How to design a curriculum

Be clear on how to design an effective curriculum with this guidance on 3 core principles to bear in mind, plus resources and examples to help you improve your curriculum design.

Last reviewed on 7 January 2022
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 31185
  1. What is curriculum design?
  2. 3 core principles of curriculum design 
  3. Use these resources to help you improve your curriculum design

What is curriculum design?

Curriculum design is, broadly speaking, how you interpret a designated curriculum in the context of your pupils.

This means taking the schemes of work and end-of-year expectations and delivering them while taking into account:

  • Your local environment
  • The expertise of staff
  • The traditions of your school

It’s likely that for you, the “designated curriculum” will be the National Curriculum. However, the above principles also apply to academies and international schools that may use a different curriculum as a framework.

3 core principles of curriculum design 

1. The curriculum should be developmental

This means it should: 

  • Reinforce prior learning and increase in cognitive complexity
  • Widen out as the child moves through the school, revisiting concepts in greater depth

For example, a child may learn about light and dark in Key Stage 1, but as they move through school they would learn about areas such as how light is created, electricity, and the impact of light and dark on day and night and seasons. They would eventually tie it into more complex concepts such as climate change in later Key Stages.

2. You should consider the order in which concepts are taught

While the National Curriculum, for schools that follow it, sets out some subject content on a year-by-year basis, many subjects are split into Key Stages. Some aspects of the curriculum may only be taught once, while others may be revisited annually or in every Key Stage.

Curriculum design therefore involves (as applicable):

  • Choosing how to order subject content
  • Choosing where in pupils’ development content will be taught
  • Designing your curriculum in a way that reinforces concepts over time 

3. Take into account short-, medium- and long-term planning

Think of the relationship between these like a journey on the underground.

  • The entire curriculum map for the whole Key Stage would be the underground map
  • The year or term of subject content would be the station you get off at
  • The short term aim of a lesson would be the place you visit once you get off

Use these resources to help you improve your curriculum design


See examples of curriculum maps from primary schools.


Find out how to improve your curriculum design in:

For some examples from schools:


Our thanks to our associate expert Nina Siddall-Ward for her help with this article. Nina is an education consultant. She is the former head of standards and learning effectiveness for a large local authority, and has been a headteacher in 3 schools.

Please rate this article

Can't find what you need? Try searching or ask us a question.