Schools that successfully develop and maintain a broad, challenging and opportunity-rich curricular and extracurricular offer recognise the benefits this brings for all learners – not just those designated “more able”. The examples of such successful schools reflect NACE’s own focus on provision for more able learners as part of a much broader context of challenge for all and whole-school improvement. The NACE Challenge Development Programme offers a framework and support to help schools review and improve more able provision, driving improvements in provision and outcomes for all.
In this context, and amidst lively national debate about the purpose and content of the curriculum – including questions raised by and impacting on proposed changes to the Ofsted inspection framework – this year’s NACE National Conference will explore the theme: “How to lead a curriculum of opportunity and challenge: provision for more able learners that supports high achievement for all”.
The event will draw on NACE’s own research and work in this field, alongside examples of effective practice from NACE Leading Schools and insights from experts in pedagogy, curriculum, and school review and improvement. Ahead of the day’s discussions, we’ve picked out five key factors to consider – drawing on the work of educationalist and author Martin Robinson, who will deliver the conference’s opening keynote.

1. Get clear on the terminology  

Much of the terminology currently used in discussions about the curriculum is, when probed, somewhat vague. As Robinson points out, few would object to epithets such as “knowledge-rich” or the ubiquitous “broad and balanced” – but on further investigation such terms raise many more questions than they address, particularly when it comes to implementation on the ground. For discussions to progress meaningfully, clarity is important.

2. Involve everyone in curriculum design   

The curriculum needs to work for everyone in school – and that means staff as well as learners. Curriculum coherence – an overriding structure that can be perceived and understood by all, with each teacher and learner understanding their current position and next steps – will remain a pipe dream if not built on genuine opportunities for collaborative curriculum design, delivery and review. This collaborative approach should be extended not only to staff members, but also – as NACE trustee Liz Allen CBE argues – to learners.

3. Put pedagogy in the picture  

While no longer the buzzword du jour, pedagogy remains an essential concern and – as Robinson argues – should be considered at all stages of curriculum design. Sequencing (more on this below) is but one aspect of a repertoire of approaches which will lead to deep and sustained learning. Of these NACE frequently highlights:
  • Content and related skills and concepts pitched at the right level of difficulty and complexity;
  • Skilful and judicious explanation, modelling and feedback;
  • Opportunities for deliberate practice;
  • The development of metacognition and independence in learning;
  • Tasks and activities designed to elicit higher-order and critical thinking processes;
  • The management of differentiation which keeps all routes open for learners to achieve and progress.
Alongside these approaches, one of the biggest impacts on learner outcomes and engagement is what is often referred to as a positive and demanding classroom climate, coupled with teachers’ high expectations of all learners. 

4. Get the timing right 

Alongside the “what” and “how” of the curriculum, the “when” is also important. While “blocking” can seem the most efficient way to cover all the required content within the time available, Robinson makes the case for “spacing” – building in deliberate periods of delay in the coverage of a topic, to improve retention rates and curb last-minute cramming come exam time. This approach can be envisaged as a “spiral curriculum” – in which teaching and learning spiral back to revisit and build upon the “basic ideas” at the core of a subject, supporting overall coherence, joined-upness and progression.

5. Join the national debate 

This is an exciting time for school leaders and educators – not without its challenges, but also rich in opportunity. Amidst a growing body of research on what works for more able and for all learners, including the impact of pedagogical approaches such as “teaching to the top”, we’ve seen a renaissance of evidence-rich debates about curriculum development and delivery. At its best, the debate has gone beyond old dichotomies, producing fresh approaches and working towards secure foundations and principles on which to build a curriculum fit for today and for the future.
Join us at the NACE National Conference in London on 20 June to be part of the debate!
Book your place by 29 March for the NACE members’ early-bird rate.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019