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School-based curriculum development
Professor Mark Priestley
Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling
• Thinking big
• Different starting points for SBCD
• A practical process for SBCD - Critical collaborative
• The big ideas
• Fitness for purpose – content and methods
• Barriers and Drivers
• [Conducting a professional enquiry]
Change is not necessarily a good thing.
Engagement with innovation may mean
no change at all. What is important is
that practitioners engage meaningfully
with innovation, taking into account
available evidence and research findings,
and weighing up the pros and cons of the
innovation. This stands in marked
contrast to processes where innovation is
rejected through ignorance or prejudice,
where it is adopted superficially and
uncritically to ‘tick boxes’ .
Curriculum development is a
process not a product
• The substantive work needs to be
carried at in school by
professional and empowered
teachers –the local experts.
• It is ongoing, building on existing
practices, and requiring continual
Curriculum as a product..
• Milkmen or educators?
• The unhelpful language of delivery – see
• ‘Delivery’ of content
• Or worse still, ‘delivery’ of outcomes
• Importance of professional judgement – rather than uncritical and
reactive ‘product placement’
Curriculum policy – a framework for learning
Supra – transnational discourses about education
Macro – national level policy intentions
Meso – policy guidance, facilitation (ES, LEA)
Micro – school-level curricular practices
Nano – classroom interactions
(Thijs & van den Akker, 2009)
• Two way direction of travel – ideas from the chalk face affect
• There are different practices within each stratum
• These may not be coherent across the system – they are
translated and mediated from level to level
Curricular practices at each level operate differently
Curricular actors at each level have different functions
Therefore we need:
• Clarity of purpose
• Clarity about the function of each level
• Clarity in processes adopted throughout the system
• Clarity in terms of practices adopted at each level
The implementation gap
The rhetoric of policy
The new curriculum
in many schools
Which curriculum model?
• 3 starting points for curriculum development (Stenhouse,
• A content curriculum? Specification of content to be taught as a
• An outcomes curriculum? Specification of outcomes to be achieved as
a starting point.
• A process curriculum? Specification of long term goals and
educational purposes as a starting point? Content and methods are
then selected which are ‘fit for purpose’.
CfE has elements of all three approaches (Priestley & Humes,
A content-led curriculum?
1904 orders 1988 Nat. Curric. CfE
Health & Well-being
Cross curric. (Lit/Num)
Priestley and Humes (2010), adapted from Goodson & Marsh (1996)
CfE – the bear traps…
• Existing subjects/knowledge domains persist
• Strong intent, weak specification (Priestley & Sinnema, 2014)
• Little specification of process for identifying ‘powerful knowledge’
• Content chosen to fit existing patterns/resources
• New content selected for interest, rather than relevance
• Potential for major gaps – the ‘null curriculum’
• Qualifications continue to drive content and pedagogy
• Lack of fit between purpose and content
Outcomes as starting point?
• In US objectives-based curricula (pre-1950: Bobbitt, Tyler, Bloom)
• VET (UK, 1980s: NCVQ, SCOTVEC)
• Linear levels (England, 1988: National Curriculum)
• Migration/policy borrowing; hybridisation in nat. curricula (1990s)
• CfE (2004): direction set by Ministerial Response
• Unchallenged in policy
Spiral of specification (Wolf 1995)
An outcomes-based curriculum?
Es & Os – the main CfE structure
• Typically, a subject articulated as 100+ learning outcomes.
• Outcomes were expressly not for assessment – they ‘are not designed
as assessment criteria in their own right’ (CfE overarching cover paper,
• BTC5 - “In Curriculum for Excellence, the standards expected for
progression are indicated within the experiences and outcomes at
each level” (p13) and “…assessment tasks and activities provide
learners with fair and valid opportunities to meet the standards.”
• A standard - “something against which we measure performance”
• 2016 – new benchmarks for assessment
CfE – the bear traps…
• Audit of outcomes against existing practice
• Losing sight of the big picture
• Incremental change, with intensification of workload
• Piecemeal box ticking, bureaucracy
• Minimal rather than transformational change to meet new
requirements (often minor changes to content and changed
• Strategic compliance, performativity, game-playing
• Unhappy teachers – loss of trust, industrial action
• Overloaded students – the assessment treadmill
“The E’s and O’s were meant to be there to declutter your programme but what you
are wanting you to do now is to take that statement and then start building from it.”
