If you're designing a new curriculum, then you will need a starting point. There are plenty of ways to begin thinking about developing curriculum, however beginning with some high-level, non-subject-specific points of guidance can be useful.
With this in mind, here are 3 things to think about when designing curriculum in any subject:
We want children to learn sequentially, in the correct order, one thing after another. We want to make sure that the things they learned first are more foundational and that the things they learn after that build on those foundations. Because we know something of how children learn we know that it is important for this continuity to be in place in order for children should be able to learn. When we learn new things, our brains add this new learning to things that we already knew - things that exist in our store of prior knowledge.
If we don’t have the relevant prior knowledge because we haven't been taught it before then some things become pretty much impossible to learn. Therefore, the benefit of developing curriculum as a curriculum lead or a subject leader is that you can ensure that the right things are taught in the right sequence and that children aren’t going to come across things that they don't have the necessary prior knowledge for.
Having multiple teachers attempt to do this without the oversight of a leader is really difficult. That’s not to say that teachers cannot be involved in this development, but it is to say that there needs to be some coordination to ensure the things are taught, that things are taught in the right order, and that children have all the things they need to know in order to be able to learn more.
Repetition can be good. As a curriculum developer it is your job to ensure the good repetition exists. Is also your job to make sure that there is no unnecessary repetition.
The good repetition is where children are deliberately exposed to the things that they have learned before, so that they don't forget it. We call this action of recalling previously learnt material retrieval practice. If children are constantly being expected, and helped, to remember things that they have learned already, not only will they be able to remember it more easily when needed, they will also be able to build their new learning onto the old learning. So, this repetition is good.
In a curriculum that is planned by individual teachers without any oversight from a leader, very little of this deliberate, good repetition happens because, for example, a year 3 teacher might not know what has been taught in reception year one and year 2, and therefore cannot refer back to it deliberately, making it less likely that children will be able to build their new learning onto the old.
The bad repetition comes about when teachers have planned virtually the same learning opportunities, covering the same content, in a way that does not move children’s learning on. The difference between this and good repetition is that once repeated the teacher moves things on, teaching the children more, with the children learning more.
The national curriculum does help to avoid bad repetition, however there are still opportunities for bad repetition to take place for example yeah two teachers might decide to teach about Neil Armstrong in history as a significant person of the 20th century and year five teachers may also plan to teach about Neil Armstrong to coincide with the space unit of work as dictated by the science national curriculum. In this example it is legitimate for both year groups to learn about this momentous event, however we would want to make sure that what year five learned is advanced compared to what the year 2’s learned.
Consistency is different to continuity. When we're thinking about consistency we are thinking about equity and ensuring that all children have the same learning opportunities. Yes, it may be true that over the years your curriculum does change for the better - that it will be improved - meaning that some children will be given better opportunities than others but that is the nature of progress and improvement. What we want to guard against with this curriculum development is children receiving worse learning opportunities because in some year groups some teachers teach things differently or neglect to teach some things altogether.
Having a curriculum in place which guides teachers towards teaching a realistic amount of appropriate content means that a child entering a year group can be certain to learn the same key things as a child who entered that year group the previous year and as a child who enters that year group the following year.
It is certainly not the case that we just want to churn out robots who have all been programmed with the same information, and that is why I use the phrase ‘key things. We should want children have a foundation of knowledge and skills and at the same time we probably want a curriculum which allows them to build on that basis in an individual way, learning new things which interest them.
If this has been managed then when you speak to a handful of children in any given year group there will be certain pieces of information which they can all tell you, certain skills which they can all demonstrate. However there will also be more individualised responses, for example all children learning about space would know the names of the planets in our solar system and the order they arranged based on distance from the sun, whereas only one child might be able to tell you the sizes of these planets, another child might be able to tell you the characteristics of each planet, I know that might be able to tell you the distances from the sun, another might be able to tell you the make-up of those planets, yet another might be able to tell you about the different moons that each planet has or doesn't have. Of course, it may be the case that you decide all children should know all of those things and in that case, you would make all of those things part of your key knowledge - the things that you want all children to learn and therefore an integral part of the curriculum that you plan and deliver.
Beyond the 3 Cs
Of course, there is much more to take into account when designing curriculum, but theese three Cs are a good starting point. Check out some of my other blog posts about curriculum design for more and get in touch if you would like to work on your curriculum with me.