What makes a coherent curriculum?


09th May 2018

What makes a coherent curriculum?

In this blog, Melanie Moore, author of the Cornerstones Curriculum, shares her tips and advice on how to achieve a strong and coherent school curriculum.

What makes a coherent curriculum?

For the past 20 years or so, I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to design curriculums, both for schools I have taught in and now for schools all over the world. I have worked with many government initiatives and priorities, including the introduction of the national curriculum 2000, QCA schemes of work, the Literacy and Numeracy strategies, The Rose Review, and the introduction of the new primary curriculum in 2014.

Most recently, the sharp focus on curriculum by Ofsted, Estyn and the Welsh and English governments has reignited debate about the importance of curriculum. For some of us, it never went away (and nor should it) but most recently the paper by John Blake from the educational charity, Policy Exchange, has raised some interesting points for discussion. It’s a straight-to-the-point paper and one that is sure to be met with a degree of challenge.

Achieving curriculum coherence

In this blog, I want to look at what I consider to be one of the most challenging aspects of building a curriculum, and that is ensuring coherence. Achieving curriculum coherence can be especially challenging for large schools but is certainly not a problem exclusive to them. Without coherence, curriculum purpose and learning progression can be lost.

So with this in mind, just how do schools achieve curriculum consistency? There is much that I have learned about how to do this (too much to include in this blog, of course) but there are five tips I would give to anyone setting out on this herculean task.

1. Establish your pedagogic vision

Make sure everyone is clear about how your curriculum will be taught and on what pedagogy it will be constructed. Consider and agree what learning is and how it should happen in your school. If necessary, develop a conceptual model and build your curriculum around it. Schools with a clear pedagogy are much more able to participate in a professional dialogue about how children learn and have a clear and coherent approach to teaching and learning across the school.

2. Agree on your curriculum principles

I have previously written a blog about this very subject, which you can read here. However, it deserves another mention. Before setting out on any aspect of curriculum design, agree on your curriculum principles. What do you believe your curriculum should do? Working together with all of your stakeholders to agree on your curriculum principles ensures coherence of understanding amongst everyone involved in the life of the school. It also means you are less likely to be distracted by fads and initiatives. Having agreed your curriculum principles, you’ll know what you believe in, and you’re more likely to stick to it.

Click here for some examples of curriculum principles.

3. Decide upon your core offer

Decide upon your core offer before detailing any themes, topics and projects, as this will help ensure the coherence of your resources and budget. A core offer should outline, for example, the number of educational visits for each year group, the number and focus of any specialist learning weeks across a key stage, and whether you will require any specialist support for delivering content. You should also make it clear how you make links to external partners such as museums, galleries and community groups. And remember – the curriculum also covers lessons, events and activities outside the typical school day.

4. Plan for progression

To achieve coherence in learning, you’ll have to plot out the important aspects of individual subjects and show how these will progress children’s knowledge and skills. You should start by mapping out when national curriculum content, key concepts, knowledge and skills for all subjects will be taught and when they will be assessed, revisited, built upon and explored in greater depth. The national curriculum does much of this work for you, but there may be further things that you want to cover and these will need mapping out separately (see our free sample curriculum maps). I’ll be writing more about how the Cornerstones Curriculum helps you plan for progression and greater depth in a future blog.

5. Share ownership of your curriculum

Curriculum coherence is a shared responsibility, so it’s important to make sure that all staff – not just senior and subject leaders – are aware of how the curriculum progresses. All staff should also be able to explain its principles, coherence and impact to stakeholders and inspectors. Make your detailed curriculum maps accessible to all staff, and inform and involve parents wherever possible. A carefully designed and well-resourced, coherent curriculum is a school’s core asset and will be of benefit to everyone in your community.

So there you are – some quick tips for getting started on making your curriculum more coherent. It’s not an easy task and the time and energy it will take should not be underestimated. If you would like to ask any questions about anything in this blog or are interested in finding out how the Cornerstones Curriculum can help you build curriculum coherence, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Free resources

Useful links

Sean Harford’s recent blog Ofsted’s spring conferences provides an insight into Ofsted’s focus on the curriculum.


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