(Teacher Agency research, 2012)
“At the end of the day a parent still wants to know where exactly their child is in
language and maths. Are they on a par with their peers? Are they below or above and
although we shouldn’t be labelling children in these ways, there is still pressure to do
so. And it doesn’t just come from parents. It comes from the authorities as well (e.g. the
“I can cover all of these assessment parts in one, with one project here, one short
project. It’s not exactly the way they are saying it, but you are not saying we can’t do it
this way. And it meets all the criteria. I can tick all the boxes quite confidently. […] that
is one thing that you can see with Curriculum for Excellence: that the rules aren’t quite
as strict; you can tweak them without feeling too guilty.” (Highland research, 2011)
CfE: a process curriculum?
‘The starting point for educational planning is not a
consideration of the nature of knowledge and/or
the culture to be transmitted or a statement of the
ends to be achieved, whether these be economic or
behavioural, but from a concern with the nature of
the child and with his or her development as a
human being’ (Kelly, 1999).
Pros and Cons
• Allows content and method to be selected to meet clearly
defined educational goals
• An emphasis on the appropriate processes for getting
• Makes links
• Allows teachers to build on what the pupils bring
• Requires a high level of teacher skill and engagement
“I don’t think we do enough of ‘let’s look at the philosophy behind it’. How
often in a school would teachers sit down? You just said to me ‘have you got a
philosophy of education?’ I’m sure most people have. But we don’t talk about
it. We don’t ever sit down and say ‘right let’s all share our philosophies and
come up with a philosophy for our school’. We just look at minutiae.”
(Highland research, 2011)
[The SBCD approach] “allowed staff the space to question our approach to
teaching and learning. It has promoted professional discussion about our
different approaches. It has made teachers more aware of the original purpose
of CfE and reminded them of the capacities and how these are not things that
had been done previously and forgotten about but should be central to our
planning, evaluations and assessment” (East Lothian research, 2013)
Can CfE be a process curriculum?
• Clearly specified purposes and principles
• Policy as a framework of cognitive resources
• Need for clearer specification of processes
• Need for less emphasis on reinterpreting the policy
• Need to address issues that lead to performativity
• Practitioners engage directly with the big ideas – sense-making
• Selection of appropriate content – powerful knowledge
• Selection of appropriate methods – powerful pedagogies
• Addressing barriers and drivers
An alternative foundation...
From the big ideas?
• Four Capacities
• a better starting point if real change is desired. Allows us to start
from broad questions of purpose and value, thus deriving content
• Educational values
• A concern for individual growth: qualification; socialisation;
subjectification (Biesta 2010)
• A concern for social values (e.g. social justice)
• The teacher’s responsibility to consider the long term effects of
• Sense-making is vital
Purposes of education?
• Critical awareness
• The ability to think (e.g. metacognition)?
Or more instrumental goals?
• Solving society’s ills?
• Development of useful generic skills
• Raising economic competitiveness?
“Education is the best economic policy that we have.” (Tony Blair)
Or knowledge for knowledge’s sake
• To pass exams? An academic trivial pursuit?
What are the big ideas?
• Of CfE?
• Of other current policies?
• Sort the big ideas into two categories: 1] purposes; and 2] methods
• Why is this an important distinction?
What is education for?
• What features of CfE/other policies are helpful in defining a ‘good’
• What is missing/problematic?
