How to review your curriculum

Use our step-by-step guide to review your curriculum, whatever stage you're at.

Last reviewed on 1 October 2021
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 3429
Contents
  1. How to use this article
  2. 1. Make sure your school has a clear vision and rationale 
  3. 2. Brush up on your curriculum knowledge
  4. 3. Diagnose problems in your whole-school offer
  5. 4. Diagnose problems at subject or year-group level
  6. 5. Plan your curriculum changes
  7. 6. Make the changes and monitor their impact

How to use this article

  • Read this to get a broad overview of the steps you'll need to take to review your curriculum from start to finish
  • You may want to skip some steps depending on which stage of the review process you're at – not everyone will start from scratch 
  • A curriculum review is often a mammoth task – don't worry if you find it takes a long time to do some of the steps here
  • Refer to our curriculum resource hub along the way for further support 

We can't tell you what your curriculum should look like, because each school has its individual context. But, we can help you structure your review process and give you tools and questions you should ask yourself when planning your curriculum.

1. Make sure your school has a clear vision and rationale 

If you're confident that all staff know and agree on the points below, go straight to step 2. If not, read our article to help you clarify:

  • Your educational philosophy – an informed opinion on the purpose of education and its role in society
  • What's unique about your school – including its 'unique selling point' to parents and prospective staff
  • Your school's vision – high-level goals for the future
  • What you want pupils to have achieved and experienced by the time they leave (in top-level detail)
  • The overarching principles and aims of your curriculum
  • What impression you want your school to leave on pupils
  • What's essential for pupils to succeed

Your answers will feed into decisions on what you'll teach, when and why.

2. Brush up on your curriculum knowledge

To make informed decisions at all stages of your curriculum reviewing process, you need to be up to speed on:

To drive positive changes in your school around the curriculum, head to IdeaStream from The Key - a curated library of bitesize CPD videos, where experienced school leaders share best practice from challenges they’ve already tackled. If you're not yet an IdeaStream member, find out more here.

Diversity and inclusivity in the curriculum

If you're looking to review your curriculum with a particular focus on diversity and inclusivity, use our tools to help you:

3. Diagnose problems in your whole-school offer

Primary schools might find this step more relevant than secondary schools. To diagnose subject-level problems instead, go to step 4.

First, as a school, you'll need to determine: 

  • Which subjects you offer
  • Your delivery model – do you teach via integrated topics, themes or discrete subjects?
  • Your timetable – e.g. do you deliver a subject every week, in alternate terms, or on special days? How much time do you allocate to specific subjects?
  • Your teaching and pedagogical approaches

Then, gather evidence to clarify your current offer

Use our curriculum map template to help you: 

  1. Use your existing long and medium-term plans to see what your school is teaching, when, and to whom
  2. Make a list of:
    • Trips and visits for each year group
    • Texts and resources used in each year group
    • Overviews of any special weeks, days and events, and the outcomes you expect from them
    • Extra-curricular or whole-school curricular activities  

Next, analyse your evidence to help diagnose any problems 

To do this:

  1. Check you're meeting statutory requirements
  2. Ask why you’ve made the decisions you have – for example, why you place more, or less, emphasis on a subject or topic, or why you’re delivering in continuous lessons each week rather than in blocks
  3. If you can't explain why, or aren't happy with what you're delivering:
    • Check whether your offer aligns with your school's vision and values, or whether you need to revise your vision and values (see step 1 above)
    • Use our whole-school curriculum audit to uncover any deeper problems
    • Add more detail to your plans to be sure you know what you're teaching, when and why

To develop an action plan to address any weaknesses or areas for improvement, go to step 5.

4. Diagnose problems at subject or year-group level

If you already know your subject weaknesses, skip this step and follow one of these 2 routes instead:

  • If you've identified problem areas in your curriculum plan but aren't sure why they're a problem, use our diagnostic tools for those areas only (e.g. maths, KS1). Primary schools can use our intent audit tool (primary) to identify problems in any subject at any Key Stage or for any year group or unit. Secondary schools can use our subject-specific audit tools to pinpoint weaknesses (see list below). Then, go to step 5 below for suggested actions and next steps
  • If you're confident you know what your weak areas are and why (e.g. a problem with topic sequencing, or a problem with implementation) go straight to step 5 below

First, review your curriculum intent 

Your 'curriculum intent' is your plan of what you want pupils to know and be able to do, at different stages and by the time they leave school.

To review your curriculum intent in a given subject, you should:

  • Gather evidence, including your:
    • Curriculum maps
    • Long-term and medium-term planning documents
    • Schemes of work
    • Results of conversations with pupils, teachers and curriculum leaders
    • Outcomes from any other forms of monitoring you've done
  • Check you're meeting statutory requirements

If you're in a primary school, use our curriculum intent audit tool to identify the root cause of any problems in your curriculum planning for any subject. It will help you to check whether what you plan to teach is:

  • Aligned to your school's vision and values
  • Appropriate for your context
  • Clearly defined and well thought through in terms of content
  • Understood by all staff
  • Aligned to the National Curriculum, where applicable
  • Broad and balanced
  • Accessible and ambitious for all pupils
  • Well-linked and grouped with content in other subjects
  • Well-sequenced to allow pupils to progress

If you're in a secondary school, use these subject-specific audit tools to pinpoint weaknesses in your curriculum for: 

Then, review your implementation – are you delivering what you planned? 

Gather your evidence, such as:

  • Planning documents and schemes of work
  • Findings from book scrutinies (first, decide which subjects, books and pupils will be the focus of your review)
  • Findings from lesson observations, to follow up on points you’ve identified in book scrutinies 
  • Results of conversations with pupils, teachers and curriculum leaders

If you're in a primary school, use our audit tool to figure out how you're doing and find the root cause of any problems.

5. Plan your curriculum changes

You've pinned down what your curriculum weaknesses are and why. Now you'll need to:

  1. Assess your whole-school audit, or look at your subject audits together, to form an overview of the strengths and weaknesses in your curriculum
  2. Look for common patterns or trends. Is a particular year group a problem? Or a particular subject? Or a specific unit or scheme of work? Or sequencing? Or depth of learning?
  3. Prioritise which changes, if any, you’ll make first, based on:
    • Available resource (staff, time, finances, etc.)
    • Potential impact on pupils
    • Whether you can make any 'quick wins'
  4. Decide who'll make the changes, by when. Use our subject action plan to help you set key milestones and short, medium and long-term actions
  5. Gather appropriate resources to help deliver your action plan, e.g. training and support, books and resources, creating extra time in the timetable

6. Make the changes and monitor their impact

  1. Make sure all staff understand the reasoning behind the decisions you’ve made
  2. Assess the impact of any changes and how effectively you've implemented them
  3. Make any adjustments, based on the experience of teachers delivering the content, and the outcomes of your monitoring and assessment

Sources

Vicky Crane is an independent consultant and trainer with over 10 years of school improvement experience, including holding senior local authority positions. She works extensively with primary schools in the Yorkshire region, is a chair of governors for a large primary school and is the founder of ICTWand.

We also worked with Clare Sealy and Victoria Morris, school leaders with experience of curriculum design, to write this article.

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