Pedagogy: is yours distinct from your curriculum?


08th July 2020

Pedagogy: is yours distinct from your curriculum?

Melanie Moore, Cornerstones Founder, explores the meaning and importance of pedagogy and explains why this is an essential part of any school’s approach to curriculum.

Pedagogy: is yours distinct from your curriculum?

What is pedagogy?

Pedagogy, pronounced peh·duh·go·jee, originates from the Greek word paidagogos, comprising of two root words: paidos (child) and agogos (leader). Today, we use the word pedagogy to mean the art or science of teaching children, but it is often confused with the curriculum itself. However, as Ofsted points out in the new inspection framework, ‘The curriculum is distinct from pedagogy.’

Put simply, pedagogy is the way that the teacher delivers the content of the curriculum to the pupils – for example, the teaching style used and theories employed. Teachers may use different pedagogical approaches depending on the age of the pupils, the content being delivered, and the research they have read.

What are the different pedagogical approaches?

Read any publication that takes education as its major theme and you’ll undoubtedly find lively debate over the two leading schools of pedagogical thought. Commonly referred to as traditional (trad) and progressive (prog), these two opposing approaches can create an unhelpful polarisation in professional debate. Here at Cornerstones, we have our own third option, one which we see as a more centrist approach, blending aspects of both methods for maximum impact. More about this later. The table below simplifies some of the main characteristics of each method, although this is far from an exhaustive list.

Pedagogical approach Teacher Skills vs knowledge Techniques Resources
Traditional A teacher centred pedagogy, which places the teacher at the centre of the learning process. An emphasis on knowledge, rather than skills. Whole class teaching, rote learning, modelling and demonstration.

Subjects are taught discretely, as opposed to being topic based.

Textbooks, workbooks, use of quizzes and knowledge organisers.
Progressive A more child centred approach where learners can play an active role in the learning process. A more enquiry
based approach with an emphasis on the acquisition of skills.
Project work and enquiry based learning.

Individual and group work.

Thematic or topic based approach to the delivery of curriculum content.

Hands on experiences, the environment and personalised materials.
Centrist A balance of teacher led and enquiry based activities. A balance of both skills and knowledge. A mix of all of the above, as appropriate to meet the needs of the school context and learner cohort. A balance of all of the above, as appropriate.

Why is pedagogy important?

A secure understanding of your chosen pedagogy is essential for effective teaching. When excellent pedagogical content knowledge complements a clear overarching pedagogy, the result is outstanding classroom practice.

Of course, a well thought out pedagogy will not only improve the quality of teaching but also the way pupils learn. Having an established method of delivery allows consistency across the school that helps children progress seamlessly across year groups, allowing a greater focus on the teaching of key concepts. Moreover, a well thought out pedagogy can help children move beyond basic memorisation and comprehension, to complex learning processes like analysis, evaluation and creation. Consistency of approach also enables children to employ good learning habits and helps them to understand expectations.

‘Develop a consistent, shared language within and between schools and phases to support high standards.’

What makes great pedagogy and great professional development: final report National College for Teaching & Leadership

How do schools decide on an overarching pedagogy?

Pedagogy is a continually evolving phenomenon. Researchers are constantly thinking and talking about how children learn and effective schools take account of research-based ideas when designing their approaches to delivering their curriculum.

Schools need to make sure that everyone is clear about how to deliver their curriculum and on what pedagogy it is constructed. They need to develop a conceptual model and build a curriculum around it.

Schools with an explicit pedagogy are much more able to participate in a professional dialogue about how children learn and have a clear and coherent approach to teaching across the school.

During this process, leaders and teachers may ask themselves questions, such as:

  • How can we make our school curriculum accessible to all our learners?
  • What beliefs do we hold about learning and how will they be linked to our curriculum?
  • How can we ensure that we present the curriculum so that the information can be retained and used to support new learning?
  • How can we ensure that the children become independent learners, problem solvers and creative thinkers?
  • What balance do we want between teacher and pupil talk?
  • Do we want active or passive learners?
  • What else do we want to provide for our children besides declarative knowledge?

The pedagogy used in any school should reflect the needs of the learner and the beliefs of the school and should enable the curriculum to be taught effectively.

What does Ofsted say about pedagogy?

