Pedagogy: is yours distinct from your curriculum?

Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore

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Melanie Moore, Cornerstones Founder and Curriculum Director, explores the meaning and importance of pedagogy and explains why this is an essential part of any school’s approach to the 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 point out in their consultation on the 2019 education inspection framework, ‘The curriculum is also distinct from pedagogy.’

Put simply, pedagogy is the way that the teacher delivers the content of the curriculum, the teaching style used and the theories employed. Teachers may use different pedagogical approaches depending on the age of the children, 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 a 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 the 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 approachTeacherSkills vs. knowledgeTechniquesResources
TraditionalA 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.
ProgressiveA 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.
CentristA 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 improve the quality of teaching and the way children learn. Having an established delivery method allows consistency across the school that helps children progress seamlessly across year groups, allowing a greater focus on teaching key concepts. Moreover, a considered pedagogy can help children move beyond basic memorisation and comprehension to complex learning processes like analysis, evaluation and creation. The National College for Teaching & Leadership advise that we ‘Develop a consistent, shared language within and between schools and phases to support high standards.’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 their pedagogy

Pedagogy is a continually evolving phenomenon. Researchers are constantly evaluating how children learn and how schools can take account of research-based ideas when designing their approaches to curriculum delivery.

Once a school has decided upon its approach, all stakeholders need to be clear about how to deliver their curriculum and on what pedagogy it is constructed.

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 the process of deciding on the best pedagogy for their school, 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?
  • What evidence or research do we want to build our approach upon?
  • Do we need to adapt any aspect of an evidence-based approach to better suit our unique needs?
  • 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 child talk?
  • Do we want active or passive learners?
  • What else do we want to provide for our children besides declarative knowledge?

Most importantly, the pedagogy chosen by 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 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, the inspectorate does state that in implementing the curriculum, leaders and teachers should have good subject and pedagogical knowledge. 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.

The Cornerstones approach to teaching and learning

The Cornerstones pedagogy is based on four distinct stages and built on a variety of different aspects of educational and cognitive research.

These stages are Engage, Develop, Innovate and Express, also known as the Four Cornerstones. These four distinct stages give clear direction for both teaching and learning.  However, 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.

Engage is a short stage in which children take part in a memorable experience to stimulate their curiosity, ask questions and make links to their prior learning. It provides an opportunity for cultural and real-world experiences and promotes discussion about the concepts introduced in each lesson or project. This stage also includes an introductory knowledge session where children are taught new knowledge or are asked to recall prior knowledge.

Develop is a longer stage of learning, where children delve more deeply into the knowledge and skills required to understand and build their conceptual understanding. Learning is well-sequenced and interconnected.

The Innovate stage provides crucial opportunities for children to retrieve previous knowledge and skills in order to apply them in new contexts.

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

Asking Questions

Asking the right questions is a vital part of the pedagogical process. Listed below are just some of the question types you may find in lesson and project plans as a result of the Cornerstones pedagogy.


  1. What do you know about…?
  2. What do you already know about…?
  3. What have you previously learned about…?
  4. What do you want to find out more about…?
  5. What interests you about…?
  6. What would happen if…?
  7. Why do you think that…?
  8. Can you explain why…?


  1. What do you already know about…?
  2. What is…?
  3. Why does?
  4. Can you explain why…?
  5. Why is that important?
  6. How does that link to…?
  7. How does that relate to…?
  8. How does that compare with…?
  9. What do you think, so far, about…?
  10. What have you found out about…?
  11. Why did that happen…?


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


  1. What do you know now that you didn’t know at the start of this lesson/project?
  2. Which part of the project did you find most challenging?
  3. What progress have you made during this project?
  4. Which skills have you mastered?
  5. How was learning connected in this lesson/project to what you have learned previously?
  6. How would you like to share/present what you have learned?
  7. What do you think you need to revisit?

More about pedagogy

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.

This blog was updated in September 2022. First published in July 2020.