A short note on curriculum resilience

The language of curriculum is awash with fabulous concepts and terminology. ‘Sequencing’, ‘the curriculum is the progression model’ and ‘disciplinarity’ are just three ideas that in one way or another seem to have moved to the front of the curricular consciousness over the past few years.

However, as we turn our attention towards the summer and, after that, September, it might be prudent to think about another concept that we may not always associate so readily with the curriculum: resilience.

Given that we don’t yet know what the future holds for Covid-19 and, therefore, education over the coming academic year, it is worth thinking about how schools and subject departments might give themselves the best chance of navigating these uncertain times. Thinking about how we can create resilience in our curriculum and its surrounding structures might be one part of this. (Please note, this is not a blog about nurturing resilience as a pupil characteristic, it’s about how we might help our curriculum to flex with whatever comes its way over the next few months).

In this short blog I offer two rather straightforward ideas for schools to consider. As you’ll see, they are rather simple and not steeped in complex theory. Indeed, they are not really curriculum ideas as such, being more concerned with structures that might support teaching of the curriculum. But that needn’t be a bad thing. Sometimes the obvious things are easiest to overlook, and sometimes the ideas we generate as byproducts from debating these things can yield otherwise obscured insights, leading to helpful action.

1) Consider teaching KS3 teaching groups in mixed prior-attainment groupings.

It’s fairly common that pupils at KS3 study the same curriculum (unlike at key stage 4 where particular options are chosen). This means pupils could be taught in the same groups, such as tutor groups. Doing so might provide extra flexibility for short notice changes brought about by unforeseen circumstances, for example, such as an unexpectedly absent member of staff. Where groupings of pupils are consistent across subjects this might afford more leeway for the school’s curriculum to flex in a particular direction if required.

There is some evidence that such an approach might be advantageous for some pupils. However, this might not suit all schools and subjects. For example, some schools are committed to setting in maths. Plus, if staff were used to teaching sets grouped by prior attainment they might require significant training to move to a mixed prior attainment approach. And you’d have to consider whether a global pandemic is the right time to embark on such a shift if staff weren’t sufficiently confident and skilled in it. Should this be done across all subjects? A smaller cluster of subjects? No subjects?

I don’t suggest this as something schools should do, but it could be worth exploring whether it is something that might work in your school, even if only for this period of time.

2) Closer alignment

Given there could be a local or national return to remote learning as a result of further lockdowns, schools might find that resilience can be found in teaching groups being more aligned than usual in terms of the content and sequencing of the curriculum.

In some departments this won’t be a big deal and it might already happen, but in others it might not necessarily be the case. For example, do your art classes in Year 7 cover the same topics at the same time, in the same sequence, or do individual teachers tend to go their own way a bit? Do you know how this looks across the school, across the range of subjects?

Having greater alignment between teaching groups might make it easier for teams to share resources at short notice, or to share curriculum overviews with parents. Equally, in the event of, for example, a TA having to take a lesson this alignment might make it easier to support the colleague concerned.

One other aspect of this might be following a curriculum map that enables classes or year groups to switch to online learning at short notice. For example, it might be that following the Oak Academy curriculum maps means a cover teacher can easily be pointed in the direction of an appropriately sequenced learning resource that could be used with the class in the event of an absent teacher. Or, if a particular child was at home, a corresponding resource could be relatively straightforwardly deployed online.

That said, this would need to be balanced against the need for teachers to be able to respond to the pupils in their class – what they know and don’t know – as this might mean groups moving at a slightly different pace. This might, therefore, be worth exploring at subject level and maintaining some flexibility around it so that there wasn’t an absolute expectation that classes were at exactly the same place.

While school leaders will be looking at whole school implications for September, this sort of curriculum resilience is something that subject leads and teachers could be thinking about and working towards at the tail end of this term, where possible, so that some of this burden is relieved for September. Teachers may need some support with this and leaders might want to consider if any training would be helpful.

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