It’s all about the curriculum, isn’t it?

If you’ve spent much time reading the educational news over the last few days you would have seen and heard lots of debate and discussion around the curriculum. The DfE’s consultation on the new programmes of study is out. It is important yes. But it is not the main thing.

What we teach has a significant impact on our young people, but I would argue that it is not as important as who teaches it. Evidence presented to parliament back in 2012 shows the importance of having the best teachers in front of children, and conversely the negative impact of the weakest teachers. We all remember the best teachers, not the idiosyncracies of the curriculum they were teaching.

Yet the people who make money from education – publishers, advisors, subject experts – they all have a vested interest in the curriculum. And so we hear more debate about the nature of the curriculum, not the quality of teachers who teach it.

The teacher standards that became law in 2012 are an incredibly ambition document. Personally, if I had been under those standards when I started teaching I wouldn’t have made it through my NQT year – it was a few years before I became better than ‘satisfactory’. However, now, the old ‘satisfactory’ means ‘requires improvement’. Newly Qualified Teachers aiming to pass this year can’t do it unless they’re ‘good’. The standards are a real statement of intent – “we want the best teachers in this country.”

This means that the processes within schools have to be really good at developing teachers. Performance management, CPD, monitoring all have to contribute to developing our competence. And with Ofsted now looking at performance management when they inspect schools, headteachers now have two reasons to make sure their performance management processes are working.

So here’s what I suggest if you’re in school leadership: put the new programmes of study in your staff room and collect a school response to the DfE consultation. Don’t rush out and spend a load of money on the latest materials to teach the curriculum. Remember, the effectiveness of your teachers is governed by their own confidence, their motivation, their pedagogy and their subject knowledge. Will Ofsted be most concerned by us rigorously sticking to every clause of the new curriculum, or will they be more impressed by amazing teaching.

Yes, understanding and getting to know the new curriculum will help, but it’s not the main thing.

2 thoughts on “It’s all about the curriculum, isn’t it?”

  1. The last 2 paragraphs should be sent to every school in the country. During this half term, head teachers will be scanning through the new curriculum and devoting staff meetings to it. They will consider buying in schemes to cover all bases and gaps, they will seek out consultants to give them ‘expert advice’, they will consider new staff intake based on certain subject criteria not ability. Then others will take a look and say, ‘we have this in the bag’. You post is a wake up call for the former, to remind them they already have the staff in place, they only need to ensure they develop confidence, subject knowledge, motivation and pedagogy; effectiveCPD will be a huge deal in this.

    1. Thanks for the comment Kevin. I’m as concerned as you are that we’re likely to be missing the main thing if we only focus on the curriculum.

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