Curriculum Planning and Design
Principles of Curriculum Planning
All schools need to decide how to prioritise the learning experiences they offer pupils. This can involve juggling various internal and external factors, such as staffing levels and expertise, facilities, finances, school size and any statutory requirements.
The term ‘curriculum’ is sometimes used to describe ‘a list of what everyone should study at school’. In reality, however, it can include so much more, for example:
- the academic subjects on offer;
- the components of pastoral provision that affect pupils' experiences of school;
- non-academic and enrichment activities;
- all that a school can actually provide, taking into account any constraints and how its provision regularly changes to suit pupils’ needs; and
- the experiences of pupils themselves, sometimes called the ‘hidden curriculum’.
Narrowing pupils’ experiences or specialising too soon can limit their options later. So, it’s important to design a curriculum that provides access to a range of experiences across arts, humanities, science, technology and sport. Schools need to manage their breadth of provision so that routes to future study and employment remain open.
The statutory curriculum and the Entitlement Framework
These include the requirement for pupils to acquire and develop:
- the Cross-Curricular Skills of Communication, Using Mathematics and Using ICT; and
- the Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities (Other Skills) of Problem-Solving, Self-Management and Working with Others.
When planning for Key Stage 4 and beyond, schools need to take all these statutory responsibilities into account and provide pupils with a blend of academic, vocational, cultural, aesthetic and practical experiences.
Our Big Picture documents for each Key Stage, including The Big Picture of the Curriculum at Key Stage 4, set out important information relevant to curriculum design in Northern Ireland. See also our Guidance on Teaching, Learning and Assessment at Key Stage 4. Broadly speaking, the curriculum should be:
- broad and balanced;
- able to provide for continuity and progression;
- skills-focused; and
These are consistent with the underpinning principles of curriculum design; see, for example, the ‘seven principles of curriculum design’ in the work of educationalist Dylan Wiliam and Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence.
Reflective practice and ongoing evaluation of curricular provision
Curriculum design is not a one-off activity with a beginning and an end. Rather, ongoing evaluation and reflective practice in schools and within Area Learning Communities are necessary to:
- give each pupil access to a range of learning opportunities and qualifications that is as broad and flexible as possible;
- engage pupils and cater for their individual learning needs;
- keep progression routes open for all; and
- overcome any staffing issues or resistance to changing a school’s traditional curricular offer.
- What principles inform your curriculum design? (Review this each year.)
- How often do you review the school's curriculum offer?
- Who contributes to curriculum design?
- At what stage in the process are they involved?
- How do you incorporate pupils’ voices into planning?
- How and when do you collect pupils’ feedback on their experience of school?
- To what extent is the Board of Governors involved in curriculum design?
- Do you hold curriculum information evenings or events for parents, and what is the format and content of these meetings?