Curriculum How To: Developing A Concept-Based Curriculum

Whilst working with leaders on a history curriculum I shared a formula which I'd now like to share with my blog readers. The particular difficulty that this formula addresses is the challenge of deciding, out of all the possible content in any given curriculum subject, how to choose what goes in and what is left out. There are certainly several lenses through which to view content selection, of which this is just one. Although using the formula I'm about to share can be useful, it certainly shouldn't be the only deciding factor.

Having made that disclaimer, here's the formula:

Content = concepts in context

The formula itself is devoid of the relevant context that will help you to make sense of it, so allow me to explain.

First, a definition of the terms involved, all of which relate to curriculum:

Content - the information to be taught and learned

Concept - an overarching idea or theme

Context - particular subject-specific parameters


The information to be taught and learned can be derived from teaching an overarching idea or theme within particular subject-specific parameters.

But, if you're anything like me reading that back to myself, you're going to need a little bit more of an explanation.


Let's start with a little more clarification around what I mean by 'concepts'. A great starting point for this is Clare Sealy's brilliant 'The 3D Curriculum That Promotes Remembering' blog post, in which she pretty much sums up what I'm on about, and proves that she has indeed been very influential to me:

"If we want to build a curriculum that promotes remembering, we will absolutely need to build links in. In fact, we will need to build in those links in a far more systematic and structural way than the ‘topic web’ approach ever imagined. The very bones of our curriculum across the years and across subjects will need to link up in a highly well thought out way, so that knowledge taught in one subject is explicitly reinforced and revisited in a not only in other subjects, but in subsequent years. In this way, key concepts and vocabulary are reinforced because new words and concepts are encountered repeatedly in meaningful contexts."

When we think about concepts, we think about themes and ideas that we might encounter across the primary curriculum. The main reason to select concepts is to develop and organise a curriculum where deliberate links are made within and between subjects so as to support children's learning and remembering - this shouldn't be forgotten.

Here's a list of potential concepts, so you get the idea:



































The concepts you choose can be influenced by your school's vision and values, by a broader idea about the kind of people you want your pupils to become, and by careful thought around the kinds of things you want your children to learn and remember.


Once you have selected key concepts for your curriculum area, these can then be used to decide on your content. In order to do this a little more deliberately and purposefully it then helps to think of contexts in which to teach the concepts you want your children to grasp. These contexts will be subject specific. Here are some examples of contexts:

History: Greeks, Romans, Stone Age, Victorians

Science: Rocks, Changes of State, Space, Plants

RE: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism

Geography: Cities, the UK, Coasts, North America

Contexts are the things that most of us, for most of our teaching careers, have been calling topics (and it's fine to keep on calling them that if you want). The national curriculum itself points us towards many of these contexts, giving us guidance as to the contexts within which we might study our concepts.


Your content can then be decided by thinking about how some of the concepts you have selected can be taught through the contexts you've chosen.

So for example, if you have chosen the concept of settlement, you could map this across your curriculum in several subjects:

Geography: types of settlement and land use in various different locations in the UK and across the world e.g. how New York began as a dutch settlement on the Hudson River, why the town your school is in exists

History: how various people groups have settled in different locations e.g. Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlement in the UK, expansion of the Roman empire

RE: how religions came to be practised worldwide e.g. the expansion of the Arabian empire into Spain (the Umayyad conquest of Hispani) bringing Islam to Europe as Muslims settled there

Or, if you have chosen the concept of activism, you might look at the following:

Geography: environmentalism e.g. linked to the destruction of rainforests or water pollution

History: political activism e.g women's rights, civil rights

Citizenship/PSHCE: making a difference in your community, standing up for others

Art: how artworks, artists and artistic movements plays a role in changing perceptions

The key to developing a curriculum that has deliberatly built-in links, is to avoid tenuous links. I've written lots about that in my post entitled 'The Anne Robinson Curriculum: No Weak Links Allowed' so I won't repeat myself here. Suffice to say that is completely possible to begin to use you chosen concepts to develop tenuous links, so be careful!

Deciding on concepts and content isn't an easy job. If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing a connected curriculum, or on reviewing and evaluating your current curriculum, you can get in touch via the contact details on this page, or by booking him to work with you using the link below:

Here's a testimonial from one headteacher whose staff I worked with on curriculum development:

"Before we engaged working with Aidan, we were undertaking a full scale curriculum review as a through school and wanted a primary curriculum expert to ensure that the curriculum flowed from Reception to Y11. We needed to quality assure that the standards were high enough and that the sequencing was appropriate for all ages and stages

Having worked with Aidan in the past and his experience of working in a through school provided reassurance that Aidan knows the idiosyncrasies of through schools and has a detailed understanding of secondary schools.

Aidan is a joy to work with. He is values driven and offers challenge in a positive and strategic manner. He works collaboratively with all staff putting them at ease whilst never lowering his standards. He has a very good eye for detail and has a thorough knowledge of the Primary curriculum which has been invaluable. His positivity is infectious and he can put even the most anxious member of staff at ease.

We now have a fully sequenced curriculum from Reception to Y11 that is sequenced and reflects the values and ethos of the school. We wouldn’t be in this position in such a short space of time without the support, guidance and challenge from Aidan."

- Matt Perry, Headteacher, The Halifax Academy

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