Dylan Wiliam frequently quotes Denis Lawton’s definition of curriculum – “a selection of culture.”  There is unlikely to be agreement about culture, let alone what aspects should be selected for the school curriculum.  Read how Sue Williamson shares Dylan’s belief that the school curriculum should be balanced, rigorous, coherent, vertically integrated, appropriate, focused, and relevant.

SSAT is working with Professor Dylan Wiliam on developing the thinking around curriculum design; he led two Redesigning Schooling symposia on 8 March in Manchester and 12 March in London – background reading and Tweet digests here.

BALANCED: the curriculum should promote the intellectual, moral, spiritual aesthetic, creative emotional and physical development of the young person.  The disciplines of language arts, mathematics, science, history, geography should figure strongly, and so should the creative arts.  Dylan argues that ..

‘Given the increasing capability of technology to do almost anything that can be reduced to routines, it may be that the greatest contributions to economic growth will in the future come from creative arts.’

RIGOROUS: the curriculum should take into account disciplinary habits of mind – disciplinary specific, powerful ways of thinking that are developed through sustained engagement with the discipline.  For example, inverse operations in maths, cause and effect in science, structure and agency in sociology, provenance and context in history, central tendency and dispersion in statistics.

COHERENT: the curriculum should be designed to promote the development of capabilities across subjects – for example, students learn about graphs in maths before it is needed in science.

VERTICALLY INTEGRATED: it should be clear how material taught in one year builds on what was learned in previous years, and how it leads on to subsequent learning.

APPROPRIATE: the curriculum should provide challenge for students but should not make unreasonable demands on students.

FOCUSED: the curriculum should emphasis a small number of ‘big ideas’ – this will inevitably mean leaving out significant and important material.

RELEVANT: the curriculum should be relevant and should take into account the interest, needs and wishes of students, but within a framework of informed choice in respect of pedagogy and curriculum.  Students should have a say in how they learn, and as they get older, also in what they learn.  The curriculum should provide opportunities for students to specialise – to pursue their interests in greater depth.  Students should not be allowed to discontinue the study of particular subjects until they have experienced enough of the subject to make an informed choice about discontinuing study of that subject.  This places a burden on schools to provide rich experiences that properly introduce students to disciplines, so that they know what they are giving up.

“And that’s the real tragedy … we’ve got better and better at preparing our kids to jump through hoops of things they’ve learned before; what we need is kids who can react to things they’ve never seen before.  The really important thing is that your students leave your classrooms with a passion for learning.”

Dylan Wiliam at SSAT National Conference 2012
Watch the full video here …

** Do you agree with these principles for the curriculum?  Have your say here .. **


sue-williamsonSue Williamson is Chief Executive
of the SSAT – follow her on Twitter