Melanie Moore, author of the Cornerstones Curriculum, asks the question, what is the best type of curriculum and how do you achieve it?
What is a curriculum?
How would you describe the curriculum? Is it a programme of learning? The national curriculum? That which is taught or untaught?
Well, a curriculum is the total experience of learning. It encompasses aims, content, pedagogy and assessment. Moreover, it includes the ‘taught curriculum’ and ‘untaught curriculum’. A curriculum develops children’s skills, knowledge, and character, with the best growing from the principles set out by the school itself.
What type of curriculum is best?
Currently, there is a lot of debate about different types of curriculum. Labels, such as knowledge-based, skills-based, creative, thematic, and child-centred, are all popular, but often they can be at best confusing and, at worst, stress-inducing for schools. While all these approaches are valid, when the populace begins to favour one, rather than another, it is not unheard of for schools to begin questioning, ‘Do we have the right kind of curriculum? Do we need to change our curriculum to meet the needs of any particular type? Is this the sort of curriculum that Ofsted is looking for?’
There are merits to any curriculum, but often buzz-words, trends, or whatever you might want to call them, can be damaging and dangerous, and they may encourage a swing in one direction or another, usually at the expense of other essential curriculum features.
For example, there is currently much talk about the importance of knowledge and knowledge-based curricula. While knowledge is an important part of a curriculum, and indeed, forms most of the national curriculum in England, it is important not to lose sight of other aspects of a curriculum, such as skills and creativity, which balance it out.
Achieving the right balance
In 2014, the national curriculum underwent a comprehensive review. There was much criticism of the result of that review, with many saying the curriculum was too slimmed down. However, in slimming down the curriculum, the government encouraged schools to be innovative as to how best deliver it. It did not favour one particular approach, and thus, was an exciting opportunity for those schools ready to rejuvenate their curriculum.
More recent commentary from Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has again raised the profile of the curriculum. Through their research, Ofsted has identified some common features and challenges for schools, mostly centred around the pressures of testing and the expectations of inspectors, both cited by schools as the cause of narrowing the curriculum.
The commentary addresses the need for schools to strive for a broad and balanced curriculum and admits that a good look at the inspection regime may help schools to feel less pressured. However, some schools are already questioning the reality of this, when test result data still has such a significant impact on how schools are measured.
Doing what is right
With so much information and misinformation out there, how can schools be expected to know what to do? Well, the best any school can do is what it knows to be right: right for the children it teaches and their context. The best way to begin, is to establish its curriculum principles and articulate its intent. Only when a school achieves this common understanding and shared purpose will it be on the right footing for designing its own curriculum. There are lots of places to look for help after that, but this is undoubtedly the best starting point.