Curriculum leadership in schools: 5 tips for success

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Date published 15 May 2023

It's an exciting time to be a curriculum leader.

Renewed focus on curriculum in recent years has prompted schools to deeply reflect on their values and their aspirations for children and young people. Curriculum leaders are being encouraged to develop their knowledge and skills and apply them to designing relevant and engaging educational experiences for pupils.

There’s no doubt that, in many cases, this has led to better sequenced and more coherent curriculums. But curriculum leaders know that there is more to this than having your paperwork in order or documenting your curriculum vision.

As curriculum leaders work to give pupils the best possible curriculum experiences, they face challenges. These include diverse pupil prior knowledge, varying teacher subject expertise, and finding the right balance between generic and subject-specific approaches.

Here are five tips for success in navigating these complex challenges and leading effective curriculum development in schools:

1. Embrace evidence-informed principles

Making use of the latest and best insights from educational research can be key to unlocking the most effective strategies for your setting. However, the sheer volume of information out there in research studies, journals, articles and resources can make it challenging to determine which insights are reliable, relevant, and applicable to your specific context.

Our 10 principles for effective curriculum design take what we know about the science of learning and provide practical ways to approach curriculum design. Using these principles can help whole-school leaders to work with subject leaders to design curricula that ensure accessible learning for all. Carefully selecting knowledge and constructing it with purpose helps to build a coherent sequence of learning across the whole curriculum.

Three female teachers having a conversation

2. Balance the general and specific

Finding the right balance between generic pedagogical approaches and subject-specific content is another challenge for curriculum leaders. Whilst pedagogy is crucial for effective teaching and learning across a whole school, it shouldn’t overshadow subject-specific approaches to content and knowledge.

As a curriculum leader, it’s important to work with your subject experts to find the right balance and make sure that whole-school approaches don’t get in the way of effective subject teaching. Striking the right balance for your setting ensures that pupils are engaged in meaningful learning experiences that align with the specific requirements of each subject area.

3. Develop your subject leaders

We know that school leaders cannot be experts in every subject – and that’s okay, because subject leaders are there to support you. But it’s also important to recognise that subject leaders or heads of department may face challenges in becoming experts in their specific subject area and keeping up with developments in their discipline.

To address this, curriculum leaders can create time and opportunities for subject-specific professional development. Subject communities and networks help teachers to share good practice, collaborate, and build their subject knowledge. Fostering subject-specific expertise can help curriculum leaders to feel confident that whole-school approaches are aligned with the content and concepts of each subject area.

4. Consult the classroom

We know that curriculum plans – no matter how perfect on paper – will face challenges when implemented in diverse classroom settings. Pupil abilities, prior knowledge and learning speeds can vary, and that doesn’t account for the impact of pupil absences, staff absences and school closures.

It’s important for curriculum leaders to regularly engage with teachers and pupils to gather feedback on the challenges and realities of delivering the curriculum. By understanding the realities of the classroom, curriculum leaders can identify and start to address obstacles, ensuring that whole-school policies do not impede good subject teaching practices.

Teacher reading from workbook in front of pupils

5. Review and refine regularly

Curriculum leaders should emphasise the importance of regular review and refinement of the curriculum. Curriculum is not a one-time activity, it’s a continuous process that needs ongoing improvement. It’s important for curriculum leaders to regularly review and refine the curriculum based on feedback from teachers, pupil outcomes, and changing educational contexts.

This can involve periodic reviews of curriculum documents, seeking input from teachers and pupils, and using data and evidence to inform curriculum decisions. Regular review and refinement can ensure that the curriculum remains relevant, effective, and aligned with the needs of pupils and the goals of the school.

Navigating the complexities of curriculum leadership requires carefully considering diverse factors and implementing effective strategies. By embracing evidence-informed principles, balancing the general and specific, developing subject expertise, understanding classroom realities, and emphasising regular review and refinement, leaders can develop effective curricula in schools and support the aspirations and needs of all pupils.

To support the development of curriculum leaders, Ambition Institute has created the Curriculum for Senior leaders programme. Over 18-months, Curriculum for Senior Leaders offers valuable insights and support for senior leaders in charge of whole school curriculum.

This robust, research-informed programme equips school leaders with the knowledge, skills and resources to support their subject leaders and lead impactful curriculum development.

To find out more about the Curriculum for Senior Leaders programme, visit our programme webpage.

To register your interest in the programme, you can fill in our enquiry form.

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