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Curriculum Drivers: Have You Got Too Many?

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

A man driving a car with the text 'Curriculum Drivers: Have You Got Too Many?' superimposed over it

This blog post is part of an ongoing series on subject leadership in the primary school. You can read the rest of the blog posts here: Subject Leadership In Primary Schools Blog Archive

At the core of our business as educators is the curriculum. We may hold relationships with children in high regard, and of course, safeguarding has to be a priority but, primarily, children are at school to learn, so what they learn is really important.

And that's the most basic definition of curriculum that there is: that which is to be learned. There certainly are more specific and convoluted definitions, but at the heart of it, curriculum is the things that we want children to learn.

Regardless of your ideology or pedagogy, there will be curriculum. Even where strictly child-led approaches are taken, there is a curriculum - one that is set more by the children than the adults. In most cases, the curriculum is set by the school, more specifically the leaders and teachers within that school, and more often than not, that school's curriculum is influenced by the National Curriculum.

If you google 'curriculum drivers' you will find page after page of results - all of which are links to school websites, particularly thier pages where their curriculum drivers are outlined.

But what is a curriculum driver? A curriculum driver is a principle that guides the development and delivery of that which is to be learned by the children. Most, if not all schools, have several curriculum drivers, meaning that, in theory, the curriculum in most schools is driven by a set of principles that guide the development and delivery of that which is to be learned by the children. And, just for the sake of clarity, a quick dictionary definition of 'principle': a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning' (I've highlighted the most relevant parts for curriculum principles, or drivers). Curriculum drivers can also be thought of as foundations - that which we build the whole curriculum on.

And where do our curriculum drivers, or foundations, come from? The focus on curriculum content - particularly substantive (factual) knowledge - tempts those developing curricula to create a curriculum driven by the facts that can be taught. Others might be more influenced by a particular set of values that their school holds to. Some curricula are developed to attempt to ensure that children develop certain characteristics. Individual aspects of curriculum can become the driving force - reading and oracy particularly, STEM subjects too. Particular pedagogical approaches can drive the curriculum too, with certain methods of teaching having an impact on what is taught as well as how it is taught.

When developing your curriculum, either as a whole, or in individual subject areas, it is really helpful to think first about what is going to drive your curriculum. The point of this post is not to recommend exactly what should drive your curriculum, but to encourage you to be very clear on what your drivers are, and, crucially, not to have too many drivers.

Too many drivers... too many cooks - you know what they say. And to use another analogy (a favourite of mine): too many dogs trying to pull the sled. Let me draw the parallels:

Although very few of us have ever driven a team of dogs across the pack ice, we can well imagine that if one or more dog goes rogue, trying to go off in their own direction, then they are not helping the sled and its occupants to make the journey to the intended destination. All of the dogs need to be pulling in the same direction to make this happen.

With a curriculum, you need all the factors that influence its creation and delivery to be pulling in the same direction - to be allowing the aims of the curriculum to be achieved. A curriculum which is trying to do too many things, to pull in too many different directions is almost certainly bound to fail in achieving its aims.

Ask yourself these questions; spend some time reflecting on them:

What are the aims of our curriculum?

What is currently driving our curriculum?

What is the main driving force?

Is the current main driving force the one that is most necessary and relevant?

If I only had to pick one curriculum driver, what would it be?

In reality, beyond our published drivers, are there other drivers?

Are there 'backseat drivers', or 'rogue dogs', trying to drive it in a different direction?

Would our curriculum delivery become simpler and more manageable if there were fewer curriculum drivers?

Would the aims of our curriculum be better met if there were fewer curriculum drivers?

It might be the case that the specific needs of the community that you serve become your main curriculum driver. It could be the set of values that your school ascribes to (although another piece of work might be to reassess your values as well). It could be that a particular affiliation you have is the driver.

Whatever it is, don't overcomplicate things by having too many drivers. Be clear on what your drivers are and design, or re-design your curriculum around them. In turn, develop teaching and learning in-line with those drivers; develop your school culture in line with those drivers, and so on. Make sure that all the dogs that are pulling your sled are pulling in the same direction, and in the right direction.

Now we've thought about the number of curriculum drivers we might select, we can begin to think about exactly what kind of curriculum drivers do a good job. In the next blog post in this series we will take a look at what makes a strong curriculum driver.

If you would like Aidan to work with on curriculum development with you and the staff in your organisation - school, academy, MAT or LA - you can get in touch via, or by using the contact details on this page. You can use the links below to begin to explore the services we offer:


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