the Durrington Research School are running a 3 session twilight training programme entitled ‘Developing an evidence informed knowledge-rich curriculum’, starting on 29th April 2019.

Further details and booking are available here.

If I’ve missed any other useful blogs (which is highly likely!), please do add them in the comments below.

This entry was posted in General Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s