In recent years, effective curriculum planning has been high on the teaching agenda and unsurprisingly so. Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, raised concerns about school curriculums in 2017 and a year later found that ‘there was a dearth of understanding’ around what constitutes a good curriculum and that teachers and school leaders had ‘not been trained to think deeply’ around curriculum related issues. Continue reading for advice on successful curriculum implementation at KS3 English.
Schools naturally began to rectify the issues and curate strong curriculum architecture. The result, however, was perhaps variable. However, I am acutely aware the educationalists always endeavour to improve and hopefully some of the suggestions will point you in the right direction.
How do you curate a good curriculum?
The reality we must come to terms with is that there is no sure-fire fix when it comes to the curriculum. As Walker argues, ‘Curriculum reform is like any other complex task’ and complex assignments need the requisite time, respect and patience if they’re to be implemented accurately. There are, however, some principles we could adopt when curating our curriculum.
Consider the local context [KL1]
Deakin Crick et al (2013) and Gu & Johansen (2013) argue that schools are ‘dynamic systems’, and, as with all things dynamic, they are in a constant state of flux. It’s important, therefore, that when designing the curriculum, we stay true to our school’s local context. This is illustrated well by Talbert and McLaughlin (1999) whose ‘nested context’ model (see figure one[KL2] ) centres the classroom as the locus of where learning happens; it is in this domain that the curriculum is enacted. What does the model suggest? When it comes to the curriculum design, we ought to consider all these areas – classroom, teacher community, school and external environment – so that our students have access to a challenging curriculum.
Davies OBE defines mastery as a ‘pedagogy that works on the principle that all learners, with effort, will meet [the] expectations’ of their curriculum related expectations. The key here is the term, ‘with effort’. We must accept that it will take some time and effort if students are to possess the knowledge and skills to master content. The key to this is sequencing. In its English ‘Curriculum Review Series’ Ofsted (2022) made a strong case that students benefit from a curriculum where knowledge is effectively ‘sequenced’ and ‘specific’. [KL3] Bond’s (2021) definition is useful here: ‘Sequencing the curriculum is all about knowing that what our pupils learn each year builds on what went before. It is not about teaching things in order but rather planning topics so that we are carefully considering what we expect our pupils to know and the things they need to know to learn these things!’ It is this careful consideration of sequencing that we see in the most successful curriculums, including the Oxford Smart Quest curriculums, where narrative pathways are mapped for KS1 to KS4, enabling careful sequencing that builds on the skills and knowledge from KS2, to support progress across KS3 and 4. These narrative pathways are carefully structured enabling students to revisit previously learnt content and build, lesson by lesson, on what was previously taught.
Mary Myatt argues that we are a ‘challenge seeking species.’ She cites examples including crosswords, Sudoku and word puzzles as challenging activities the masses voluntarily engage with ‘by way of relaxation.’ However, challenge can be viewed under a negative lens in schools; challenging learning can lead to mistakes and ‘no-one wants to feel stupid!’ How then do we ensure our curriculum is challenging and mitigate against feelings of negativity? Myatt’s commonly used phrase, ‘high challenge, low threat’, is useful here. We mustn’t apologise for including challenging content in our curriculum, but we must build support mechanisms to ensure all students have access to our curriculum. The role responsive teaching has in successfully enacting our challenging curriculum is one that we must be cognisant of, particularly in ‘responding, adapting our teaching to support students to do better.’ (Fletcher, 2018) A challenging curriculum is only successful when it builds opportunities to be flexible, to build schema and identify misconceptions.
Be well resourced
The arguments around whether power-point, booklets or teacher guides are the most useful resources to deliver the curriculum will most likely continue but what I am speaking of here is the use of authentic resources that enables student to think. Whilst pretty resources are lovely to look at, if they fail to generate the thinking we want our students to engage in, we ought to think about whether they truly add value to learning. At Handsworth Grammar School for Boys, authentic resources and critical reading are used to extend student knowledge and to encourage students to engage in challenging discussions about language choices, literary concepts and texts (as shown in the year 12 and year 7 examples below).