Selection of content
Select content that is:
• Interesting – stimulating student motivation
• Relevant – i.e. meets the purposes of education (e.g. work skills, life
skills, ‘essential’ culture such as knowledge of political system)
• Promotes higher order thinking – e.g. conceptual development,
• Powerful knowledge (Young, 2007)
In other words – content that is fit-for-purpose and addresses
the big ideas of the curriculum
• ‘Powerful knowledge’ (Young 2010)
• Academic disciplines provide foundation – knowledge not accessible
outside of school
• Relevance as well as interest
What sort of knowledge needed to:
• Make reasoned evaluations? (SL)
• Pursue a healthy and active lifestyle? (CI)
• Understand the world and Scotland’s place in it? (RC)
• Think critically? (EC)
Questions we should be asking
• What is knowledge? [a philosophical question]
• What knowledge (and knowledge for what)?[a question of selection]
• How do we build/impart knowledge in schools? [a question of
• How do we organise knowledge? [a question of provision]
These are now relevant questions for schools and teachers –
because CfE is about schools and teachers developing the
Age and stage
Early years/lower primary
• Fully integrated approach to reflect children’s need to explore and
make sense of their environment
• Increasing specialisation in Science, MFL etc
• Amalgamated subjects (integ. science, SS etc). Emphasis on
foundational skills and knowledge whilst making links across the
• Exam subjects rooted in academic disciplines
An up-to-date curriculum?
One of the chief intellectual purposes of the school is to
develop understanding of the institutions, problems, and
issues of contemporary life. Historically, whenever a rapid
transformation of the conditions of living has taken place, the
tendency has been for the curriculum to lag behind. Because
of the great changes in modern life, there is at present a real
need in certain fields for a new synthesis of knowledge and,
correspondingly, for a new grouping of the materials of the
school (Harold Rugg, 1926)
A meaningful curriculum?
Custom and convention conceal from most of us the extreme
poverty of the traditional course of study, as well as its lack of
intellectual organisation. It still consists, in large measure of a
number of disconnected subjects made up of more or less
independent items. An experienced adult may supply
connections and see the different studies and lessons in
perspective in logical relationships to one another and the
world. To the pupil, they are likely to be curiously mysterious
things which exist in school for some unknown purpose, and
only in school (John Dewey, 1936)
Selection of methods
• Thinking skills – e.g. analysis
• Social decision making
• Dialogue and debate
• Traditional methods, including worksheets
• Making links – cross curricular learning, IDL
• Experiential learning
• How we learn shapes the development of our intellectual capacity
Look at the attributes and capabilities of CfE:
• Which are best achieved through content?
• Which are best achieved through methods?
If designing a programme for your school
• What sort of knowledge is required to address the big ideas?
• What methods are required?
• How different/similar is this to your current practice?
Barriers to ‘transformational change’
• E.g. classrooms, teacher location, resources
• e.g. timetabling, lack of spaces for dialogue
• e.g. subject imperialism, conservatism
• e.g. teacher professional learning, language, tradition
Clarity of purpose clear sense of practices needed to achieve
purpose Addressing barriers/developing drivers
– What is getting in the way?
– What are our current strengths?
Can these be addressed? By whom? Within the school? By the
If so, how can they be addressed?
What are the current barriers and drivers as we develop CfE?
How might these be addressed?
• Start with questions of purpose:
• What is CfE trying to achieve?
• What are our purposes/goals?
• What are the big ideas?
• Next think about ‘how’ questions:
• What knowledge/skills?
• What methods (e.g. formative assessment, co-op learning)
• Then address operational issues – a contextual audit:
• Professional Enquiry cycle – see
Drew, V., Priestley, M. & Michael, M. (2016). Curriculum Development
Through Critical Collaborative Professional Enquiry, Journal of Professional
Capital and Community, 1 (1), 92-106.
Priestley M & Biesta GJJ (eds.) (2013). Reinventing the Curriculum: New
Trends in Curriculum Policy and Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Priestley, M., Biesta, G.J.J. & Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher agency: what is it
and why does it matter? In R. Kneyber & J. Evers (eds.), Flip the System:
Changing Education from the Bottom Up. London: Routledge.
Priestley, M., Biesta, G.J.J. & Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher Agency: An
Ecological Approach. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Priestley M & Humes W (2010). The development of Scotland’s Curriculum
for Excellence: Amnesia and Déjà Vu, Oxford Review of Education, 36 (3),
Priestley M & Minty S (2013). Curriculum for Excellence: 'A brilliant idea, but.
. .', Scottish Educational Review, 45 (1), 39-52.