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Reviewing the Primary Curriculum – Part 1

We have a golden opportunity to revisit and refresh the curriculum. Many schools were doing this before it became a focus for inspection from September 2019. It is absolutely right that the substance of provision for our pupils is evaluated on a regular basis. Without this it becomes stale. Part 1 of 3!

You can also read two free chapters from Mary Myatt’s recently published book on the curriculum here: www.marymyatt.com.

The review of the curriculum

A few words, by way of introduction, about some of the reasons why there is a renewed focus on the curriculum across the sector. There is plenty of evidence that the curriculum beyond English and maths, in some schools, has been cut back. Now this has been for good reasons: teachers and leaders obviously want their pupils to do well in the public examinations and the SATS. However, this has led, in some cases, to a diet of SATS papers for a large proportion of Year 6 and in some cases drifting in to Year 5. What happens then, is that children’s entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum is cut back in order to boost results. This is not good either for children’s broader knowledge and understanding and paradoxically does not lead to improved results. Pupils need some exam practice, however, a sustained diet of SATS papers appears to diminish outcomes. One of the reasons for this is that when the reading papers for key stage 2 SATS papers are analysed, it is often a lack of vocabulary that means that some children don’t do as well. The irony is that by ensuring a broad and balanced curriculum through their schooling, pupils’ vocabulary increases. So the good intentions, in this example, actually get in the way of strong outcomes.

A second reason why discussion about the quality of curriculum content has taken a higher profile is because there has been an over emphasis on skills development in some parts of the sector. While skills are important we need to recognise that skills are not separate from knowing things. A child will not get better at the skill of inference, for example, by more practice of inferring from brief, unconnected texts. They develop the capacity to infer through exposure to and engagement with a wide range of texts across all subjects.

A third reason is that many children in schools who need additional support often have work provided for them which is over scaffolded, over supported and frequently places limits on their learning. As a sector we talk about closing gaps and making sure that all pupils achieve, and yet think nothing of having some children cutting out and sticking in, while the rest of the class are doing demanding work. How will these pupils ever catch up if they are not given demanding, interesting things to do?

Why do we have this curriculum in our school?

We have some important things going on here, which we need to take account of when revisiting and renewing the curriculum. It is important that leaders are clear about the rationale for the curriculum in their schools. This is the school’s curriculum ‘intent’ and schools are free to describe this as they see fit. Leaders need to be able to articulate why they offer the range of subjects that they do. So, for example at Lark Rise Primary School in Oxford, the school’s curriculum is underpinned through the use of story. They choose to be a storytelling school because they know that many of the children from their catchment do not have language rich backgrounds. In order to counter this, they offer their curriculum through carefully chosen stories.

Another school such as the West London Free School says ‘the curriculum content has been carefully chosen by subject experts and is organised in a coherent way, ensuring children can build on their knowledge from year to year. In this way, the knowledge in the curriculum is cumulative, constructing firm foundations from which children can progress and develop deeper conceptual understanding and subject-specific skills over time.’ While School21’s rationale is that the purpose of their curriculum is to develop the head, heart and hand: To succeed in the 21st century and to succeed against the odds, we believe that the curriculum needs to provide all students with the opportunities to acquire expertise in the basics and subject disciplines as well as developing their character, skills, critical thinking and leadership.

What these schools have in common is that they are crystal clear about the reasons for the curriculum intent in their school. They know what they are offering to their children and the reasons why.

West London Free School www.wlfs-primary.org/Primary-Knowledge-Curriculum-14022019134903/

School21 https://www.school21.org.uk/pri-curriculum

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