A beginner’s guide to curriculum development at primary school

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written some blog posts which have been published on other sites. I’m quite proud of these and would like to keep them all in one place so I can find them again, hence my replicating them here on my blog. I haven’t copied and pasted the entire article as it does belong to the original site, despite being written by me, so please do continue to read it there if you find it of interest!

This one was written for Third Space Learning in April 2019.

“‘You can always Google it’ is the most dangerous myth in education today.” – Dylan Wiliam


A few disclaimers before we start:

  • In no way do I profess to be a curriculum expert
  • In no way do I profess to be a cognitive science expert
  • In no way do I profess to be a teaching expert
  • In every way do I profess to be a fan of Clare Sealy and Andrew Percival’s work on the curriculum, the influence of cognitive science on its development, and the new style of delivering the curriculum that will inevitably follow (for me, anyway!)

How Ofsted And The Curriculum Are Linked

In September 2018, Amanda Spielman discussed Ofsted’s findings from their recent curriculum research, curriculum design and their new education inspection framework, which you can read more about here in Third Space’s breakdown of the 2019 Draft Ofsted Inspection Framework.

She states that:

“too many teachers and leaders have not been trained to think deeply about what they want their pupils to learn and how they are going to teach it… Ultimately, the curriculum is the yardstick for what school leaders want their pupils to know and to be able to do by the time they leave school. It is therefore imperative that the new inspection framework has curriculum as a central focus.”

In Ofsted’s curriculum research, three types of approach towards curriculum development in education, and their design (as characterised below by Spielman, 2018) were identified: knowledge-led, knowledge-engaged and skills-led. Below we will discuss each one in more detail.

A knowledge-led curriculum:

  • is the mastery of a body of subject-specific knowledge defined by the school;
  • generally considers skills to be an outcome of the curriculum, not its purpose;
  • focuses on in-depth understanding of fewer topic areas rather than surface-level understanding of more content;
  • uses developments in cognitive psychology and theories of working memory as guides for curriculum design.

A knowledge-engaged curriculum:

  • is less reliant on curriculum theory but still maintains knowledge as a focus;
  • believes that knowledge underpins and enables the application of skill;
  • has a slightly stronger emphasis on cross-curricular teaching than in a knowledge-led curriculum in order to make the curriculum relevant and meaningful to pupils, and for putting knowledge into context.

“Most of the curriculum leaders from the knowledge-led and knowledge-engaged schools stressed the importance of the subject as a discipline. They provided pupils with subject-specific vocabulary and knowledge that allowed them to build links and enhance their learning across other subjects.” (Spielman, 2018)

A skills-led curriculum:

  • is designed around skills, learning behaviours and ‘generic knowledge’ such as resilience, a growth mind-set and perseverance;
  • has these skills as explicit intentions rather than by-products of the curriculum, or developed through extracurricular activities;
  • places limited value on knowledge within the content of the curriculum. “Knowledge was often seen as just disconnected facts.”

“Nearly all the curriculum experts we spoke to considered their local context and pupil needs when building their curriculum… The experts tended to talk about giving their pupils the knowledge or skills that were lacking from their home environments as a core principle for their curriculum and tailored their approach accordingly. Many of the leaders in these schools saw a knowledge-led approach as the vehicle to address social disadvantage.” (Spielman, 2018)

Developing A Curriculum For Long-Term Learning: Sharing The Genius Of Clare Sealy And Andrew Percival

Spielman concluded her findings with the following statement:

“Without doubt, schools need to have a strong relationship with knowledge, particularly around what they want their pupils to know and know how to do. However, school leaders should recognise and understand that this does not mean that the curriculum should be formed from isolated chunks of knowledge, identified as necessary for passing a test.

A rich web of knowledge is what provides the capacity for pupils to learn even more and develop their understanding. This does not preclude the importance of skill. Knowledge and skill are intrinsically linked: skill is a performance built on what a person knows.”

On Friday 1st March, I attended a (now high in-demand!) training session run by Clare Sealy (a primary head-teacher in Bethnal Green – @ClareSealy) and Andrew Percival (a deputy head leading on curriculum – @primarypercival) all about curriculum development.

Although it was emphasised that there is no ‘Ofsted-approved’ curriculum (Spielman says that Ofsted “need to assess a school’s curriculum in a way that is valid, fair and reliable, and that recognises the importance of schools’ autonomy to choose their own curriculum approaches”), Sealy and Percival focused on how to build a curriculum that prioritised improving children’s long-term memories, supported by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark’s theory that “if nothing has been changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned”.

My article here for Third Space on curriculum development shares what I learnt about a knowledge-led/-engaged/-focused/-rich (pick your poison) curriculum and why I’m so excited to start developing one in my school. 

Author: missiebee1

Year 6 teacher.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s