Principled Curriculum Design is one in a series of pamphlets to be published
in the Autumn Term 2013 to support the Redesigning Schooling campaign ————————————————————————————————

Cdylan-wiliam-rs-picurriculum development takes place constantly in every school but the lack of attention to this process means that it is rarely given enough time. The aim of this pamphlet is to help schools make curriculum development a planned and collegial process, and one that builds on the expertise of others.

In recent years, discussion of the school curriculum has been largely absent. This neglect has been largely driven by the adoption in 1988 of a national curriculum for schools in England and Wales. Many teachers, leaders and policymakers assumed that because the government had specified what schools were required to teach, then no further discussion of the issue of curriculum was necessary. This belief was mistaken for two reasons:

  • The first is that the legal framework of the national curriculum specified only what schools were legally required to teach—any school was entirely free to teach whatever it wished in addition to the prescribed national curriculum.
  • The second is that the real curriculum—the lived daily experience of young people in classrooms—requires the creative input of teachers. For example, the national curriculum may require that students learn about negative numbers, but the kinds of analogy that a teacher might use to teach this topic (for example, heights above and below sea level, temperatures above and below zero, positive and negative bank balances, and so on) must be chosen with an understanding of the students, their experiences, and a range of other contextual factors. The real curriculum is therefore created by teachers, every day.

Curriculum development therefore takes place constantly in every school, but the lack of attention to this process means that it is rarely given enough time, is generally done by teachers working alone, and tends to be done as an ‘ad hoc’ activity.

Aim of the pamphlet ..

.. is therefore to help schools make curriculum development a planned and collegial process, and one that builds on the expertise of others. Every school’s curriculum has to be, by definition, unique, but by using the ideas in this publication, schools can adapt and build on the work of others to design a curriculum that will meet the needs of their students.

First section: discusses how the idea of “curriculum” has evolved over the years, drawing in particular on the work of Ralph Tyler, Hilda Taba and Lawrence Stenhouse.

Second section: shows why the development of the “real” curriculum requires the involvement of teachers at each stage of the curriculum development process, and presents a number of principles of curriculum design that need to be considered in the process, namely that a curriculum should be balanced, rigorous, coherent, vertically integrated, appropriate, focused, and relevant.

Third section: will present some workshop-style activities that schools can use with their teachers and other stake-holders (for example, students, parents) to develop local curricula. This section will also include principles for how material is to be learned and taught, how learning progressions that are appropriate for the subject or discipline can inform the development of sequences of learning activities, and how to cater for the varying abilities of students in a teaching group.

Since the real curriculum is the lived daily experience of students in classrooms, rather than what might be prescribed in policy documents, curriculum development must also take into account how student achievement will be evaluated. Furthermore, curriculum plans need to take into account that they will be implemented in different contexts, with different students, with variable results. For this reason, the fourth and final section will describe how effective curriculum development incorporates assessment and evaluation at every stage of the process, and how this can be done effectively.


More about Dylan Wiliam here – career history,
papers, publications and presentations


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