Updated: Feb 24
Before reading this, make sure you've caught up on the prior blog posts in the series:
Learning From Mis-Implementation
Mis-implementation will occur. It’s what you do after it’s occured that really matters. All of the previously-mentioned parts of the implementation process present the risk of things not going to plan. Some undesirable things happen that weren’t even considered during the planning phase.
When I arrived at my last school, I was working two days a week to support the school after the head had left and the deputy had taken on the role of acting head. At that point year 4 were the oldest cohort in the primary phase of the all-through school - there were no year five or six children yet. One of my jobs was to develop the upper key stage two curriculum. I inherited a national curriculum document with highlights in it as to what had already been planned into the curriculum, and I had to plan year five and six using what was left. This wasn’t the best way to develop a curriculum, however it was what I had to work with. I also inherited incomplete progression documents for subjects such as geography, art, history, DT and so on.
Having read through all these documents, over a period of time, I put together a curriculum for year five and year six, including skills progressions for the subjects that I’ve mentioned. I noticed that the intended progression of skills for children up to year 4 was highly ambitious, which at the time I thought was wonderful. It appeared that children in this school had learned some very high level skills. Therefore I wrote some even higher level skills into the curriculum documentation in readiness for those children moving into year five and six, and in order for them to continue learning in a progressive way.
Some of you can probably already guess what happened. I subsequently applied for and got the job of deputy head in the primary phase, and began work in the September that the year 4 children moved into year 5, becoming the school’s first ever year 5 cohort. Along with the two new-to-the-school teachers (and one of them an NQT), we set about teaching the brand new aspirational curriculum. The children struggled. And we struggled.
Although we had a curriculum that said certain things were going to be taught, it quickly became clear that they hadn’t been taught. Because of this lack of previous learning none of the Year 5 objectives were suitable, and we had to backtrack to teach previous objectives instead. When speaking to other teachers, I found that they were struggling to cover all of the objectives that had been planned, and the feeling was that there were far too many objectives to be taught. We were proud of the curriculum, mainly because we were proud of how ambitious it was, but we had to admit to ourselves that it wasn't fit for purpose, which felt quite disappointing, because we really wanted children to be able to do those things and to have those skills.
The upshot of this was that the curriculum needed an overhaul. For example in art and DT, the progression of skills was bloated and overambitious - the director of learning for art and DT in the secondary phase was quite surprised to see some of the objectives that we said we were going to attempt to teach our primary children. I spent a year rewriting the Art and DT curricula, to ensure that they were realistic and manageable.
As well as re-planning the objectives on the progression of skills, we also thought very carefully about the implementation, particularly the structure of the delivery of art and DT. DT had suffered even more than art, in at least art skills were being taught whereas very few DT objectives were taught at all.
After much discussion and several proposals for models of delivery, we settled upon a process which meant that, in art, skills would be taught in one half term, and then in the next half term the skills would be practised with a final outcome being a unique piece of work from each child.
For DT, we tried something slightly different: for the time being we decided children would not be able to work as independently as they would in art, so we extended the DT units over a whole term, committing to increase direct input and to include no independent practise, and no independent application of skills in unique individual outcomes.
As a school this was not what how we wanted it to be in the long run. However, we recognised that in the short term this was necessary for us to achieve our long term goals for the future. Once children have had good DT teaching, and have the necessary skills and knowledge under their belt, the teaching will adopt a similar approach to the art teaching, where children are taught skills in one half term, and then allowed to practise them more independently and towards a more unique individual outcome at the end of the second half term.
We could have pressed on stubbornly thinking that the curriculum we planned was perfect and all that needed to happen was that teachers needed to buck their ideas up and do a better job at managing their time. However, we trusted our teachers, we believed what they were telling us, and we could see it for ourselves - the curriculum that we'd spent so long developing wasn't fit for purpose, and needed revising.
Painting The Forth Bridge
The development and implementation of a new curriculum is never done. There is always something more to do. Hopefully we won’t get to the point anytime soon where we have to totally revamp an entire curriculum, however there will always be aspects of our curriculum - some large, some small -that need tweaking, adapting, and re-implementing. This continual process of development need not be seen as a negative: after all, the curriculum that we plan and the curriculum that we deliver is our core business, and therefore should warrant a great deal of our time being spent on it.
When you walk into classrooms this week to see how things are going on, hopefully you will see the many successes of your curriculum in action. You will see the children enjoying learning the content, learning the new skills, and being able to apply this knowledge and these skills in a range of ways. Hopefully you will see knowledgeable teachers delivering fascinating lessons, in some creative ways. Hopefully you will also see the things that might be your next development points.
If you see this combination, then you are privileged: privileged to be able to continue with the work of developing the best curriculum for the children in your school.
Remember: some the best-laid plans can be derailed, and there may be casualties along the way - remember all my ambitious art and DT skills - it all can lead ultimately to a success story. Exercise Tiger went wrong but as a result D-Day went well.
Your D-Day won’t be a single day, but a succession of days stretching into the future. Sometimes days when you think nothing is working and other times days where you recognise and bask in the successes of a curriculum well-planned and well-delivered.