Curriculum Series Number One: Curriculum Chaos

A striking conclusion that we have drawn from the findings is that, despite the fact that the curriculum is what is taught, there is little debate or reflection about it… there is a lack of clarity around the language of the curriculum.

It is certainly possible that this ambiguity and lack of shared understanding expose competing notions of what curriculum means across the sector. However, the most likely explanation is that this arises from a weak theoretical understanding of curriculum. This was confirmed by school leaders, who said that there was a time (long ago) when teachers were taught the theory that underpins curriculum planning. Over time, this competence across the sector ebbed away.

Amanda Spielman HMCI’s Commentary 11 Oct 2017

If what Spielman suggests is true then English children are likely to be experiencing something approaching a chaotic curriculum. In this short series of posts I hope to go some way to help achieve a shared understanding as to what different approaches to curriculum might mean, the theoretical underpinning of these approaches, an understanding of the language involved and recommend certain approaches to curriculum planning that might add to the material that is helping curriculum design to once again become centre stage in education debates.

I believe that one of the signs of chaos around approaches to curriculum design is the idea that anything can work, that each teacher can take any approach that they believe matters and that as they know their learners better than anyone else that will suffice.

Curriculum design cannot countenance such a chaotic approach because in the first instance curriculum design and delivery is a ‘team game’. The design and delivery is inextricably linked and the teachers teaching must know why, what, how, when, where and to whom they are delivering the curriculum.

And I use the term ‘delivery’ advisedly because it is a word that might be contested by some who feel that a curriculum should not be delivered to a child but must, instead, be centred on what a child wishes to find out. Hence the possibility of chaos if we leave it up to individual teachers to do what they feel is best, because the experience the learner has is likely to be so inconsistent that the curriculum they experience seems to be undoing the work that they have previously experienced and not working towards what they might experience next.

The first concept I wish to agree on is therefore the ‘Joined-Up Curriculum‘ – this is self explanatory but it is a curriculum model in which every teacher knows the who, what, when, where, why and how of what they are teaching and that it is in harmony with the who, what, when, where, why and how of all the teachers teaching their subject/s in their school. They receive the baton and, later, they pass it on. They know what happens before, what happens next, how they fit in to this ‘relay’ – the common pursuit and purpose of the ‘way we do things here’.

Therefore these short pieces will accept the importance of the curriculum being ‘joined up’ and see the ‘chaotic curriculum’ as a common enemy to good curriculum design. However, I am conscious of the fact that people have a wide range of different approaches and values which can inform a range of different approaches to curriculum design and in order to help add to the ‘clarity around the language of the curriculum’ I will try to do justice to a number of these different ideas and methods.

This will involve me looking at the current debate at what might constitute a ‘knowledge-based’ curriculum, what might be a ‘competency-based’ one, as well as a look at whether ‘progressive’ and ‘traditional’ are helpful when describing different values behind curriculum design.

Much fun to be had then!


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