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Curriculum Drivers and Disciplinary Knowledge - What's The Link?

Curriculum Drivers and Disciplinary Knowledge - What's The Link? - Aidan Severs Consulting

Lots of visitors come to my website because they want to know more about disciplinary knowledge and curriculum drivers. When I noticed this it got me thinking about how the two are linked, and how thinking about both can help to shape and hone the curriculum.

First of all, what is disciplinary knowledge? I explore that here and here.

Disciplinary knowledge is the knowledge of how practitioners in each field have come to know what they know. For example, how do geographers/musicians/artists/designers/writers/scientists work? What are their processes? How have they arrived at conclusions, theories, ideas and outcomes?

Secondly, what is a curriculum driver? I explore that more here.

A curriculum driver is a principle that guides the development and delivery of that which is to be learned by the children.

But how are they linked?

Residue Knowledge and Disciplinary Knowledge

In my blog post 'SEND Provision Across The Curriculum: Start and End Points' I share Christine Counsell's idea of residue knowledge. Residue knowledge is what is left over after the learning has taken place. For example, children may have forgotten the specific dates and names associated with a historical period but will have been left with a general sense of what that period was like.

In that blog post I also posed this question for headteachers and subject leaders to ask of their curriculum: At the end of their time studying this curriculum, what ‘residue’ knowledge should all children to have?

I went on to suggest that this residue knowledge could be linked to disciplinary knowledge, providing some further questions with which to assess a curriculum:

  • What do the pupils know and feel about this subject in general?

  • What principles are they left knowing that relate to this subject?

  • And what do they know about how to work within the parameters of this subject?

  • Once all the specific facts have drained away, what do they still hold that will help them both now and in the future, both in everyday life, and in their academic pursuits?

Disciplinary Knowledge and Curriculum Intent

By now, as a result of the introduction of Ofsted's 3 'I's some years ago, most school curriculum documents for each subject will include an intent statement. Many of these statements, some unintentionally, actually outline some of the procedural knowledge (and its linked disciplinary knowledge) that is intended as an outcome of the teaching of that subject.

Here's an example from one of the schools I've worked with:

A list of curriculum intent statements linked to disciplinary knowledge

As you can see, the curriculum intent statement is the perfect place to set out your intentions to teach pupils how to think and work like an artist/scientist/writer/historian/geographer etc & etc.

It can do this by outlining the procedural knowledge, or skills, that you want pupils to learn ('To produce...'; 'To evaluate...'). In order to teach pupils how to do it for themselves, it makes sense that you would teach the disciplinary knowledge:

"This is what real artists do. These are the techniques they use. Now let's learn to do it ourselves."

Disciplinary then substantive then procedural.

Once your intent statement does this, then it gives a clear motive for everything else (substantive, procedural and disciplinary knowledge) to be taught.

A curriculum intent statement which outlines your intentions to teach pupils how to think and work like a scientist/writer/historian/geographer then becomes a lens through which to view the rest of the curriculum intent (i.e. the content of the curriculum: the long term plan, individual units, lesson plans etc). School leaders should ensure that the content that is being taught will enable children to meet the aims of the curriculum and therefore any monitoring and evaluation should centre on this.

Curriculum Intent and Curriculum Drivers

If your intent for each subject is that pupils understand how practitioners in each discipline work, and can work in similar age-appropriate ways, then it should be the case that this becomes one of your curriculum drivers, regardless of the subject being taught.

A driver of your curriculum - one of the reasons why you teach it - is for pupils to gain an understanding of how practitioners in each discipline work. This affects then the content that is taught, how it is taught and what children do in response to what they are taught.

Disciplinary Knowledge Curriculum Statements

These intent statements and curriculum drivers can then be broken down into items of disciplinary knowledge, based on each unit in the curriculum.

Below are some examples of what disciplinary knowledge statements or objectives might look like on a curriculum document. These are statements I wrote when developing another school's curriculum with them.


Examples of disciplinary knowledge statements for geography


Examples of disciplinary knowledge statements for geography


Examples of disciplinary knowledge statements for DT

This blog post is now at the risk of becoming too long, so I'll sign off now. However, I will follow this post up with information on the Key Disciplinary Characteristics (the eagle-eyed of you will have noticed a reference to this in the above images) and how they link to writing disciplinary knowledge curriculum statements.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on the development and delivery of your curriculum in your school, academy, trust or local authority, you can get in touch via or using the contact details on this page.

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