Updated: Feb 24
The curriculum is done!
Many schools are now in the position where, after a significant drive from Ofsted, and the realisation that the wider curriculum needed strengthening, their curriculum is all down on paper, and ready to be delivered by teachers.
On the paper work, all the Is are dotted, and all the Ts crossed, and the shiny new curriculum has made its way into the curriculum guidance document that you hope against all hopes that teachers, in amongst their busy schedules, are actually referring to on a regular basis.
You, members of your leadership team, perhaps even the teachers themselves, have spent a great deal of time making sure that your curriculum documentation is absolutely spot on – Ofsted-proof even. You’ve invested time and money into making sure that the children in your school are going to be inspired and empowered by an amazing and broad curriculum offer.
27th April 1944. Slapton Sands on the coast of Devon. A well-planned but poorly-executed tragedy unfolds.
The previous year some 3,000 local residents in the villages around Slapton, an area that bore a great resemblance to parts of the French coast, were evacuated from their homes in order for the American military to carry out exercises. Exercises to prepare them for one of World War 2’s most pivotal events: the Normandy Landings.
This is Exercise Tiger.
The River Dart is filled with landing craft and ships. Nissen huts, slipways and ramps have been built. The landing craft are filled with soldiers, tanks and equipment. All the trucks, tanks, and other vehicles are filled with fuel, ready. Cruisers and destroyers are in the bay, ready to exchange live fire over the heads of the trainees as they land, making this practice mission as realistic as possible. Radio silence has been insisted on so as to keep the operation a secret. All around the coast of the UK, the army and navy are readying themselves to be deployed – men and machines poised for action.
Masterminded by those in the highest positions of command, Exercise Tiger itself is a part of the intense planning for Operation Overlord – the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe.
However, unbeknown to the allies, nine German fast attack craft have slipped in amongst them in Lyme Bay. The Germans have noticed the great levels of preparation, have assumed something important is happening and have deployed the remains of their navy to the English Channel.
Two Allied landing ships are sunk and a third badly damaged.
946 servicemen die during Exercise Tiger.
This was a well-planned operation – the intention faultless.
But what was it that led to such a loss of life?
It was a lack of training on what do in the implementation of the plan.
Service personnel had not been taught how to the use of life vests. The heaviness of their packs caused soldiers to drown. The hostile environment of the cold water meant that men died of hypothermia before they could be rescued.
The one positive is that, thanks to the training at Slapton, fewer soldiers died during the actual landing on Utah Beach than during Exercise Tiger - the training in Devon was not in vain.
This tragic event was well-planned and well-intentioned, yet when it came to carrying out the plan – the implementation - the allies were thwarted. Thankfully, as part of wider preparations, lessons were learned and the planning led to an effective execution of the Normandy landings.
A plan gone wrong
The same could happen with our curricula. The whole plan could be foiled.
The plan – your curriculum - now out of the planners’ hands, and into those of the army of staff – teachers, co-teachers, HLTAs, TAs, students, volunteers – who are charged with delivering the curriculum that has been planned. Of course, there is no chance that your wonderful employees would ever deliberately scupper your best-laid plans, but it very well could happen. Some of you can probably think of examples of how misinterpretation, for example, has already caused things to go a bit pear-shaped.
Those soldiers didn’t intend to be a part of a plan that went all wrong – their lives depended on it going right. And our teachers don’t intentionally implement our plans incorrectly, either – they care far too much for that: about the children and their prospects, about their own professionalism and about what you as leaders want for your schools.
But the fact is, as the Scots poet said: “The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.”
And this is why, as much as we might feel like a huge weight is off our minds – the curriculum is all planned! – we must not rest on our laurels. The battle is not yet won. The job is not yet done. In fact, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of such news, the biggest job is ahead. Whereas once this curriculum was in the hands of a few – easy to lead and manage – it is now in the hands of the many. And whilst the ‘many’ are excellent people, there are more of them and that means there are greater leadership and management challenges.
What could go wrong?
Part of the failure of Exercise Tiger was that it was so well-prepared that the Germans noticed and had the chance to attack.
Ask yourself: is our new curriculum so well-prepared that we’ve spent all the time doing that, rather than readying staff to deliver it? We all liken running a primary school to spinning plates – I wonder, has the focus on developing the curriculum meant that other things have gone by the wayside (behaviour management, for example) meaning that the delivery of it is actually going to be set off course by other factors?
The soldiers didn’t know how to use the life belts – they had the equipment but not the skills and knowledge to use it. Is your new curriculum so thorough in its planning that teachers are relying too heavily on it and are not using their own skills and knowledge to deliver it? Do they have gaps in subject knowledge, perhaps due to the ambition of your intent, which is leading to insufficient teaching? Have they been trained to use the resources you have provided?
The soldiers’ packs were too heavy for them to stay afloat in. Is your curriculum a light enough load for your teachers to bear, without being dragged under? Are the requirements realistic? Is there really enough time in the week to teach all the content you’ve got planned?
The environment the servicemen found themselves in was hostile. Is your school ready in other ways for a new curriculum to be implemented? Are all your other ducks in a row – the routines, the behaviour, the staff morale? Are your teachers ready to embark on yet another new initiative? Are they on board and ready to be a part of the team, pulling in the same direction? Are the children ready to have this new curriculum unleashed on them? Does the new curriculum rely on the children knowing things already that perhaps, under your old curriculum, they didn’t actually learn?
There are many things that could hinder the roll out of a new curriculum, and it’s important to be aware of them. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Remember, after the failure of Exercise Tiger came the success of the landing at Utah beach. And actually, there is lots you can do your best to avoid your own Exercise Tiger and instead celebrate the successes of a curriculum D-Day.
So how do you get your curriculum to land right, just as you intended it to? How do you take it off the paper and get it into practice? How do you move successfully from intent to implementation?
In the next part of this blog series I will share some lessons to be learned from the points that I’ve drawn out of the historic events of Exercise Tiger, as well as others that have arisen from my own experience of implementing a new curriculum.