Curriculum Intent: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

It’s great that curriculum is currently taking centre stage in schools but caution should be exercised by school leadership in not turning their curriculum intent into a warp speed tick box activity.  

Ofsted somewhat recognised the enormity of the challenge when they adjusted their expectations for the curriculum to be complete from one year to two years.  I’m not an opponent of having a deadline but to judge schools in two years is still too soon.  

Curriculum planning could be viewed as an iceberg – we only see the top. It is exciting, there is a buzz in the classroom and on the wall in big letters is the curriculum intent.

What we don’t see, however, is the rest of the iceberg which stretches deep underwater.  From personal experience I can say that curriculum planning nearly reaches the ocean floor. It is hours, days, months, even years of planning to reach that observed learning experience.  

I am not discounting the observable curriculum or its intent, far from it.

I believe that a true restructure of the curriculum starts with having a clear, rationalised curriculum intent (this has to be thought through and given time to be planned properly).  

Some schools may get away with a simple curriculum renovation project; whereas others may have to bulldoze it and rebuild from scratch. 

In either case, to do it right, it will take time and this starts by investing time in understanding the “why” of the curriculum intent.

Whereas planning the curriculum may go deep under the water, the true nature of the intent is a delicate starting point with the curriculum sitting on top of it just like the circus act where the elephant is carefully balanced on the beach ball.  

Losing focus by choosing style over substance or rushing through the intent risks the entire curriculum to slip and fall.

For instance, if in your intent states that your school embraces its local history, this must be reflected in and around the curriculum. If not, it’s pointless. This happened to us.  

As a school body and community, we are proud of our local history as the epicentre for the industrial age and are keen to have it as part of our intent; however, when we slowed down and really started to think about it, apart from the history curriculum we had nothing else linked to our local history. 

It led to questions: 

  • Who are the key players in our local history and why? How did they shape our political, economic and social landscape?  
  • What were the key industries? What technological innovations did they apply? How were the workers treated? What was the relationship between employer and employee?  
  • What is our narrative of the past and why? What is our position?  How does it thread through what we teach?
  • What are the end points? What is it we want pupils to experience and why?

An intent, therefore, is more than a list of platitudes. It’s the outcome of an in-depth analysis to frame the totality of pupil learning experiences. Its impact is will need vast amount of time invested in the direction you are wanting to take the curriculum. It can’t be cut and paste.   

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.