It’s time for teachers to take curriculum control! - RSA

It’s time for teachers to take curriculum control!


  • Education
  • Curriculum
  • Teaching

RSA and The Institute of Education launch a national pioneering movement in curriculum design.

On 15th July, the Benjamin Franklin room became a hive of vibrancy and enthusiasm for the new curriculum era. Forty of our pilot-school teachers arrived at the RSA ready to reflect on their progress and celebrate their graduation from Grand Curriculum Designs. There was laughter, incessant chatter and most of all pride in what they’ve accomplished as the champions of a new pioneering professional development programme and a movement to reclaim the curriculum.

In the first half of the event, teachers enjoyed the role of being students by presenting their final projects to the arriving national stakeholders. They shared and discussed the vision for their curriculum change, their journey, their evaluation criteria, and key learning they’ve obtained from the GCD programme.

The exhibit of their final works throughout the room and their reflections on this developmental process, gave our pioneers a sense of progress and confidence to embrace the freedoms they have!

Just a week after the national curriculum was announced, the National Launch of Grand Curriculum Designs presented a very timely debate about the current space that exists for schools and teachers to design their local curriculum.

National Launch of Grand Curriculum Designs presented a very timely debate about the current space that exists for schools and teachers to design their local curriculum

Chaired by the RSA CEO Matthew Taylor, our distinguished panellists -Liz Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Russell Hobby, General Secretary of NAHT and Toby Greany, Professor of Leadership and Innovation, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Institute of Education -  presented their views of the national curriculum and took the chance to reflect on the importance of our curriculum design programme.


Some highlights from the panel discussion:

  • What drives teacher decision-making in the classroom is ultimately the assessment framework for English and Maths. Thus, we cannot achieve a cultural shift if there is a change in the curriculum but not in the accountability system. 

  • The national curriculum is only a small part of what a school does.What the national curriculum does is to state the WHAT and leaves the HOW to teachers. Government claims that they are giving more flexibility to teachers on HOW to teach.

  • The national curriculum won’t be implemented until September 2014, so the government is ‘releasing’ schools from current curriculum requirement – as to give them an year to create their own school curriculum. This makes it the right place and time for teachers to embrace their freedoms and leadership in owning their curriculum.

  • National curriculum is a moral authority and a useful starting point. The level of inspiration belongs to the school. The curriculum is seen as a body of knowledge and a praxis in which it is important to recognise the ongoing social process comprised of interactions, knowledge and milieu.

  • There is an issue in that schools are not fully aware what is possible and how they can innovate and use their freedoms. “GCD presents an opportunity for schools and teachers who want to engage in exploring their freedoms and innovative approaches.” (Toby Greany)

  • My favourite was Russell Hobby’s use of the Shawshank redemption as metaphor for education system: “… when you have been locked in a prison for long time, you don’t just let this person out in the streets, you put them in a safe place to scaffold their freedoms. For a long time, we’ve been told what to do, to the extend which if we don’t see it in a written document we don’t think it is important. What we can try to do through the NAHT, is to try to take the government at its word and put responsibility back in the profession – to use these freedoms and to fill the gap, and to  show that the profession is the voice of ambition, not the government. The profession needs to step up!


Essential questions which sprung from the discussion:

  • To what degree is Ofsted the body controlling the national curriculum and the way teaching is delivered? “The government is actually transferring powers to Ofsted rather than to schools.” (Russell Hobby)

  • What is a better framework to capture the whole range of attributes, not just hard knowledge, that we are looking to assess?

  • With our current methods, we have already reached 80% of students but need to try new methods to reach those missing 20% of children. Is it up to the teachers to use their freedoms and reach those 20 percent?

  • What is the legacy that teachers should leave and what is the extra mile that the government will take to assist students? (Alex Bedford)



The Case for Grand Curriculum Designs

Building on the RSA’s longstanding commitment to social progress, Grand Curriculum Designs seeks to guide and empower the curiosity, reflective inquiry and leadership in educators. The core of the programme embodies a process of inquiry, while it also provides content and structured guidance for educators who would like to actively contribute to the life of their students and to develop a progressive vision for their institutions.

Grand Curriculum Designs seeks to guide and empower the curiosity, inquiry and leadership in educators

We are not alone. There is a growing number of online toolkits and university courses that have an interest in teacher leadership and curriculum design. It’s great not to be alone, and we only hope to instil a sense of competition! It is the right time and the right place to foster a movement of cultural change within our educational institutions. We hope to be at the top of the wave, though we encourage more ideas, CPDs and social enterprises that are inspired to use this space to promote change!

We are not perfect... but we have learned a lot.

Having the honour to work with twenty-one pilot schools from across the UK has made us confident that we can inspire and empower many more! Their insights and constructive criticism helped us develop the right balance between content input and activity output…and now we are confident and ready for the national roll-out. We now hope that our curriculum pioneers will ride the wave and help us foster a national community of change!

How do we define success?

This is not just another professional development course! Through this programme, we aim to foster a reflective inquiry, living process and a proactive community. We will know if we’ve been successful when –


  • Schools start to own their curriculum and internalise key principles

  • Schools are able to foster and lead a sustainable culture of change and innovation

  • Educators do not rely on prescriptive measures from either government or consulting/training bodies

  • The market competition for curriculum design increases


Our next steps are ambitious…

In the next year, the RSA and the IoE will actively plan, facilitate, reflect, evaluate and engage with schools in order to mobilise a movement and an ambition. We plan to work with schools that are ahead of the thinking curve, but also aim to find the ‘hidden gems’ - the ones that who don’t know how to use their freedoms.

We plan to work with schools that are ahead of the thinking curve, but also aim to find the ‘hidden gems’ - the ones that who don’t know how to use their freedoms.

The programme will be expanding nationally in up to six regions in England during 2013-14, co-led by a small number of selected schools across England, most of which will be Teaching Schools -  Stourport High School in Worcestershire, Ashton-on-Mersey School in Cheshire, Fairlawn Primary in Lewisham and Park High School in Harrow, and up to two additional lead schools will be selected.


How to enrol in our November programme:

The programme will be run in London at the Institute of Education, by the London Centre for Leadership in Learning (LCLL) from November 2013. Any school in England can participate in the programme.

To register an interest in enrolling in the programme, contact  [email protected]


Plamena Pehlivanova is an RSA Education Associate and programme developer at UCL.

You can follow her @Plamennap and at

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