This blog is a walk-through of the thinking in an imagined school, designed to highlight the range of parameters curriculum designers might have to consider. Before setting about carving up the pie of time into allocations to subjects, it’s important to establish the principles that will guide all the decisions you make.
Let’s explore the principles:
We believe in breadth of curriculum: students learning a broad range of subjects for as long as possible. Recent commentary from Ofsted indicates that we’d be wise not to curtail breadth prematurely. (They don’t explicitly say ‘do a three year KS3’ but they might as well have given all the other rhetoric.) This suggests a 3yr KS3 but with Maths, English and Science having the continuity from Y7-11 making the KS3/4 transition flexible in those areas.
We want to maximise Ebacc take-up at KS4 because of our belief in the value of MFL and Humanities but also because, currently, the take-up is uncomfortably low for a school promoting an academic curriculum. However, it’s more important to maximise individual student grade outcomes and Progress 8.
For specific subjects:
- Maths and English should be prominent but not dominant at the expense of all else.
- Science should lead into combined science for all or triple science (three separate sciences). We acknowledge the volume of the new GCSE courses – making it unwise to run triple science as an after-school extra in our context. It needs to be an option – even though this will put pressure on other choices for these students.
- If we commit to MFL as part of an Ebacc-orientated KS4, it needs ample time at KS3 as the platform for success. A second language would be good but we must focus on doing one language well for the vast majority instead of two languages to a mediocre standard. French for all is a stronger platform in our staffing context. A second language preference would be Chinese, if we can afford to sustain the staffing for a niche group.
- Humanities: History and Geography should be taught as discrete specialist subjects and should be a compulsory option. We could consider Sociology but, pragmatically, the pressure on P8 is too great at this point to go out on a limb with Sociology having parity. Sadly.
- A small number of students could get the full P8 bucket quota without Ebacc – this could be a free choice between dropping either MFL or Humanities in favour of other choices including ASDAN for a few where this is felt to be more likely to lead to success.
- PE: If we’re committed to well-being, we should try to honour the recommended minimum of two hours for all.
- PSHE: In our view, it’s too important to be delivered by tutors in registration time or in drop-down days; we’re going for a full weekly commitment, with specialist teams for each of the components.
- Art/DT/FT/Music/Drama are all vital as part of the matrix at KS3 – but there could be various ways to deliver them all over time. A good experience of each subject at any given time is more critical than having a small weekly dose.
- ICT/Computing should be included as a discrete subject at KS3 and an option at KS4.
- Philosophy and Ethics/RE should be taught to all – but we could deliver it through a unit in a PSHRE cycle for KS4 given other pressures, alongside a GCSE option for those who choose it.
- In general we believe that students should take exams at the point of maximum maturity. This means not entering students early or staggering options over time.
So that’s the thinking. Let’s look at the model:
Our Curriculum Model
We need to slice up the pie of time into units of lessons per cycle. There are various options here- each of which has a bearing on how much time each subject gets. The most commonly used model is a 50-hour two-week cycle because of the flexibility it offers. That’s what we’ll use here:
English, Maths and Science have 3 or 4 hours per week. PSHE, PE and RE have weekly slots. French is given 3 hours per week. A solid commitment. History and Geography have 3 hours a fortnight – ideally you’d have more but it’s hard to see where the time would come from. Art/DT/FT are in a carousel arrangement so that there is a term of FT once across Year 7/8 – limited as we are by facilities and time. Music and Drama have one hour per week as does Computing.
That’s the reality of trying to fit everything in. To give any subject more time, it has to be taken from somewhere else. You can see why PSHE is dumped so often – and why MFL often gets short-changed.
One option could have been to simply continue the Year 7/8 model for another year. However, there is an opportunity to give students a deeper experience of slightly fewer subjects whilst also introducing a second language possibility. There is also value in giving more time to History as Geography as we move towards GCSE. So, we’ve gone for a Y9 options model where one option must be Arts or DT. The other option could be a second Arts/DT or Chinese, computing or a Business/Enterprise course. It’s a trade-off. Each option has two hours per week allowing students to go deeper into each subject, possibly building up to GCSE choices, but we’re losing some breadth here.
The first choice is to run all options concurrently over two years, not to stagger them. The next big choice is whether to go for three or four option blocks. Three option blocks could be six hours per fortnight which would be great. That would also free up more time for Science, PE – RE perhaps. BUT – it’s massively restrictive in terms of choices – especially for triple scientists. We are not comfortable that a student cannot do triple science, the full Ebacc and an arts subject. So we’re going for four options of five hours per fortnight so that this is possible. It also allows for any student to take the full Ebacc plus two arts or two humanities. It also allows us to say that one option must be an arts subject – thus delivering on our commitment to arts for all.
The final compromise is on Y11 PE. One work-out per week could be done in an hour with the time given to English and Science where the pressure will be on in terms of course completion. It seems sensible to do this – but it’s an awkward compromise. We could ditch PSHRE but the structure only works if we’re running it simultaneously across the whole school and Y11 still need Sex Ed, Careers and so on- there’s too much to squeeze out entirely.
It’s tough isn’t it!
This example walk-through in a made-up school has elements from previous schools and some I’ve worked with on curriculum design. There are so many permutations and compromises. As my collection of 40 models shows, every school has a unique solution. There are so many competing pressures and objectives. If you need help with yours, let me know.