How to design, plan and teach an ambitious primary curriculum




07th September 2021

How to design, plan and teach an ambitious primary curriculum

You may have heard the phrase ‘ambitious curriculum’ bandied about lately, especially in the wake of Ofsted’s new inspection framework. But what does this term actually mean, and what does an ambitious primary curriculum look like in practice? Here, I’ll look at both questions and try and unpick some of the more complex issues involved in providing an ambitious curriculum for all.

How to design, plan and teach an ambitious primary curriculum

Where does the term ‘ambitious curriculum’ originate? 

The phrase ‘ambitious curriculum’ is not a new one. Many school leaders, myself included, have used this phrase to describe our hopes for our school curricula. However, the term has more recently become a political and educational hot potato, linked to the social justice and equality agenda. More so, with politicians and Ofsted both asking the rhetorical question, ‘Why should only some rather than most of our children have access to important knowledge?’, the quest for an ambitious curriculum has added further pressure on schools and school leaders.

Its second origin comes from research into cognitive science, cited by Ofsted and documented by organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation. This research has many teachers and school leaders reflecting upon what it really means to know something and retain it in the long term.

So, with all this in mind, what are the components of an ambitious curriculum?

What are the component parts of an ambitious curriculum?

Global aims – having clear, global aims for your curriculum.

These ‘big ideas’ inspire children to think big, broaden their understanding of the world and encounter diversity. Your global aims outline the main themes, ideas and concepts that you want children to understand through the curriculum. With these aims behind it, your curriculum curates the ambition for children to become global citizens.

Broad and balanced – aspiring to cover all subjects of the primary curriculum.

Your curriculum acknowledges that children excel and find their passions in different subjects. It shows a clear ambition for children to excel in the arts, humanities, and sport, not just in the traditional core subjects of English and maths. Your curriculum content shows ambition for children to learn about diverse topics, contexts, ‘old world’ and new.

Rich in knowledge – a quest to provide children with a rich diet of knowledge.

Your curriculum clearly outlines the knowledge that will help children understand the world around them and their place in it. This knowledge is meaningful, not just a list of facts to be ticked off, and it is useful knowledge that makes sense in the broader curriculum and helps build connections between concepts and subjects.

Inclusion of skills – securing the place of skills as well as knowledge to foster wisdom.

Your curriculum includes ambitious activities that challenge children and require them to use their knowledge with wisdom (for example, knowing that a tomato is a fruit but not putting it in a fruit salad). Lessons enable children to apply knowledge through primary-focused skills, such as making, creating, writing, talking, playing and experimenting. These skills opportunities are used meaningfully to consolidate understanding and give knowledge a sense of purpose.

High expectations – setting the bar high.

High expectations and principles drive your curriculum ambitions. Teachers are encouraged to be ambitious in their subject knowledge and their understanding of curriculum design. All staff are aware of whole-school curriculum aims, targets, and how learning progresses from one year group to the next. Lessons are carefully planned with clear outcomes and encourage children to be intrinsically ambitious in their own success. Teachers expect work of high quality and share good examples. They use well-pitched lesson resources, model outcomes and set standards.

Equitable challenge – ensuring all children can access learning.

Your curriculum content is taught well to all children. Teachers challenge and move children on through questioning, discussing, explaining and demonstrating. They provide support and scaffolds where needed so that all children can achieve. Children are able to use their ‘100 languages’ to express their understanding, for example, through writing, talk and demonstration. Progress is quicker and more of a guarantee for every child because your curriculum is well-sequenced, meaning that children are less likely to approach new learning from different starting points.

High-quality resources – having the ambition to provide children with the best resources.

High-quality practical and academic resources support your curriculum. Teachers have the correct equipment for practical work in subjects like science and art to support the most accurate learning outcomes. Lesson resources are not ad-hoc; they are coherent and well-matched to curriculum objectives. Children are not given resources littered with errors or of poor quality, which would ruin a well-planned curriculum.

If we show children poorly written resources, how can we expect them to be ambitious themselves?’ Melanie Moore, Curriculum Director

How do I design and plan an ambitious curriculum?

To ensure that you’re implementing an ambitious primary curriculum with the above components in place, you can either follow our six steps of curriculum design process or fast track to the implementation stage by investing in a curriculum like the Cornerstones Curriculum. This ambitious primary curriculum is well-sequenced, expertly written and fully resourced, and is ready for you to adopt and adapt on the Maestro platform.

Interested in knowing the best way to adapting and adopting a curriculum? Listen to our podcast episode Knowing the steps to adapting and adopting a curriculum. In this episode, Curriculum Support Manager, Rachael Ashforth, discusses the benefits of adopting a commercial curriculum and adapting it to meet a school’s needs.

Our ambitious curriculum is designed to give all learners the passion for individual and communal pursuit of wisdom.’ Vicky Musson, Director of Education, The Mill Academy Trust

Find out more

Or book an online meeting to see how the fully sequenced Cornerstones Curriculum, teaching resources and our online platform, Maestro, can help you transform learning and engagement in your school.

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