15th July 2021
Designing a curriculum isn’t easy. It is a complicated process that needs to be carefully thought through and involves much strategic decision making. With 10 years’ experience supporting over 2000 primary schools, we have identified six crucial steps of effective curriculum design. Follow these steps to design your curriculum, whether you are starting from scratch or reviewing your existing curriculum.
Begin by establishing your curriculum principles. Your curriculum principles need to reflect your school’s values, context, pedagogical approaches and needs. In essence, your principles should clarify the vision for your curriculum.
Tip: Discuss and define your curriculum principles, vision and intentions with all stakeholders.
After clarifying your principles and purpose, you should set out your pupil entitlement (sometimes known as pupil offer). Your pupil entitlement should explain how you intend to broaden your curriculum with educational visits, extracurricular activities and other curriculum enrichment experiences.
Tip: Consider what your pupils will experience as they move through school and map these out for each year group. Link your entitlement to your curriculum principles, where possible.
You now need to arrange your curriculum content into subject schemes. Begin by looking at the programmes of study and make careful choices about what you will teach, when and why. Decide which concepts and subject aspects your curriculum will cover and how they interconnect with other subjects. You’ll then need to break these down into smaller component parts, which are the knowledge and skills objectives that provide building blocks for learning. These should be carefully sequenced, revisited and built upon through your curriculum. These decisions will eventually form your school’s long-term curriculum plan.
Tip: You should underpin each subject scheme with a sequenced skills and knowledge framework. You can do this by breaking the national curriculum programmes of study into progressive steps that provide subject endpoints. The aim is to help children build a deep body of knowledge that enables them to perform increasingly complex skills.
After creating your long-term curriculum plan, you will need to provide contexts for delivering it. At Cornerstones, we do this using projects. For subjects like history, the national curriculum sets out various contexts that must be covered, such as the ancient Egyptians. However, for subjects like art and design, you can create your own engaging contexts. The teaching narrative within each project or unit should set out how learning will be delivered. It should be sequenced and cohesive, clearly showing the starting point and how the project develops. Crucially, your planning needs to show how the subject knowledge and skills outlined in your long-term plan will be taught, revisited and built upon. This process is very complex and takes time to perfect. However, when completed, it will set out your medium-term plan, which you can elaborate on in short-term plans if required.
Tip: Make the planning process easy so that teachers can create, adapt and share plans with others. Ideally, ensure that you have integrated, quick assessment for learning methods in place to support teachers as they deliver the curriculum.
Your curriculum should not be let down by poor quality or ad-hoc resources. Inadequate resources will not only dilute the power of your curriculum but can also cause confusion and even misinform. Sourcing the best quality resources is vital if you want children’s learning to be factually correct and ambitious. To make your curriculum the best it can be, insist on high-quality resources and practical equipment. Don’t reduce the impact of your curriculum by accepting anything less.
Tip: Create or source high-quality resources to support your lessons, rather than the other way around. Keep a schoolwide overview of resources to avoid unnecessary repetition and ensure that content builds in complexity.
You now have an established curriculum. The next step is to regularly review its impact on teaching and learning, making any adaptations or changes you need to improve it further. At this stage, you may also identify Continuing Professional Development (CPD) needs for your staff. For example, the knowledge of subject leaders might need to improve to make sure that each area of the curriculum is well taught and supported.
Tip: Check that monitoring subject coverage and progression and assessment for learning are live, integral parts of your curriculum.
Of course, the six steps are a simplification of a more complicated process, but they are a good place to start. Several ingredients that have a significant impact on your curriculum design are missing here, such as the unique combination of the staff at your school, their knowledge and experiences, your children’s passions and interests and the creativity that you bring to the process.
These Six Steps of Curriculum Design are already covered and easy to implement using Maestro, an all-in-one curriculum platform that includes a fully sequenced, interconnected primary curriculum, teaching resources and assessment tools. If you would like to see how Maestro can help your school to design, deliver and manage your curriculum, please book a free online meeting with one of our experienced curriculum advisers.
Over 1600 primary schools across the country are using Maestro to implement their curricula. Here’s some of the kind feedback that we’ve received.
‘As a leader, for me to go in and check what is being covered has been really reassuring. I’m not sure how I would have been able to do that without Maestro.’ Jade Wakley, Deputy Headteacher, Monmouthshire
‘Maestro is a gamechanger for leadership at all levels.’ Christian Hilton, Executive Headteacher, Shipston-on-Stour
‘It’s allowed our teachers to focus on how to teach, not what to teach.’ Justin Cowley, Deputy Headteacher, Mendell Primary School
‘Maestro has provided us with a great platform to create and develop our own unique broad, balanced and enriched curriculum.’ John McMorrow, Headteacher, Tredegar
‘Maestro has saved staff time thinking of the teaching sequence and finding the resources to plan the curriculum.’ Moira Cross, Headteacher, Dordon Community Primary School
‘We have just had our Ofsted inspection under the new framework, and I wanted to let you know that Curriculum Maestro was a vital part in the subject deep dives that we had. It is massively useful for subject leaders at the moment.’ Headteacher, Liversedge
Read more school success stories here
This blog has been updated in July 2021 to reflect current best practice. Last published in April 2019.
Curriculum Maestro (or Cwricwlwm Maestro for schools following the Curriculum for Wales) is a comprehensive curriculum design, delivery and management platform. It helps primary schools to complete and manage complex curriculum tasks with ease and 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, which 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 knowledge and skills framework and the ability to generate and publish bespoke curriculum projects makes Curriculum Maestro a must-have tool for primary schools.