Curriculum jargon buster

Know your 'intent' from your 'implementation'? Your 'substantive' from your 'disciplinary'? Check how much you know about these and other key terms. Share our handout with staff to help them brush up on their curriculum knowledge too.

Last reviewed on 6 October 2022
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 37684
  1. Intent, implementation and impact
  2. Curriculum breadth vs depth
  3. Substantive vs disciplinary knowledge
  4. Core vs hinterland knowledge
  5. Threshold concepts
  6. Spaced interleaving
  7. Vertical vs horizontal structure 
  8. Cumulative vs segmented vs spiral curriculum 
  9. Context dependent vs independent
  10. Download this article and share it with your staff

Intent, implementation and impact

  Intent Implementation Impact

What you want pupils to know and to be able to do. It's not a vision or mission statement

How you teach your intended curriculum The extent to which pupils have learned what you intended them to learn, and how you know this
  • A long-term plan (such as a curriculum map), showing the knowledge and skills you want pupils to gain at each stage, and by the end of their time at school
  • Your rationale for why you've made these choices
  • Teaching methods
  • Classroom resources
  • Sequencing and structure
  • Assessment
  • Outcomes in externally set assessments
  • Pupils' destinations (e.g. further or higher education or employment)
  • Conversations with pupils that demonstrate they know, can do, and remember more than they did before

Curriculum breadth vs depth

  Breadth of curriculum  Depth of curriculum
Definition The range of subjects taught across the whole curriculum, and the span of knowledge within each subject How deeply specific topics within each subject are studied
  • A broad curriculum focuses on all curriculum subjects (for example art, PE, PSHE) not just core subjects (English, maths and science) 
  • A global history curriculum that spans a wide range of time periods and places
  • An RE curriculum that covers many religions (beyond Christianity, Islam and Judaism)
  • How deeply a pupil understands key concepts (e.g. can they explain the concepts in their own words or teach someone else?)
  • How well pupils understand the underlying links between different subjects and ideas

Substantive vs disciplinary knowledge

Sometimes known as declarative and procedural knowledge.

  Substantive Disciplinary
Definition The content that is taught as fact Understanding about how knowledge is established, verified and revised
  • Properties of materials
  • Rules of netball
  • Pythagoras' theorem
  • Events leading up to the First World War
  • Plot of Romeo and Juliet
  • How historians come to conclusions and judgements
  • Carrying out an experiment
  • Writing persuasively

Core vs hinterland knowledge

  Core Hinterland
Definition Basic knowledge and facts to be learned and retained Contextual knowledge, to provide deeper meaning, frame delivery, or give a sense of depth to a subject
  • Displacement and volume theory in maths
  • Basic understanding of safety in the home
  • World War 2 facts and dates
  • An anecdote about a mathematician e.g. Archimedes' bath story
  • Telling a personal story to explain the dangers of fire or household risks
  • Talking to grandparents about their experience of World War 2 or visiting places that were bombed

 These terms were first used by Christine Counsell.

Threshold concepts

Definition Concepts that enable pupils to better understand other ideas/concepts
  • Understanding characteristics of 2D shapes before exploring 3D shapes
  • Understanding gravity and friction, to aid understanding that external forces affect the motion of objects

Spaced interleaving

Definition Organising and sequencing learning within other learning, rather than presenting learning as consecutive blocks
  • Introducing a new topic to assess current understanding, teaching unrelated content to allow thinking time, then recalling the new topic again to embed learning
  • Splitting humanities over the term rather than blocking weeks, e.g. alternating geography and history lessons within the term rather than having a 'geography term' and then a 'history term'
  • Recalling specific learning, e.g. what were we learning about this time yesterday?

Vertical vs horizontal structure 

  Vertical structure Horizontal structure
Definition Introducing curriculum aspects in an ongoing progression throughout the school year and as pupils progress through year groups (knowledge is built on prior learning) Curriculum aspects are introduced to pupils in different year groups at the same time (knowledge is integrated and interrelated)
  • What pupils learn in one lesson is built on in the next
  • Pupils learning to write phonetically before being taught irregular spellings
  • Learning about Elizabethan London before teaching Shakespeare
  • A whole school theme taught at the same time to all year groups e.g. a whole school project on A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Whole school assembly themes 

Cumulative vs segmented vs spiral curriculum 

  Cumulative curriculum Segmented curriculum Spiral curriculum
Definition Knowledge builds on and expands previous learning Adds new skills or knowledge that are related to current context or events, or separate from existing knowledge Revisits previous learning and adds new knowledge that is age- or stage-appropriate
  • New spelling and grammar concepts are introduced year-on-year
  • Maths skills and knowledge building on pre-existing maths skills and knowledge
  • Skills learned on a specific geography field trip 
  • Skills are developed as part of a one-off project, e.g. fundraising for Red Nose Day
  • A one-off topic reflecting current events, e.g. teaching the history of the Olympics during the Olympics
  • Persuasive writing taught each year, with increasing complexity, e.g. from writing a short letter in year 1 to writing a complex argument in year 6
  • The same religious festivals are returned to each year, with increasingly complex knowledge taught each year

A curriculum can contain more than one of these approaches.

Context dependent vs independent

  Context dependent Context independent
Definition Curriculum that is taught through pupils' lives or experiences  Curriculum that isn't related to pupils' lives or experiences 
  • Teaching data handling using a class vote on pupils' favourite sport or food 
  • Teaching about the history of the local area or community and how this relates to pupils' lives today (e.g. a project about the Empire Windrush)
  • Concepts in maths or science that are unrelated to personal experience
  • History that's taught without reference to pupils' modern day lives
  • The introduction of concepts beyond pupils' lived experience, e.g. what it's like to live in another country or be from another culture

Download this article and share it with your staff


Nina Siddall-Ward helped us with this article. Nina is an education consultant. She's the former head of standards and learning effectiveness for a large local authority. Nina has been a headteacher in 3 schools.

We also looked at a range of articles and practitioner blogs during our research for this article: 


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