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Reviewing the Primary Curriculum – Part 2

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 2 of 3!

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

From big picture to classroom practice

The second area that schools need to revisit is the implementation of the curriculum. In other words, how does the intent translate into classroom materials and teaching through the planning? It is really important that the school’s vision for the curriculum is matched by what is actually done in classrooms. Otherwise they are just words on a website. And it is in the implementation that there is a real opportunity to revitalise classroom teaching and learning. One way to approach this is to think about Marie Kondo’s work on decluttering. In other words to ‘spring clean’ the provision and practice and to remove those aspects which do not add value. It is important to remember that not everything needs to be thrown away. Curriculum plans should be carefully considered through the lens of ‘is this worth keeping and why?’ This means that we don’t need to plan everything from scratch but we do need to be absolutely certain that what we keep is fit for purpose.

The second area where ‘intent’ needs to be thought through is in articulating the particular importance of individual subjects, so that the subsequent curriculum plans hold true to the big picture. For instance, with art and design pupils are entitled to:

  • produce creative work, exploring their ideas and recording their experiences
  • become proficient in drawing, painting, sculpture and other art, craft and design techniques
  • evaluate and analyse creative works using the language of art, craft and design
  • know about great artists, craft makers and designers, and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms.’

 The expectation here is that pupils will not only have opportunities for producing art but will also engage with art and artists across the centuries.

So, let’s take this opportunity to go back and work through our curriculum thinking in a measured and steady way, bearing in mind that this is long term work and not a quick tick box exercise. Let’s go back and reignite our interest in individual subjects, find the stories and provide worthwhile activities for our pupils that enable them to dig deep and linger longer. Because they are worth it.

Curriculum coherence

Much curriculum planning across the sector involves taking the elements from the national curriculum documents and developing lessons from these. The problem here is that the teaching that follows from this is often fragmented and pupils are often not able to make the connections to the bigger picture or story of what they are learning. We know from cognitive science that our brains ‘privilege’ stories. This is because there is an emotional and intellectual connection with them. Without painting the bigger picture, pupils will find it harder to make connections between the elements that they are learning. The curriculum is full of stories and it is our job to find them.

This works in two ways: first, the importance of scoping the bigger picture, in the same way that Walt Disney outlined films across a storyboard, yet focused on one aspect in detail. The equivalent for the curriculum would be to start each new unit or topic by explaining how this fits into the bigger picture – for instance, in a unit on Jewish food laws, pupils need to know that this is part of the Jewish covenant and in keeping these laws they are keeping their side of the agreement with God. In order to place the particular content in the whole picture it is important to revisit the purpose of study and curriculum aims within the national curriculum documents, before planning the detail.

The second way in which stories are important is that they provide the hinterland for what is being learnt. The use of a good story to open up a topic is an untapped resource. For instance, in a history unit on the great plague, some plans use ‘My Story: The Great Plague: A London Girl’s Diary, 1665-1666’ by Pamela Oldfield alongside extracts from Pepys’ diaries. These resources provide rich additional information, expose pupils to language of greater complexity and make the subsequent learning deeper. There are a number of barriers to using stories with children: it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ because it is enjoyable; the children don’t appear to be ‘doing’ anything and this sort of activity doesn’t sit neatly on a spread sheet. As a sector we need to overcome this, in order to provide pupils with the richness they deserve.

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