Curriculum checklists

Whether a senior leader in charge of the curriculum or a subject leader in charge of one or a number of individual subjects, the challenge is the same. A high quality education provided at scale by multiple colleagues. To do this well, leaders need good systems and checklists help systems to become established run smoothly.

For every subject, it is certainly worth having:

  • A subject overview
  • An idea of key concepts

Depending on the subject you might also consider:

  • A structure for units of work
  • Active ingredients of a subject strategy

Subject overviews

Subject overviews detail the curriculum choices that leaders have made. They map out what is taught and when. What’s most useful for both subject leaders and teachers is to have the whole sequence in one place. At a glance, one can see what units of work have come before and what are coming next. Leaders can easily check for coverage of the national curriculum. They can easily quality assure the sequencing of units of work. And they can use this for conversation with teachers about what they can expect children to know, be able to do and understand by the time the next unit starts.

Sometimes this might be adopted wholesale from a publisher and sometimes this might have been developed within the school. Either way, the subject overviews have within them all the deliberate decisions that leaders have made: for example:

  • Why Egyptian history in Y3 Summer?
  • Why decimals in Y5 Autumn?
  • Why swimming in Y4 Spring?

Then there are examples of deliberate decisions where the national curriculum affords more choice, for example:

  • Why football in PE?
  • Why Benin in history?
  • Why Florida as a study of North American geography?

A mistake is to have several overviews, perhaps one per year group. If each year group is free to make their own curricular choices, the risk is a lack of coherence within and across key stages. Curriculum leadership involves ensuring a coherent sequence as children move through the school, avoiding repetition and developing their understanding of the subject over time.

One common habit that we have fallen into is to split key stages into years and terms, letting that dictate how many units of work we teach. This can lead to a cramped and rushed curriculum experience where children are unlikely to have learned what we intended. Far better to decide what is valuable to learn and let that decide the length of units of work rather than being defined by the six week pattern of half terms.

Checklist

  • Is the national curriculum covered?
  • What deliberate decisions have been made about content choice?
  • What will children have learned in the previous unit of work that is built on in the next?
  • What will children learn in this unit that prepares them for the next?
  • Decide the length of each unit of work individually
  • Regularly review the amount of content

Key concepts

Each subject has big ideas that run through year groups and key stages that make the curriculum greater than the sum of its parts. These concepts help children to develop well connected schemata and for cumulative subjects such as history, provide a way of thinking about progression.

One of the challenges for subject leaders (and senior leaders) is to ensure that teachers have sufficient subject knowledge to teach the content well. Building subject knowledge of key concepts is useful way of doing this because of how important those concepts are in developing children’s understanding of the subject over time. For example, in music, the interrelated dimensions are a great way of focusing attention on big ideas that are incredibly useful whatever year group is being taught:

Checklist

  • Name the key concepts that thread throughout the age range
  • Build subject knowledge CPD around the concepts
  • Build in deliberate opportunities for children to develop understanding of these concepts in relevant units of work

Unit of work structure

Turning a whole school overview into a sequence of learning in a unit of work requires a lot of hard thinking about what to include and in which order to present it.

One fundamental idea is that there are clear curricular end points – that a unit of work build towards something that children are able to create. Something of beauty. Something that is valid to the subject discipline. In curriculum design, starting from that end point and working backwards is a sensible strategy, where everything that children are taught or asked to do contributes to their mental model which enables them to be successful in that end piece.

An important consideration here is that the composite task is disciplinarily valid. Writing a newspaper report about the Romans is not history. It may well be a valid decision to use children’s knowledge of the Romans to support work in English, but leaders must be careful to preserve the subject discipline.

Another equally important consideration is that there doesn’t necessarily need to be a composite task for each unit of work. It might be that tasks are centred around a combination of units. For example, after studying the Romans, Saxons and Vikings, children might be able to carry out a task that analyses how power changed hands over that long period of time as opposed to a task for each unit of work.

Note that these are not referred to as lessons, but as components. That’s because the lesson is the wrong unit of time. Some components might take several lessons to master while some lessons might give enough time to look at more than one component.

The structure of components building to a composite task is a general model and works well for subjects such as art, history, PE and music but many subjects will likely have their own structure that reflects their unique nature. Take reading for example:

Here, a unit of work is built around an extract of text and in order for children to understand what they have read, they need to a) know the meanings of the words included and b) understand the explicit and implicit knowledge contained within. They will also need to read the text with sufficient fluency and prosody to get anywhere near comprehension and this model recognises that sequence of learning required for each text. Talk for Writing has a unique structure of:

Checklist

  • Define a suitable structure for sequences of learning
  • Design composite tasks that represent the discipline of the subject
  • Decide where composite tasks are placed in overall curriculum sequence

Active ingredients of a subject strategy

Many subjects will have specific pedagogies relevant to teaching that content and it is well worth considering these as part of a subject strategy that informs CPD.

For example, in the Ofsted research review for history, they highlight the following:

  • Teaching for memory
  • Clear exposition that considers pupils’ prior knowledge
  • Narrative and story
  • Developing pupil’s knowledge of historical concepts
  • Teaching chronological knowledge
  • Reading extended texts

Whether or not we agree with these, they are good starting point to establish them for ourselves.

Here are further examples from other subjects:

Checklist

  • Decide on active ingredients for a subjects strategy (and if they are needed at all)
  • Base CPD around expertise in the active ingredients

Checklist summary

  • Is the national curriculum covered?
  • What deliberate decisions have been made about content choice?
  • What will children have learned in the previous unit of work that is built on in the next?
  • What will children learn in this unit that prepares them for the next?
  • Decide the length of each unit of work individually
  • Regularly review the amount of content
  • Name the key concepts that thread throughout the age range
  • Build subject knowledge CPD around the concepts
  • Build in deliberate opportunities for children to develop understanding of these concepts in relevant units of work
  • Design composite tasks that represent the discipline of the subject
  • Decide where composite tasks are placed in overall curriculum sequence
  • Decide on active ingredients for a subjects strategy (and if they are needed at all)
  • Base CPD around expertise in the active ingredients

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