A broad and balanced curriculum provides children with the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to develop into well-rounded, informed individuals.
In my experience, there is little disagreement that a broad and balanced curriculum is best, but recent and increasing pressures around testing and assessment has, in some schools, caused a narrowing of the curriculum with little time for curriculum development.
However, in her recent commentary, Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, makes strong suggestions that curriculum content will be making a welcome return to the spotlight and ‘take precedence over performance tables’.
Read more about this in our Spotlight on the Curriculum blog here.
Ofsted evidence shows that the best primary schools achieve high standards in literacy and numeracy by celebrating all subjects. A broad and balanced curriculum, especially for those children in lower socially mobile areas, is crucial, as a narrowed curriculum can restrict children’s life choices and opportunities. A rich diet of learning experiences is undoubtedly the best way to develop well-rounded, happy individuals.
So how can schools ensure a broad and balanced curriculum?
1. Work from your principles.
Make sure your school principles reflect your vision for a broad and balanced curriculum. If you make this clear, and can articulate your intent, everything else can build from it.
2. Exploit the potential of first-hand learning experiences.
First-hand learning experiences or memorable experiences can help provide a broad and balanced curriculum. For example, a visit to an insect house to study minibeasts, will cover aspects of science, technology, SMSC, geography and literacy. Offering such experiences throughout the year gives plenty of opportunity for breadth and balance across your curriculum.
3. Consider your long-term planning.
When planning for the long-term, make sure you have a spread of focus subjects for topics and projects. For example, over the course of a year, you might include two history focused topics, one geography focused topic, one art and design focused topic, two science focused topics and so on. This doesn’t mean you do just those subjects, but that you give children a broad menu of subject foci across the year.
4. Be creative with your medium-term planning.
Make sure that your medium-term plans include coverage and content for all curriculum subjects, even if some take more of a priority than others. Medium-term plans are the place you can begin to be creative and make meaningful links across subjects. So, for example, in a science focused project, still aim to include a range of content from other subjects, making links in meaningful ways.
5. Plan for literacy and numeracy across the curriculum.
Make sure you plan for literacy and numeracy across the curriculum, looking for opportunities to use and apply both subject skills in foundation subjects. For example, calculating pulse rates in PE or retelling a myth or legend using narrative techniques in history. See examples of cross-curricular learning in one of our free downloadable projects here.
6. Be innovative with your timetabling.
Of course, there are some subjects which require set times in the school week, for example, PE or ICT, but other periods of the timetable can be more flexible. Don’t set them as history, geography and so on, set them as ‘topic’ or ‘foundation subjects’. This will give you more flexibility when planning what you need to teach over the course of a week or half term.
7. Make a place in the year for specialist curriculum weeks.
Where your curriculum lacks balance in any one subject, use specialist weeks to boost coverage. Science, arts and technology weeks are already popular, but this approach could also apply to other curriculum subjects including geography, history, RE or PE.
Keep track of your curriculum coverage. This can be done using simple tick lists or by using more effective online tools such as the Cornerstones Coverage Checker. This enables schools to check the breadth and balance of their curriculum at the click of a button as well as providing evidence for external visitors such as Estyn or Ofsted.
9. Assess the foundation subjects as well as the core.
It’s important that all subjects have status within the curriculum. Yes, English and maths should be assessed in more depth and more frequently, but not exclusively. That’s why Cornerstones provide termly Developmental Skills in all areas of English and maths, but also comprehensive end of year Essential Skills for science and all foundation subjects. Cornerstones Assessment enables schools to show how each child is attaining and progressing across the whole curriculum from EYFS to Y6.
10. Do your research.
To convince others of the benefits of cross-curricular learning and a broad and balanced curriculum, make sure you are armed with information and evidence. If you’re going to have to argue your case, then you’d better know your stuff. Take a look at these source materials and case studies for more information.
- Cornerstones case studies
- NAHT A Broad and Balanced Curriculum
- A broad and balanced curriculum: Key findings – inside government
- Ofsted: primary schools ‘place too much focus on three-Rs'
- Ofsted School Inspection Handbook
Help is available
And finally, achieving an effective broad and balanced curriculum is a big job and can take years to achieve. Remember, you don’t always have to start from scratch or DIY. Get help. The Cornerstones Curriculum offers schools the opportunity to shape a broad and balanced curriculum using over 80 broad and balanced curriculum projects and resources. Also, the Cornerstones Coverage Checker saves schools hours when tracking their curriculum coverage.
Find out more
If you would like to find out more about the Cornerstones Curriculum, click here. You can also book a free online meeting with one of our curriculum consultants.