Curriculum Coherence

Curriculum Shorts (Some short musings about curriculum)

A curriculum should make sense. At first this might seem to be an obvious statement, who, after all, would pursue a curriculum that did not? And yet it is possible to end up with an incoherent curriculum if various factors are not in place.

Firstly the planned curriculum needs to be ‘joined-up’, there needs to be a sense of how it all hangs together like a well-crafted narrative. Secondly, each teacher teaching the curriculum as planned needs to be aware of this narrative, the parts of it that they are teaching and how this fits into the overall structure. Thirdly, the pupils need to understand this narrative, they need to be able to sense an underlying logic to the curriculum, and engage with the unfolding narrative. Fourthly, assessment should be used to ascertain how well the narrative is being understood and also help to communicate and embed the narrative. Ofsted sum this up as: ‘intent, implementation and impact’.

A curriculum is not joined-up if teaching is completely autonomous. It is not coherent if, for example, there is ‘teaching for exams’ and all other parts of the curriculum are given less focus – where, maybe, key stage three is little more than a stop gap rather than an essential part of the narrative. The narrative doesn’t hang together if a child is not able to express a degree of coherence about what they are learning, if they can’t see the wood for the trees – perhaps where information doesn’t fit into a schema. Assessment won’t work if it is all about progression statements that bear no relationship to what is being studied and when.

To ensure curriculum coherence is an ongoing task, but one that needs to be grasped, each subject area needs to have enough freedom to be true to each discipline but also needs to be guided by the school’s overriding ethos and values. Overall curriculum coherence, at the school level, must not suffocate teaching but should allow it to breathe freely through an understanding of an overall approach which is adaptable enough for each subject area to be taught wisely.


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