How to build an effective primary curriculum framework


20th September 2021

How to build an effective primary curriculum framework

What is meant by the term ‘curriculum framework’ and how do you create a good one? Read Curriculum Director Melanie Moore’s insight and step-by-step advice here.

How to build an effective primary curriculum framework

If you’re reading this blog, it probably means that you’ve been tasked with writing a primary curriculum framework or want to ensure that the one you have is effective. When I was tasked with the same job a few years ago, I searched online for advice but found little practical guidance on how actually to do it.

Since then, I’ve spent the last three years working with my team to create a robust framework for the Cornerstones Curriculum. In doing so, I’ve researched and refined the process of creating a curriculum framework. I’ve not only learned what a good one looks like, but how to avoid the misconceptions and pitfalls that can lead you in the wrong direction.

So, if you’re looking for practical help with creating your primary school’s curriculum framework, let me share with you what I’ve learned along the way.

What is meant by the term ‘curriculum framework’?

The term curriculum framework or progression model (both terms can be used interchangeably) provides the underlying structure of your whole school curriculum. It is a model that sets out the learning journey, from the start point to the end point, for each primary curriculum subject and the curriculum as a whole.

Why do primary schools need a curriculum framework?

In the not-so-distant past in nearly all primary schools, children’s progress was measured using levels, then age-related expectations or other arbitrary measures put in place by local authorities. The goal was to show the ‘expected progress’ of every child and group of children, no matter how small or statistically meaningless. Ofsted noted how the byzantine number systems, invented post levels, were often meaningless. To summarise, expected progress does not exist. Progress is not linear but is multi-faceted. Finally, in 2017, Ofsted removed the phrase ‘expected progress’ from its ‘glossary’.

In the absence of the ‘data story’, Ofsted then questioned how schools could describe the journey that a child had to take, to be able to do more and know more. The answer is the curriculum itself; it is the progression model by which we can see how well children are making progress.

Using the curriculum as a progression model simply means that we judge progress based on how much the children have learned of the curriculum. The more carefully we have specified what we intend to teach, the more easily we can assess whether children have learned it.

‘The more carefully we have specified what we intend to teach, the more easily we can assess whether children have learned it.’ Melanie Moore, Curriculum Director

What does a good curriculum framework look like?

When we started creating our curriculum framework here at Cornerstones, I thought it would be a relatively easy task. It wasn’t. It took a significant amount of time, plenty of thoughtful consideration and some tough decision making. One of the most important things we learned is that a good curriculum framework has many interconnected layers. It is not simply a list of isolated statements to be ‘ticked off’. Its development requires intricate knowledge of each subject and the links between them. And it also requires an excellent understanding of subject disciplines and schema.

In my experience, I believe that there are four key components of a good curriculum framework. These include:

  • the inclusion of the school’s overarching curriculum aims
  • the thoughtful placement and coverage of the national curriculum programmes of study for each subject
  • the identification and correct sequencing of larger subject concepts


  • the explicit articulation of the smaller component parts (skills and knowledge statements) that underpin the teaching of the larger concepts.

How to write your curriculum framework

Knowing what a good curriculum framework looks like is one thing. Creating one that works is another. If this is a task that you are preparing to undertake, you should know that it will require lots of patience (as you try different combinations) and, as I mentioned earlier, excellent subject knowledge. It is also crucial that, as a curriculum leader, you don’t work in isolation. Working in isolation often leads to subject progression frameworks being written in silos, an inconsistency in style, and major disconnection from other curriculum subjects. In contrast, working on the framework in multi-disciplinary teams ensures you make the most of those subject interconnections. You’ll also provide a more rounded approach to children’s understanding of the key concepts set out in your curriculum.

In terms of getting the job done, I’ve summarised it in the following six simple steps, drawn from the experience of writing a curriculum framework for Cornerstones Curriculum 22.

Step 1 Identify your overarching curriculum aims

To know your curriculum aims, ask yourself, ‘What values do we hold dear at this school? What type of citizens do we want our children to be? What do we want them to know and appreciate about the world by the time they leave us?’ Asking these types of questions often help to clarify your overarching curriculum aims. If you’re wondering why this is important to your curriculum framework, in simple terms, establishing your overarching aims will help you shape everything else you include in your curriculum and may help you make tough decisions about what to prioritise in your curriculum framework.

Step 2 Identify subject concepts

Once you’ve established your overarching curriculum aims, subject leaders should consider how these aims are represented in their subjects. For example, let’s take the big idea of the environment.

If we want children to become knowledgeable about environmental issues, we need to ensure these opportunities are prioritised within each subject discipline. Each subject leader should, therefore, set out which subject-specific concepts that link to that big idea. As this work is done, it will start to build your curriculum framework.

Step 3 Map the programmes of study 

When we know how each big idea translates into subject specific concepts, we can begin to match national curriculum programmes of study to each strand. As mentioned, you’ll need a solid knowledge of the national curriculum to achieve maximum coverage and appropriate placement of specific programmes of study. In summary, you should plot the programmes of study for each subject against your emerging framework.

Step 4 Map out your progression statements 

When you have mapped out the programmes of study as described above, the next task is to map out your progression statements. These statements should set out the smaller component parts or stepping-stones that will help children to progress through the curriculum. Each strand of your progression framework should begin to build a robust and well-connected learning narrative.

Step 5 Common misconceptions about curriculum frameworks/progression models

Disappointingly, too many people still believe that a curriculum framework should be a list of things for children to ‘do and learn’ that can be ticked off. Indeed, it’s an approach that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has already cautioned against.

There are many issues with the tick list approach to the curriculum framework. The first is that if a framework has thousands of very detailed objectives, there simply won’t be enough curriculum time to teach them. Having a list of very detailed smaller statements that children must ‘cover’ puts pressure on the daily timetable, teachers’ planning, and the children themselves.

Giving teachers a mass of detailed statements to tick off also removes their ability to use their professional judgement in doing what is best for a child, group or cohort. By providing broader skills and knowledge statements, teachers are better placed to adapt and refine them, detailing the smaller steps an individual child or group might need to make progress.

Step 6 Questions that Ofsted may ask about your curriculum framework  

Some schools have already begun to experience inspection under Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework. At Cornerstones, we’ve been working with these schools to document the questions that Ofsted is asking about curriculum frameworks. It’s obvious that questions that may have formed the basis of the pre-EIF inspection process about data have now disappeared. Instead, Ofsted is asking questions about the ‘what’ and ‘where’ of a school’s curriculum framework. So, at the bottom of this blog, I’ve outlined possible questions you may be asked about your own framework.

Final word

If I could give one last piece of advice about this whole process, it would be to know your curriculum well. Know it inside out. Know it back to front. Know what your overarching curriculum aims are and how they are taught in the classroom. Make sure that every member of staff knows their part in the greater sequence of learning. Make sure that they understand how their work builds on what has gone before and prepares children for what comes next. For more guidance on curriculum sequencing, please listen to my podcast, which comes with a copyable transcript for your staff.

How we can help

Creating an effective and ambitious curriculum progression framework is both daunting and time consuming. If you’d like to discover how our curriculum and online platform help you to ensure a robustly built curriculum framework that’s ready to implement, please book a demo with an experienced adviser.

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