Laura Poole, Cornerstones Curriculum Consultant, takes a look at Amanda Spielman’s recent commentary on the primary curriculum.
With so much to consider over the last year, especially with the pressures of the new Key Stage 2 tests, it’s possible that for most schools, curriculum development hasn’t been a priority. However, Amanda Spielman's recent commentary makes strong suggestions that curriculum content will be making a welcome return to the spotlight and ‘take precedence over performance tables’.
While I don’t think any primary teacher in the land would disagree with that sentiment, many feel that without significant change throughout the education and inspection system, this will not happen.
To allow for this game-changing shift in focus, many seismic changes would have to occur. Some of those changes would shake the very foundations of the current educational climate and would need to include a significant shift in emphasis, for example, in the way schools are inspected. Such changes may initially sound radical, challenging, and impossible, but the benefits would be great, and promisingly, Spielman doesn't shy away from them.
Debate and reflection
So, who wouldn’t appreciate more time to discuss and explore the finer aspects of the curriculum? Most teachers I know certainly would. Spielman is keen to encourage ‘more debate and reflection’ amongst school leaders and teachers and encourages us to add our voice to the debate about the kind of curriculum that allows children to flourish. It’s clear that what works for one school might not be advantageous to another, and Ofsted favours no single method above others, but what Spielman does insist on is a personalisation of the curriculum. She advises that, ‘choices need to be made about what to do when, how much depth to pursue, which ideas to link together, what resources to draw on, which way to teach, and how to make sure all pupils are able to benefit'.
Doubtlessly, if teachers have more time to engage in discussions about their curriculum and are part of that strategic decision-making, they will feel more valued, more knowledgeable, and more invested in the delivery of their curriculum. Spielman suggests that this ‘shared curriculum thinking’ should be an ‘ongoing’ process for all leaders and teachers and lead to staff feeling more in control of what they teach.
Curriculum planning for low-attaining children is also an area of concern for Spielman. She hopes to address ‘social mobility’ by urging schools, as part of their curriculum design and integration, to invest energy into trialling ‘different ways of sequencing and organising subject content to take account of different starting points’. She highlights that a more tailored curriculum could help to break down barriers to learning for these children and could open up exciting new learning opportunities to them, giving them a more level footing with their peers.
Read and read more
Spielman’s prioritising of reading is further positive news for teachers. She discusses the benefits of directing children towards challenging texts as a way of building comprehension as well as formally teaching comprehension skills. She explains how she would like to see more time dedicated to teaching and helping children ‘to read and read more’. As most teachers know, it’s often a struggle to entice children to become avid readers outside of school, but if we have time to explore a variety of great literature at length with our children in the classroom, drumming up this enthusiasm may not be as much of a mean feat.
Spielman doesn’t expect masterful curriculum planning and implementation to occur overnight. She acknowledges that ‘leaders and teachers have to be supported’. However, a shift in focus, which places a broad and balanced curriculum firmly at the heart of every school, is exciting and encouraging, and we should look forward to seeing some of these ideas and findings coming to fruition over the next few years. A more detailed report will be available to schools in the spring term, but, until then, I think we can remain optimistic that change is going to come.
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Amanda Spielman’s commentary – The full report will be published in late spring.