A positive outlook for the new Oxford Smart Curriculum

You may recall that we launched the Oxford Smart Curriculum direction paper last May. Our aim was to ensure that this was a collaborative effort, so we invited educators and policy-makers working within the educational sector to provide feedback by completing a short questionnaire. With your input, we have been able to strengthen our shared vision and hopefully address the needs of the next generation of teachers and learners.

Addressing important issues

First, it was reassuring to see that all of our respondents agreed that the Oxford Smart Curriculum addresses important issues that are relevant in today’s current educational landscape as well as the needs of the next generation of learners and teachers.

It plans out the direction and sequence well and the pillars ensure the underpinning principles behind it.

This is a welcome rebuttal to the assessment dog that wags the teaching tail far too much.

Building strong foundations

As you may recall, we shared with you the six pillars which underpin the Oxford Smart Curriculum: Coherent pathways; High expectations and aspirations; Responsive teaching and learning; Metacognitive learning; Learner identity; Awe and wonder. We asked respondents what they thought of these pillars.

Metacognitive learning resonated most with respondents (57%), closely followed by high expectations (48%) and coherent pathways (44%). Teachers recognised the benefits of implementing metacognitive strategies:

“As a school we are slowly implementing metacognitive strategies to help build learner resilience and enable learners to become more independent.”

Metacognition is a low-cost, high-impact strategy that works with learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Given the timing, with more urgent issues to focus on, it is probably comes as no surprise that awe and wonder resonated least with teachers (26%):

Covid has removed the awe and wonder of science for both teachers and learners.” with no practicals (cf geography/field trips).

However, some of you also suggested that awe and wonder isn’t a subject you teach; it’s something you inspire:

Curiosity and wonder is not something you can teach, only try to encourage and illustrate by being an example, displaying our own enthusiasm and awe and wonder for the subject that we teach.”

Awe and wonder are at the heart of teaching and learning.

The importance of data, evidence and insights

Again, 100% of you agreed that a curriculum that is supported by data, evidence and insights is important for helping to respond to and address next steps.

Support for teaching and learning the Oxford Smart Curriculum

In terms of the support you felt you needed in order to teach the Oxford Smart Curriculum, this ranged from online and print resources, high quality formative and summative assessments to CPD and a curriculum with clear sequencing.

A curriculum which demonstrates metacognitive links and clearly identifies sequencing.

Appropriate and differentiated assessment which provides adequate levels of analysis to support student independent revision.

Meaningful assessment tasks that provide robust data on progress and what individual students can do to improve.”

An understanding of how grading works and how the KS3 grades relate to KS4 grades.”

Barriers to research and evidence

In terms of research-based studies, all respondents think they are useful to inform teaching and learning. However, there are barriers to implementing evident-based strategies within school departments. These include issues with bringing all staff on board and staff shortages to scepticism and inertia of the senior leadership team. Time and funding are also issues to consider as any change in direction and/or strategy requires time and effort.

Implementing change is difficult at all levels. Getting SLT to agree is the first.”

There are always barriers, as detailed in the OFSTED review, theories do not give direct strategies so may be misapplied. They need to work for the students, be planned for, consolidated and embedded.

Senior Leaders who aren’t looking at the wider picture, or those who don’t fully understand a broad and balanced curriculum.

Final word

Finally, we asked respondents to let us know if there was anything else they wanted to say about the direction paper. The general response was enthusiastic and respondents are keen to find out more.

It’s nice to see some thoughtful pre- thinking. I was involved in Beyond 2000 and the DfE steering group that followed and that’s the last time I remember anything like that.

It feels a very well thought of plan. Seen the direction paper and it plans out the direction and sequence well and the pillars ensure the underpinning principles behind it. We still need to see the lessons, resources and assessments to get our head round it.

Teacher wellbeing is a positive inclusion as our team work in a very emotionally-charged environment with very physically and mentally ill young people which is particularly challenging… Inclusivity will also be a pertinent area for many of our students who have often felt invisible in their previous mainstream settings.”

We will share with you soon our plans to roll out a new Oxford Smart Curriculum Service across core subjects in secondary, as well as reveal further details about our pioneer schools who are currently trialing the curriculum during this academic year.

Amie Hewish is Head of STEM and Curriculum in the Education Division at Oxford University Press

Read the Oxford Smart Curriculum direction paper at www.oxfordsecondary.com/smart

About the Oxford Smart Curriculum

The Oxford Smart Curriculum provides you with a carefully-sequenced and research-informed 11–16 curriculum to support transition and facilitate progress. Knowledge and skills are carefully sequenced to bring meaning and to support students in developing a deep understanding of a subject.

  • The curriculum is underpinned by a set of six pillars, which address the key themes in education that we know matter to schools. Each pillar is informed by a rich research and evidence base to nurture curiosity and satisfaction in learning
  • Curriculum and assessment are planned together to ensure a clear progression model. With all parts coherent and connected, teachers are able to adapt their teaching more easily and respond to the specific needs of their students.
  • Strategies embedded in the curriculum are modelled on research about how we learn and how we most effectively retain knowledge, and, therefore, support students’ development as independent, engaged, self-regulated learners
  • The five-year curriculum model creates a seamless path for students and ensures an easier and more structured transition from KS3 to KS4

The past two years have been testing for everyone and we appreciate the time you have taken – not only to read and digest the curriculum direction paper’s contents, but also the enthusiastic responses you’ve given us. We cannot ignore the effect Covid has had on our learners and teachers, and it is imperative – now more than ever – that we address their and your needs urgently.