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A curriculum isn’t innovative nor creative. Teachers are.


Curriculum: the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college:course components of the school curriculum

After an engaging and circular conversation view Twitter the other day, this post aims to provide some context the the title statement.  It’s not here as the definitive answer, but some thoughts and reflections.  You may find that this is more of a semantic argument than one of real substance and it not presented as the definitive view, just the working one on which Priory Geography’s Schemes of Work are based.

My thoughts on this are defined by working within a National Curriculum and GCSE examination specification system.  To me, the curriculum tells me what we should be teaching.  Here, specification and curriculum are the same and are set by an outside body.  I have no real issue with being told what to teach within a national framework, it’s being told how to teach.  In our context, the National Curriculum for England and OCR’s Spec B Geography GCSE Specification sets out most of our content.  Everything that we do links to one of these documents.

Why make the distinction? I have come across too many people that blame the GCSE specifications or the National Curriculum for poor teaching.  This is one of the main reasons why I found sitting on the GA’s Education Committee so frustrating.  Yes, a curriculum can encourage and allow opportunity for innovation, but ultimately it’s the teachers who deliver the lessons who make it inspiring, relevant, innovative, creative….. It's the interpretation of a curriculum document that is most important. especially by school leaders at all levels.

Therefore, although the externally set curriculum and the pedagogy that individuals and departments use are different.  They are certainly linked together, but I am yet to see a curriculum document that is innovative.

But what about a co-created curriculum document or one put together by teachers?  Firstly, both the National Curriculum and GCSE Specifications already allow room for both co-creation and teachers to decide on what specific aspects should be taught. Secondly, the curriculum document still needs to be interpreted by other teachers and students.  From experience, it’s clear that everyone interprets the same document in totally different ways.  You only have to look at the activities of Priory Geography to see that.  Yes, you can wander between our classrooms and see similar stuff happening, but it’s also different.  I encourage an atmosphere in which individual style and interpretation is valued and encouraged.

Indeed, the fact that Gove, the GA, RGS, the Government, the Headteacher, aliens et al are not in our department makes teaching the beautifully creative environment that it is.  Do you have to follow exactly the National Curriculum (which has always allowed for extra stuff to be taught) or GCSE Specification to the letter to get good outcomes?  No.  The energy of subject associations and the government (both local and national) shouldn’t be on constantly changing the curriculum – decide what it is, leave some room and move on to supporting teachers interpret the documents.  Just creating the document in itself may score political points but doesn’t help teacher to be creative nor innovative.

Confused?  I think that I possibly am Winking smile The bottom line is that I get very frustrated when I hear of poor teaching blamed upon the system.  Give us any curriculum document and I’m fairly confident that we could deliver it in an innovative and creative way.

What do you think?


  1. On the whole, I totally agree with you - it is teachers who make something innovative. Without skill, knowledge and commitment, not to mention confidence, of the teacher, any curriculum can be turgid and poorly executed.

    However, the curriculum and assessment regime set the mood music. I have come across an innovative curriculum document - the Pilot GCSE (R.I.P.). I worked with several fellow teachers on this project and whilst they were the ones who made it come alive, the whole ethos and underlying philosophy of the course and document were such that it gave individuals the confidence to be innovative and creative. The varied assessment regime positively fostered alternative ways of working, such as a cultural geography assessment marked in groups!

    There will always be some teachers who are confident enough of their own work that they can make a thriving curriculum regardless of the document they are given. However, for others a document such as the Pilot spec can play a very positive role in sending through the message that it is O.K. to follow such a path.

  2. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that certain curriculum documents and / or specification can encourage more creativity, but I feel that it's the role of school leadership (at all levels) to support colleagues in being creative. I know that may be very difficult to achieve small or one person departments, but that's when regional networks / twitter / blogs come in.

    We didn't go down the Pilot and it wouldn't have suited our students at that time.

    Best wishes

    david :-)

  3. I agree with Phil that the Pilot GCSE was what brought the final 3 years or so of my teaching to life, although there was a bit of a spark there to begin with...
    The freedom with Pilot GCSE allowed me to follow on from what had already been a creative KS3. I've never believed that the 'curriculum' as such is anything more than a piece of paper. Teachers are the curriculum makers.

    Having spent 4 years travelling the UK and working with thousands of teachers I can tell you that there is a vast range of responses when you say that... the excuses of 'lack of time' sometimes come out, along with a general confusion between curriculum and pedagogy.
    In the end we can't teach the whole of Geography - we make choices - when enough teachers make the same choices (France, Brazil, Italy, Japan) they come to be seen as 'common sense' (Noel Castree)

    I hope there's enough examples on LivingGeography for anyone to see what I mean (and I know you don't need telling any of this David, but I know that people will read this...) but what's clear is that the work we are doing on the GA Curriculum Working Group will produce a document that gives teachers 'room to breathe', but with some agreed contet (which is important for collaboration to take place)

    I'm currently in a position where I see the impacts of curriculum change from every possible angle(apart from that of the DfE) - I continue to support teachers, I may well be back in the classroom before too long, I write books for publishers, and continue to share hundreds of ideas a month via my blogs and VITAL work...

    Every teacher is an individual - any curriculum has to be subjected to those individual 'filters' placed between the document and the students.

    And my head was a geographer and supported me to make the right geographical decisions, so I was fortunate in that respect...

    Pick the bones out of that :)

  4. The teacher is the key. Having worked in four departments the curriculum offers opportunities and what is selected aids creativity depending on individual strengths and knowledge.

    I have to agree we can take the curriculum in many directions through the individual teacher as twitter shows on a daily basis.

  5. Thanks Alan for the comment. The post came about because many of the teachers I speak to want to be spoon fed the curriculum and how to teach - this in turn leads to spoon feeding individuals. From my experiences of university, I learned loads but also was subjected to the worst teaching possible....

    I also think that (some) teachers are confused between the curriculum and pedagogy - bad teaching is down to teachers and not the curriculum document :-)

    Best wishes


  6. Thanks for the great comment Andy,

    My concern is that the GA and other bodies will out so much into the what, they will forget / not be able to support the how.

    Best wishes


  7. Paul Sturtivant11 April 2012 at 15:03

    Very interesting read! We had a conversation before and you have said more eloquently than I did what I was trying to! I think that's it's really important that we keep investing in continuous development of teaching and learning within schools and between schools. I would contend that a National Curriculum could free up time for teachers to creatively interpret and share with others and is therefore a positive step.


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