The importance of the much-used Ofsted term ‘curriculum intent’ and practical tips to help you achieve yours.
Unless you’ve been hiding away for the last 12 months, you’ll most definitely have heard the phrase ‘curriculum intent’ by now. To its credit, the inspectorate has certainly done much to clarify the term, and debunk myths around what they expect. But the hype around curriculum intent continues to grow, with schools reporting being bombarded with offers of training days, or consultancy to help them write intent statements and policies. A recent blog by Heather Fearn, Inspector Curriculum and Professional Development Lead at Ofsted, makes it clear that curriculum intent is nothing new. It is, says Fearn, ‘all the curriculum planning that happens before a teacher teaches the knowledge that pupils need to learn the next thing in the curriculum.’
Thankfully, it appears that in the new framework, Ofsted is more likely to engage in discussions with senior leaders than ask for copious amounts of paperwork. You may not even be expected to use the word ‘intent’, but it’s certainly prudent to be clear on the ‘why, what and how’ of your curriculum. More importantly, being clear about your curriculum intent, whether it’s for Ofsted or not, is the only way to make sure you have a clear, coherent and well-sequenced curriculum that children deserve.
So, with all of this in mind; what plans do you need in place before the curriculum can be delivered? In this blog, I’ll set out three steps to help you get to grips with the intent of your curriculum.
Step one: Consider the purpose of your curriculum
The best curricula are driven by the strong educational principles of those who lead and live them. This means being really secure as a school about the purpose of your curriculum. Before thinking of what your curriculum will include, you’ll need to think about your ‘why’ – asking important questions, such as ‘What do we want our curriculum to achieve? What do we want our children to be? What do we believe is right for our children?’ I advise some deep thinking about your educational principles here, using these as a guide for discussions around shaping your curriculum. How you present this is up to you, but it’s worth having some record or documentation. A simple curriculum statement or policy is an effective way of doing this and means there is something in place on which to build the content of your curriculum.
Tip: You’ll need to consider the place of national requirements in your curriculum, but don’t be tempted to follow every trend or initiative. Trends and initiatives can provide interesting food for thought, but don’t let them pull you off course from the real purpose of your curriculum.
Step two: Create your pupil offer
When setting out your curriculum intent, it’s crucial to think about and identify the broader learning experiences you want to include in your curriculum. At Cornerstones, we call this a pupil offer. Reflecting on the purpose of your curriculum will help you make informed choices about what experiences you want to include and how they build over time across the curriculum. You can include off and on-site experiences in your offer – they don’t always have to cost the earth. Make the most of what you have locally and be creative in sourcing experts from local businesses and charities.
Tip: You can use a format like the one shown below to create your pupil offer. To see the bigger picture, follow the journey of a child from start to finish. What is the full range of opportunities they will experience? Are there any gaps? Do experiences build over time? Don’t be afraid to take the chance to shake things up a little – perhaps doing things differently.
Step three: Planning your curriculum intent
The national curriculum provides a learning framework for most schools. However, there is simply not enough structure to provide schools with the detail they need. It is therefore vital that further work is done to break down these programmes of study into a clear progression framework, which will give the essential structure needed for all future planning. It will also provide an excellent point of reference for more detailed, short-term planning.
To do this, you’ll need to break down the programmes of study into a series of skills and knowledge that show how you intend to cover the fundamental concepts of each national curriculum subject. This process requires some hard thinking and good subject knowledge, but it is well worth investing the time to get it right. You’ll need to consider how each skill and knowledge statement connects and builds over time. You’ll also need to make sure that larger concepts are developed over time and in a variety of contexts. Now, I’m not saying this is easy – it’s not! Getting this right can often take schools years to complete and requires regular reflection, trial and improvement. In my experience, it’s worth investing, or considering investing, in a published scheme to help with this stage of developing your curriculum intent. Choose wisely: the best are those you can adapt and tinker with to meet the intentions and purpose of your bespoke curriculum. Such materials can save an enormous amount of time, give reassurance that you have full coverage and allow you to focus on the more detailed stages of curriculum planning and delivery.
Tip: When you’ve created long-term plans, make sure everyone is aware of them and uses them to plan for the shorter term. Curriculum intent is just that – what you intend to teach. Make sure you have systems in place to check how well and to what extent your intended curriculum is delivered.
We know that a curriculum is designed for children first and foremost, not Ofsted. But in this new era, it appears the inspectorate is giving good advice about the curriculum. They are keen to bust unhelpful myths about what’s expected in terms of the new framework. Our recent conversations with both Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman and Matthew Purves, Deputy Director for Schools, make it clear that inspectors will certainly want to know what your plan is. They may ask ‘What are the core aims of your curriculum? How have you made your curriculum ambitious? What are your endpoints in this aspect of geography? Where and when will you expect to see a specific concept being implemented and revisited? How have you adapted your curriculum for pupils with special educational needs?’ Both the inspection framework and school inspection handbook are useful references for more detail on what to expect.
To find out how Cornerstones Curriculum Maestro can help you achieve all of this, book a free, no-obligation face-to-face or online consultation.
- The Curriculum podcast episode 44: Curriculum intent: big ideas and larger concepts
- The Curriculum podcast episode 30: How to achieve Ofsted’s three Is of curriculum
Curriculum Maestro is a comprehensive curriculum design, delivery and management system. Created to help primary schools complete and manage complex curriculum tasks with ease and with maximum time-saving efficiency. Pre-populated with fully editable and coherently sequenced early years and primary content, Curriculum Maestro supports the process of curriculum design, that begins with the articulation and creation of curriculum intent to the daily detail of individual teacher timetabling and lesson planning. Linked assessment and the ability to monitor real-time curriculum coverage enables all staff to ensure that plans are taught and assessed. A magnitude of teaching resources, a whole-school skills and knowledge framework and the ability to generate and publish bespoke curriculum projects makes Curriculum Maestro a must-have tool for all primary schools.