This is the first issue of Optimus Education’s new fortnightly e-bulletin, Curriculum Management Update

This is the first fortnightly e-bulletin for Curriculum Management Update subscribers; present and prospective. I want it to cover topics of interest to you.

Before half-term I contacted some of you and asked ‘What is top of your in-tray?’ The answers were:

  • the new Ofsted inspection framework
  • completing data analysis: how to make it make a difference?
  • functional skills and personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS)
  • modular GCSE exams and controlled coursework assessments
  • 14-19 collaboration and Diplomas
  • knockback effects of key stage 4 functional skills, etc. on key stage 3
  • ICT: what is good enough, and what is sustainable?
  • professional development in a time of ‘rarely cover’
  • staffing continuity and recruitment: what makes for a good process?
  • assessment for learning (AfL) and Assessing Pupil Progress (APP)
  • monitoring pupils’ learning

I aim to tackle these in the weeks to come. Let me know what you’d like to read about. Please, raise the questions that matter to you.

I plan to identify themes underlying topical content. I’d be very interested to know whether you’d like occasional e-bulletins to explore any of these emerging themes. For now, I will just flag them up: two of them this time. I will also mention researchers and writers I find especially helpful.

Facilitating a culture of collaboration and creativity
The first theme I’ll highlight is that your role as curriculum manager entails enabling and empowering. You have incoming pieces of information and changes to specifications and qualifications, but, whatever content there is to deal with, your overriding responsibility is to facilitate a culture of collaboration and creativity. You cannot solve the problems of the curriculum, your teachers can, and your pupils can help.

Subject, department and faculty heads are the first-line curriculum managers. Leading, supporting and advising them is curriculum management at a whole-school level: providing coaching, keeping lines of communication open between colleagues, and making sure there are forums where they can go to share experiences and expertise.

Let’s take as a focus for this first e-bulletin your analysis of last year’s academic attainments. This relies on subject, department and faculty heads’ analyses. They in turn may expect team members to comment critically on their individual results. At those first levels of enquiry, colleagues need to know:

  • How do our results compare with national averages?
  • How well are we achieving the aspirations reflected by our targets and required by our funding authorities (for example to rise above the National Challenge, to show positive value-added, to enter the upper quartile, to pass the fifth percentile …)?
  • Is our trend upward, plateauing, falling, uneven …; and how can that be accounted for?
  • Are there gender differences to explore, or differences in performance between other ‘groups’ (for example users of English as a second language, students with special educational needs …)?
  • What surprises and disappointments are there in individual students’ results; how can these be accounted for?
  • What surprises and disappointments are there in individual teachers’ results; how can these be accounted for?
  • What surprises and disappointments are there in components of the results (eg modules, coursework …); how can these be accounted for?
  • What changes need to be made as quickly as possible (eg visiting and learning from other schools)?
  • What deeper analyses should we carry out (eg examining possible correlations between students’ attendance and performance, getting students’ perceptions …)?
  • What longer-term development should we undertake (for example weaning students off spoon-feeding and helping them become resourceful learners, using student voice processes to inform curriculum decisions)?

As overall curriculum manager, you seek patterns across the subjects. At this broader level, you want to know:

  • What do our results tell us we must be doing well?
  • What might we do even better?
    • Are there lessons for us to learn from last year to give this year’s students better chances of success?
    • Can some individuals and teams learn from others?
    • How can we bring together the various pressures on us with our own aspirations to update and improve?
  • What must we do to be on track to realise the vision we have for our school?

Bringing things together
Overt processes are the best guarantee of successful professional and curriculum development. This points to the second of our themes: different areas of school life and school development affect one another. Issues are interconnected, and colleagues need to work together. The more coherent you can make what might otherwise be disparate or even conflicting efforts, the better. It may be, for example, that improving students’ achievements in certain subjects can be linked with efforts to increase their confidence via social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) or assessment for learning (AfL). Underpinning effective development is school-wide commitment to cooperative, reflective practice. (See Alma Harris’s writing about this, for instance in School Improvement: What’s in it for schools?, 2002.)

Themes in curriculum management

  • You don’t have to know everything; you can’t do everything. Your role is to help colleagues fulfil their responsibilities for the quality of teaching and learning. So a key evaluative question for you is ‘How well have I enabled others to plan, provide and monitor a curriculum relevant to our students’ needs and aspirations?’ Answers lie in clarity of job descriptions, criterion-specific accountabilities and communication systems.
  • Efforts to develop provision and raise standards of achievement are enhanced when they are made coherent. A key question for the design and implementation of improvements is ‘How can initiatives and projects that come from different sources, both internal and external to the school, be made complementary?’ Answers usually lie in revisiting the school’s vision, and in committing to explicit processes of collaborative action research.

Recommended reading
Harris, A (2002) School Improvement: What’s in it for schools? London: RoutledgeFalmer.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Dr John Blanchard is an independent consultant and author of Teaching, Learning and Assessment (2009, Open University Press)