However, to curate resources like this can be time consuming, and, if you’re looking for quality, can take a number of years to do so effectively. This is where published resources can come in useful. For example, in Oxford Smart Quest English Language and Literature students are exposed to challenging texts and ideas but in a clearly sequenced way. For instance, the extract from ‘The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe‘ is used to support ‘What’s a Text?’ unit of work. The introduction to the extract, the pre-teaching of vocabulary and the presentation of the resources themselves enables all students to access the challenging content, lessons and the wider curriculum at large.
Include opportunities for building subject knowledge through professional development
In 2014, Coe found that ‘a teacher’s subject knowledge, and their understanding of how pupils handle this subject, has the strongest impact on student outcomes’ and it would, therefore, be remiss of us to not build in opportunities to develop a teacher’s subject knowledge around the curriculum. Mark Enser suggests we do the following:
However, teachers are, undoubtedly, time poor and often opportunities to build CPD around subject knowledge are swallowed up by pastoral issues, Ofsted and mandatory trainings. To that end, the Oxford Smart Curriculum Service offers busy teachers the opportunity to access free CPD at their fingertips [KL5] . It provides teachers with the research that underpins the curriculum model, background and research, [KL6] and guidance on how to successfully deliver the course thus linking both pedagogy with effective subject knowledge delivery.
The Final Word – It’s never finished
Myatt (2022) argues that the curriculum is a ‘never-ending story’ and is in continual need of refinement. I would argue that no matter how robust a curriculum plan is, it must adapt to the needs of context – local, national and international – so students are in the strongest position to succeed in their academic life and beyond.
About the author
Gaurav Dubay is a Head of English and Literacy Lead in an inner-city school in Birmingham, Evidence Lead in Education for St. Matthew’s Research School and English Subject Network Lead for the King Edward VI Foundation.
- Bond, J (2021). ‘How to sequence the Curriculum to optimise learning for all pupils’.
- Coe R, Aloisi C, Higgins S, et al. (2014) ‘What Makes Great Teaching? Review of the Underpinning Research’. London: Sutton Trust.
- Davies, C OBE (Year of publishing unknown). ‘Weaving Mastery and Greater Depth into the National Curriculum’.
- Deakin Crick, R., H. Green, S. Barr, A. Shafr & W. Peng (2013). Evaluating the wider outcomes of schooling: Complex systems modeling. Bristol, UK: Centre for Systems Learning & leadership, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol
- Enser, M. ‘Maintaining Your Subject Knowledge’. Retrieved via: https://my.chartered.college/early-career-hub/maintaining-your-subject-knowledge/ [Accessed 13/1/2023]
- Flethcer-Wood, H (2018). ‘Responsive Teaching: Cognitive Science and Formative Assessment in Practice’. London: Routledge
- Gu, Q. & Johansson, O. (2013). Sustaining school performance: School context matters. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 16(3), 301-326.
- Myatt, M. ‘How high challenge and low threat can help pupils to learn the curriculum’. Retrieved via: https://www.marymyatt.com/blog/how-high-challenge-and-low-threat-can-help-pupils-to-learn-the-curriculum [Accessed 10/1/2023]
- Myatt, M (2022). ‘The Curriculum As a Never-Ending Story: Some Thoughts on Curriculum Discussions’.
- Ofsted (2022). ‘Curriculum research review series: English’
- Talbert, J. & M. McLaughlin (1999). Assessing the school environment: Embedded contexts and bottom-up research strategies. In S. Friedman & T. Wachs (Eds.), Measuring environment across the life span, 197-227. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
- Walker, A (year of publishing unknown). ‘Why does curriculum development seem so hard?’
More blogs from the Oxford English team:
- Inspiring awe and wonder at KS3 English and beyond
- Curriculum Implementation at KS3 English
- Classroom strategies to support struggling readers
- Building Coherence in the Oxford Smart Curriculum for English
- Delivering high expectations in KS3 English Curriculum
- Embedding Metacognition in your KS3 English Curriculum