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Creative Approaches to Curriculum


Yesterday I attended the EFFE’s Creative Approaches to Curriculum Seminar in Edinburgh. Here are some of my notes and thoughts following this event…

Fiona Carnie

The event was introduced by Fiona Carnie, Vice President of EFFE.  She informed us that this event builds on their Improving Social Equity through Education symposium in Edinburgh last year.

She stated that the outcomes from last year’s event included…

  • there is a need to create inclusive and supportive environments for learning.
  • that we need to respect and value teachers and ensure time for teachers to collaborate.
  • how schools are organised are crucial with a need for greater professional autonomy and more distributive forms of leadership.
  • reform is slow and complex. Book recommendation: Finnish Lessons – Progress in Finland have their roots in 1970s policy changes.

Graham Donaldson

Professor Donaldson’s presentation was entitled ‘Ambition and Curriculum Reform’. Some of my notes included…

  • The OECD are beginning to look at supporting the development of curricula.
  • Are we ‘defeating destiny’ in Scottish education?
  • Education is not the same as Qualification.
  • Need to be creating space for engaging learning and teaching.
  • Building the capacity of the teaching profession…changing the approach to educational reform has implications for what it means to be a teacher – move from a training paradigm to a learning paradigm for teachers.
  • The velocity is great. Globalisation, employment, society, education, resources. Technological developments.
  • Nature of learning and teaching process is being changed by technology. This has implications for curriculum and being a teacher.
  • Book recommendation: Average is Over, Tyler Cowan.
  • Report recommendation: Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate. OECD.
  • “Move from what students should be learning towards what they should become.” Priestley & Biesta, 2014.
  • Tension between ambition and reality of learners’  experiences.
  • Metrics driven short-term reductionism curriculum vortex is where we end up despite our original ambition.
  • Addressing the conundrum:
    • ‘better’ teachers (confidence & capacity to engage with complexity),
    • ‘better’ leadership (is the school actually good, rather than looking good? Relentlessly ambitious with a focus on the children),
    • ‘less’ prescription (much more of the responsibility for high quality learning and teaching rests in the classroom),
    • ‘more’ collaboration (peer to peer learning),
    • ‘rigorous’ accountability (easy for rigour to become rigor mortis)
  • Too many curriculum developers take the ‘McDonald’s approach’ – faithful implementation.
  • First approximation. Explore what’s possible. There isn’t a recipe – strategic exploration.
  • We are ‘…at the end of the beginning’ with CfE.
  • Challenge to close gapS and raise standards without compromising longer-term ambition. An over focus on literacy and numeracy would be unambitious.
  • Strategic exploration of ambitious purposes should supersede faithful implementation of received approaches.
  • ‘Middle’ in the OECD report is more conceptual than structural.

Kari Jørgensen

Kari Jørgensen is a Head Teacher of five schools in Denmark. She shared her own journey and outlined the role of project based in learning in her schools. Of particular interest was the Design to Improve Life tool which teachers in her schools use to structure project-based learning and teach innovation: designtoimprovelifeeducation.dk. She finished with the trailer to the film ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ which looks good: mltsfilm.org

Mike Davies

Mike Davies is a former Head Teacher and works with schools on pedagogic and curriculum renewal. He spoke about his experiences reforming a school as a Head Teacher and how he has then gone on to support similar reforms at Stanley Park High School, where he is now a school governor.

  • There’s no difficulty in envisaging something different, but real difficulty in enacting something different. What role can modelling play in helping?
  • Divided a school of 900 into three small schools.
  • Tartan Curriculum. Deliberately promiscuous.
  • Hellerup. School built around learning, not teaching.
  • Emphasising relationships.
  • A Curriculum that Counts (ATL) resource includes a case study of Stanley Park High School: acurriculumthatcounts.org.uk

Lesley James

Lesley James was Director of Education at the RSA and was heavily involved in the creation of their Opening Minds programmes. She shared the background of the development of the programme and how they’ve gone on to setting up the RSA Academy: rsaopeningminds.org.uk

Alan Armstrong

Alan Armstrong is one of Education Scotland’s Strategic Directors. He shared the variety of work which Education Scotland is undertaking to support the development of creativity and digital learning across the system. He made reference to Education Scotland’s 3-18 curriculum impact report – Creativity.

Overall, I left the day struck by the strong interconnectedness between curriculum and leadership. Whilst national curriculum and assessment policies play an important role, the realities of the experiences of learners also depends to a large extent on how these policies are interpreted and implemented by educational professionals working in the system. Senior leaders in schools have a crucial role in creating the culture, contexts and structures to support the creative implementation of curricula, whereas teachers as leaders of pedagogy also play an equally important role in working with colleagues  to make the curriculum real in their classrooms. There were many overlaps between messages from the day and the issues which arose from our recent teacher leadership engagement, however it was useful for me to be reminded of the importance of teacher leadership in the context of developing the curriculum, something which I’ve reflected upon before in a now previous life.


One Comment

  • Reply David Gilmour |

    Thanks for link to Learning to Learn, Learning to Innovate – hadn’t been aware of that, just had a quick look.

    Chapter 9 Open Learning A Systems-driven Model of Innovation for Education
    by Tom Bentley1 includes a fascinating account (9.5) of the “systemic tension” between typical top-down reform structures, which tend to reinforce existing boundaries and structures, and meeting needs of diverse learners and “deploying a
    burgeoning range of expert knowledge and evidence about effective learning
    practices”, which requires that they loosen. Quite timely, really.

So, what do you think ?