The Fourth Pillar of Principled Curriculum Design: Experience

SSAT’s ‘Four Pillars of Principled Curriculum Design’ now has versions for mainstream primary, secondary and special schools. Over the coming weeks, SSAT’s senior education leads, Alex Galvin and Colin Logan, will be looking at each of the four pillars in turn. Today, Alex and Colin consider the fourth pillar: Experience.

The fourth pillar focuses on the achieved curriculum. However effective our plans, clearly what matters most is how the curriculum works in practice – in other words, the lived daily experience of young people. 

 Understanding and quality-assuring the curriculum is complex – it is difficult to assess the experience of large numbers of individuals, in a context in which that experience varies day to day and hour to hour. We need to consider the different layers of information we have, from the perspective of senior leaders, subject leaders, staff, pupils and parents. As a result, many school leaders say that they have found this stage of the process the most challenging. 

However, most schools are data-rich. Systems and processes for quality assurance and self-evaluation are well-established and so in many cases it is more a question of applying a curriculum lens to existing processes rather than creating new ones. And, if we are considering curriculum to be about the lived daily experiences of young people, most aspects of quality assurance are helpful in developing an understanding of how things are working. 

However, there are a few common characteristics of schools who are monitoring impact well, which others may find helpful: 

  1. They are clear about what they want to see. Effective quality assurance relies on everyone having a good sense of what it will look like if it is working. If subject leaders and teachers have clearly mapped out the knowledge and skills that they want pupils to acquire over time and there is a shared understanding of expected progress it is much easier to see whether curriculum delivery is on track. 
  2. They have established a shared language around curriculum. In recent years a lot of terminology relating to curriculum planning has come into general use. It isn’t necessary for everyone to engage with all of it, but it is important that all staff understand the terms that are being used regularly. Whether you prefer to talk about big ideas or key composites, establishing a shared language across the school makes for more productive conversations between middle and senior leaders.

  3. They take a holistic view of curriculum. Successful curriculum delivery is closely linked to the wider practice of the school. To get a rounded picture of the lived daily experience of the curriculum, all available information needs to be considered. This means listening to feedback from all stakeholders and gaining insights from other data that is collected. For example, data relating to uptake of different subjects, attendance and tracking of behaviour all give valuable insights into how well things are working.  
  4. They use formative assessment very effectively. The best measure of impact is how well pupils are learning. Effective use of formative assessment enables teachers to make immediate assessments of progress and adjust their approaches accordingly. Confident use of formative assessment also enables teachers at all levels to explain how they make informed judgements about the effectiveness of curriculum delivery. If you are looking to develop practice in formative assessment ensure that you look at the support available through SSAT’s Embedding Formative Assessment programme. 
  5. Leadership of curriculum and leadership of teaching and learning are closely aligned. Curriculum planning and effective teaching and learning are mutually dependent – neither can be delivered to the highest standards unless the other is operating successfully. As a result, it is essential that leaders are working collaboratively and that they have a shared vision of the kind of learning they are working towards. 
  6. They maintain a clear focus on the ongoing planning and review cycle: 
  • Are all curriculum plans developed to the expected standard? 
  • Are curriculum plans focused on the development of knowledge and skills over time? 
  • Is the curriculum being delivered as planned by all teachers? 
  • Are pupils making expected progress? 
  • Is this what we expected to see?  
  • What are our next development priorities? 
  • What needs to happen to address them? 

Further reading: SSAT’s Four Pillars of Principled Curriculum Design

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