Reflection: Principled Curriculum Design

December 19, 2013
Glyn Barritt

RS3-cover-200 Principled Curriculum Design by Dylan Wiliam is the third in a series of nine pamphlets in the Redesigning Schooling series and provides an insightful exploration into curriculum design and how the national curriculum can be adapted to form the basis for high-quality school curricula.

Stephen Tierney reviews …

‘We are the first generation of educators who know we have no idea what we are doing.’ Wiliam, 2013, p.16

This may not be the most optimistic thought for those of us working in education but needs to be seen within the context written, as context matters. We are the first generation of teachers who are educating young people for a world that we are struggling to imagine. The children leaving schools this year are likely to retire in 2065.  Goodness only knows what careers and opportunities will be afforded them over the next fifty years.

Context Matters

The pamphlet provides a historical perspective on the development of curriculum thinking and offers different frameworks for its formulation.  At its heart Dylan Wiliam states, ‘Pedagogy trumps curriculum’ as no amount of great curriculum planning can ever compensate for poor delivery. If we are to enhance children’s curriculum experience then it is in the classroom we must focus our efforts. In the classroom context matters – no two classes are ever identical and nor are students – so the tension between a national curriculum, which by the definitions in this pamphlet may be a misnomer, and an individualised curriculum for every child that meets his or her needs and aspirations is a very real tension for us to manage. As Executive Headteacher, of Christ the King Catholic Primary school & St Mary’s Catholic College, the possibility of developing cross-phase, not merely cross-key stage, curriculum genuinely excites me.

The Decade of Professional Capital

‘The failure to realise that curriculum is pedagogy is one of the great tragedies of the last quarter-century in England’s education system.’ Wiliam, 2013, p.10

There is the likelihood that over the past twenty five years we have progressively become de-skilled as teachers.  The curriculum has become ‘that to be delivered’ and delivered alone rather than that to be collegiately planned, delivered and evaluated together. The next decade has to be the one in which we rebuild the Professional Capital (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012) within teaching.  Here there are some exciting developments with the work of the Teacher Development Trust, set up by David Weston, coming to the fore.  Lesson Study and teachers engaging in action research with higher education institutions needs to become the norm in our schools. We are going to have to develop the systems and processes within our schools to invite people into a coherent, professional and collegiate way of working. This may well need us to reimagine and reinvent ourselves within a restructured profession – as curriculum development ‘is an inherently creative process’.

There are a whole series of explanations around the seven curriculum principles that need to be read and understood by all teachers – in particular that these principles are held in tension and cannot be seen as a tick list.  The section on rigour is excellent looking at both developing knowledge and habits of mind within disciplines but there was possibly a missed opportunity to comment on the metacognitive dimension of knowledge which John Hattie in Visible Learning (2009) identified as having such a significant impact on achievement.

Where to Now?

‘So the real curriculum is created by teachers, every day.’ Wiliam, 2013, p.2

Ending on an optimistic note, it is vital that we realise that the curriculum ‘is created by teachers, every day’, in classrooms across England and a lot of it is good, very good in fact. I have far more confidence in entrusting the curriculum to teachers rather than politicians. However, if we worked together in a supportive yet challenging way we could enhance greatly what we already do.

As teachers we must retake the lead in developing curriculum and accept the responsibility that goes with it - to reflect and evaluate on our practice, support and challenge colleagues, and build ever better curricula from here to 2040 and beyond. This collegiate development and ownership of the curriculum will become one of the defining elements of the Redesigning Schooling campaign and will help enhance the professional capital of teachers.

More information here on this and the other eight Redesigning Schooling pamphlets … and how to order

Stephen Tierney In September 2013, Stephen became the Executive Headteacher of a Blackpool federation. He is one of SSAT’s long standing advocates and his contribution to the early System Redesign and Four Deeps research is valued highly.