Ofsted state in the Education inspection framework that the curriculum is distinct from pedagogy. They expect schools to have developed an ambitious, carefully planned and sequenced curriculum and expect teachers to deliver the curriculum well. The inspectorate does not advocate any specific pedagogy. However, it does state that in implementing the curriculum, leaders and teachers should have good subject and pedagogical knowledge. In the new inspection framework, Ofsted include the following judgement aspect for inspectors when looking at the effectiveness of leadership and management: ‘leaders focus on improving staff’s subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge to enhance the teaching of the curriculum and the appropriate use of assessment.’

Teachers are expected to present subject matter clearly and in sequence, and to help children to remember what they have been taught. Ofsted also stress that teachers must enable learners to integrate new knowledge into larger concepts. Any pedagogical approach must ensure that these criteria are met.

Cornerstones pedagogy

The Cornerstones approach to teaching and learning

The Cornerstones pedagogy is based on four distinct stages. These stages are: Engage – Develop – Innovate – Express, also known as the Four Cornerstones. These four distinct stages give clear direction for both teaching and learning as set out in the following illustration. While the Four Cornerstones provide schools with a basis on which to deliver the curriculum, the beauty is that the finer details of content can be adapted to meet a school’s context and any research they have undertaken.

If you are looking to review your pedagogy and the way you deliver your curriculum, there is much to consider. But what is clear is that you should know what your pedagogy is, be able to articulate it and be confident that it fully meets the needs of the children you teach.


Engage is a short stage in which children take part in a memorable experience to stimulate their curiosity, ask questions and talk about their prior learning. They are introduced to the required baseline knowledge to support future learning.


Develop is a longer stage, where children delve more deeply into the theme, explore and acquire new skills and knowledge, revisit previously acquired skills and knowledge, make links between subjects, explore, make, read and write for a variety of purposes across the curriculum.


Innovate is a crucial opportunity for children to return to previous skills and knowledge and apply them in new contexts.


Express gives children a structured opportunity to reflect on their learning, test their knowledge and celebrate their achievements.

Download our sample short project, Fallen Fields, in this blog to see how the pedagogy works in action

Asking Questions

Asking children the right questions is a vital part of the pedagogical process. Listed below are some questions you may find useful when getting started in each stage of learning. They can be used as part of a display, as table questions or within your planned activities.


  1. What do you know about…?
  2. What do you want to find out more about…?
  3. What interests you about…?
  4. What do you think we should do next?
  5. What would happen if…?
  6. Why do you think that…?
  7. Can you explain why…?


  1. Can you explain how…?
  2. What is your plan?
  3. Why is that information important?
  4. What do you need help with?
  5. What resources will you need?
  6. What do you think, so far, about…?
  7. What have you found out about…?
  8. Why did that happen?


  1. What is the problem with…?
  2. What do you know about…?
  3. What do you need to think about?
  4. What do you need to do first?
  5. Can you think of ways to solve this problem?
  6. How many ideas can you think of?
  7. Which is your best idea?
  8. What resources will you need?
  9. What is your plan?
  10. Why do you think that?
  11. How can you improve…?
  12. How might you change…?
  13. Is it working?
  14. What happens next?
  15. Who can help?


  1. What have you learned?
  2. What else would you like to find out about…?
  3. Which part of the project did you find most challenging?
  4. Which part of the project did you enjoy the most?
  5. What progress have you made during this project?
  6. Which skills have you mastered?
  7. How would you like to share what you have learned?
  8. How can you celebrate your learning?
  9. What do you think you need to revisit?

Cornerstones Pedagogy

Download our FREE Fallen Fields project and resources here to get a flavour of our pedagogy.

Find out more about the Cornerstones Curriculum pedagogy in the video below.

This article is taken from the Ofsted inspection framework edition of The Curriculum magazine from Cornerstones Education.

More about pedagogy

If you’ve found this article interesting, you may also enjoy our podcast discussion with Jonathan Lear, award-winning Deputy Headteacher, curriculum adviser and author. We discuss Jonathan’s curriculum development work, his thinking on pedagogy, curriculum principles and purpose. This podcast delves into some of the essential curriculum questions.

Curriculum principles purpose and pedagogy

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