The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Owen Carter

What is a curriculum worth having?

Owen Carter reports back from Whole Education’s ‘Designing an impact curriculum’

We live in interesting times. With greater curriculum freedoms, changes to assessment in all key stages, and an election forthcoming, the pace of change for many school leaders is rapid – not to mention a little frightening. This made it particularly exciting to be invited along to Whole Education’s ‘Designing an impact curriculum’, hosted at UCL Academy, to see how schools are seizing on change as well as being rocked by it. One recurrent theme was the integration of the curriculum with other parts of the school life, demonstrated at its best by UCL Academy itself – where each half-term is themed by a cross-subject ‘big idea’, and even the spaces of the building are designed to encourage collaboration in groups.

Looking to the research

The very term ‘impact curriculum’, though, raises questions of evidence. If we are making major decisions about curriculum reforms, impact needs to be measurable and sustained. The keynote from Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, hit the nail on the head here. As he highlighted, there are now major sources of evidence available to teachers about what works that simply weren’t as readily available in the past – not least the EEF toolkit itself. Curriculum design proved a powerful starting point for discussion about quality teaching in general. One teacher I spoke to commented that what we teach should be a fundamental part of our thinking about effective learning, but often isn’t: a point that was echoed throughout the day.

Why a quality curriculum is a conversation, not a destination

Chatting to people throughout the day, the views on offer were diverse, and didn’t always agree. That’s why I particularly welcomed Kevan Collins’ point that the evidence of research is the best place to start, but it begins a conversation; it doesn’t finish it. This is where I think the role of networking and conferences becomes particularly valuable, enabling teachers to hear about what other schools are up to, and compare practice. This was delightfully evidenced on the day by Passmores Academy’s ‘StuPeds’ – students presenting about what they thought made great pedagogy. The lessons to be learned from others, and the lessons to be learned from research, aren’t always simple. But seeing the teachers in the room embrace changes as an opportunity, as well as a challenge, it’s hard not to be excited about what the future might bring for practice in schools.

We’re delighted to be partnering with Whole Education on our National Teaching Schools Summit. Find out more here. 

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