We have observed, while analysing curriculum design over many years, that school leaders tend to invest time and resources at particular thresholds in a learner’s journey throughout their education. Over recent years much has been said about intervention strategies, which in layman’s terms means that we throw time and resources near to examination thresholds to ensure learners are ready for the tests, or at least achieve appropriate outcomes.
This practise, I am going to call an attainment or ‘threshold mindset,’ focuses on curriculum provision towards the end of a learning cycle. This practise can be observed in primary schools in years 5 and 6, in secondary schools in years 10 and 11 and all through post 16 education. When looking at curriculum enhancement, the measure of curriculum size above a basic curriculum with the normalised average class size, intervention strategies focus on reducing this class size by increasing numbers of groups. Another, maybe slightly contentious, way to look at this style of intervention is to consider what hasn’t been done previously that demands it’s inclusion, so the question is asked “is this threshold focused curriculum enhancement the most productive use of time and if not, where would the best place be to put enhancement time and resource?”
So typical in a primary sector we will see that at Year 6 lots of back filling of skills and knowledge and exam practice is put in place as you come up to the Key Stage 2 testing. Similarly, we see, for slightly different reasons, the same appearing in the secondary sector around years 10 and 11. This is typically around the options process (course selection) where learners are moving from generalised to personalised education, alongside very lean curriculum in Years 7 to 9. While learners are making decisions about themselves and to achieve the breadth of curriculum more classes are put on than can be afforded as well as adding class groups to the core delivery (English, Maths and Science) to ensure results are achieved.
What is seen in curriculum analysis is that where those thresholds of attainment come, there tends to be a excess of resource. This attainment or threshold mindset becomes a practice that is hard to break.
For example: If we consider a school of 594 pupils with a 50 period, 2-week cycle would require 1100 teaching periods as a basic curriculum. To enhance this curriculum up to 8% would involve 88 additional teaching periods. The threshold mindset might put all of these in key stage 4 by reducing class size or broadening the curriculum as we have described above. Another view would be to consider more strategically where these 88 periods might be alternately used, which might be much earlier in the school structure.
What would a curriculum look like if we analysed it with a progress mindset? Where would we invest time to be more effective if we had the opportunity to leave the thresholds and move away from the threshold mindset to a progress focused curriculum? Most leaders that we have spoken to will say to put it early in the learning journey and establish great learning behaviours is the most effective use of time. If we could change our mindset to progress focused from threshold focused, maybe we would have the resource to invest differently.
So, if you are going to invest time differently and you had time to invest, where would you place it? Without question most education leaders would say at the beginning and in the early stages. There is beginning to be that understanding of the whole learning journey; the need to concentrate on primary education and get it right there to establish great behaviours for later. Well maybe this enhancement question could help answer some of that. Are we putting in too much time, too late in the journey? Put your resource at the beginning and then see the reaping of those rewards as the learning continues.