Support teachers to develop their own school curriculum

14 December 2012

87 percent of teachers agree that schools should be free to design substantial parts of their own school curriculum to meet the needs and interests of their children, according to a poll commissioned by the RSA and English Heritage.
 
Conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research, the poll follows the publication of RSA report Thinking About an Area Based Curriculum which concludes that schools with more autonomy over their curriculum are more successful.
 
The report argues that the nationally prescribed body of knowledge contained within the national curriculum should provide a minimum entitlement, but should not define everything that is taught in schools.
 
The Department for Education should do more to ensure schools are making the most of their freedoms to design school curriculum, the report says. The national curriculum should be slimmed down, allowing schools to develop their own in partnership with local communities; local businesses, heritage and cultural organisations, voluntary groups, faith communities and parents.
 
The report calls for additional support for teachers in designing school curriculum and argues that Ofsted inspections should be changed so that they examine a 'whole curriculum' rather than just the national requirements.
 
Commenting on the report, RSA Director of Education Joe Hallgarten said:
 
"Most debates about the curriculum start from the wrong place. Instead of asking 'what should the curriculum include', our starting question should always be 'who should determine what the curriculum includes'? Such a question enables curriculum development to play a significant role in building and reshaping civil society."
 
"Local knowledge needs local power. If this government t is serious about freeing all schools from central control, they will need to make sure that every school has the freedom, training and incentives to design their own curricula. This will need changes to accountability so that Ofsted inspect a school’s whole curriculum rather than the just the national curriculum; and so that schools have outward accountability to their communities rather than just upward accountability to Ofsted and government."
 
Summarising the lessons learnt from two long term pilots of area based curricula across schools in Peterborough and Manchester, the report concludes that teachers are the best placed people to design curriculum and drive the engagement with their local area.
 
The RSA found that opportunities for children to engage with 'the real world' on a sustainable basis through partnerships with local organisations have a significant impact on their learning. Currently, however, partnerships with local organisations are mostly limited to one-off visits or pre-packaged programmes – often linked to particular national curriculum needs.
 
The report comes as the RSA prepares to launch Grand Curriculum Designs - a new professional development programme for school leaders and other educators that will foster a 'new generation of skilled and sensitive curriculum designers'.
 
Working in partnership with the Institute of Education and the Curriculum Foundation, the programme will provide:

  • The vision and skills professionals need to lead the design of curricula that are flexible and responsive to the needs of their students and communities;
  • A grounding in the key principles of curriculum leadership and design;
  • A guided opportunity to carry out a rigorously evaluated curriculum innovation project in the participants’ own context, through action research;
  • Membership of a dynamic community of practice, sharing work and progress with other curriculum designers.

Director of the Institute of Education, Chris Husbands said:
 
"The opportunities for schools to seize control of the curriculum agenda are now considerable. Forty years ago, the leading educational thinker Lawrence Stenhouse famously observed “no curriculum development without teacher development”.  I am delighted that the IOE, the Curriculum Foundation and the RSA are taking the lead in making this link  – the two go hand in hand if we are to secure the very best outcomes for learners and genuinely deliver a world class school system."
 
General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers Russell Hobby said:
 
"I'm fairly sure that no-one becomes a school leader to balance budgets, unblock the drains or argue about governance. But to design an ambitious, inspirational and relevant curriculum that equips their pupils for the world they live in? That's a task with the potential to excite and re-invigorate the profession at a time when it is sorely needed."
 
"We should separate the school curriculum from the national curriculum. And we should work with our communities to build the school curriculum. It is, of course, not a replacement for the entitlement to useful knowledge captured by a national curriculum, but a vital complement to it. NAHT therefore welcome this timely, constructive and encouraging report."

View the full set of Area Based Curriculum reports and case studies