22nd May 2020
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: Hold plenty of discussions to define and share your curriculum principles, vision and intentions with 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 schemas. Begin by looking at the programmes of study and make important choices about what you will teach and when. You will need to make strategic decisions about what your curriculum covers, how it is sequenced, how each schema progresses and how it interconnects with other subjects. These decisions will eventually form your school’s long term curriculum plan.
Tip: You should underpin each subject schema 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.
After creating your long term plan, you will need to plan the context for the delivery of your schema. At Cornerstones, we call these projects. Your projects or units of work should provide a context for learning. For subjects such as history, the national curriculum sets out a range of 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 your projects or units should set out how learning will be delivered, making sure that it is sequenced, cohesive and based on sound pedagogical practice. It should detail the starting point for each project and explain how it will develop. Your planning also needs to show how subject skills and knowledge will be taught and revisited. 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.
Your curriculum should not be let down by poor quality or ad-hoc resources. They will dilute the power of your carefully sequenced plans, which often have to be tweaked to meet the restraints of the resource. Sourcing the best quality resources is a must if you want children’s learning to be engaging and ambitious. To make your curriculum the best it can be, insist on high quality resources and the best practical equipment. Don’t reduce the impact of your curriculum by accepting less than the best.
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 Continued 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 assessment for learning is a live and integral part 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 much easier to implement using Maestro, our new all in one curriculum platform. 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 1500 primary leaders across the country are using Maestro to design 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
‘Maestro has provided us with a great platform to create and develop our own unique broad, balanced and enriched curriculum’ John McMorrow, Headteacher, Tredegar
‘Really enjoying spending time reviewing our curriculum, selecting core texts to support it and mapping out skills and knowledge. Thanks, Cornerstones, for great tools to help with this.’ Kelly Hamilton, Headteacher, Essex
‘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 May 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, whole-school skills and knowledge framework and the ability to generate and publish bespoke curriculum projects makes Curriculum Maestro a must-have tool for primary schools.