A balance of three

For the past 10 years I have been working on school efficiency, particularly in the area of curriculum design and provision. As a result of that work I would suggest that there are three characteristics of curriculum design that need to be held in balance at every phase.

  1. Efficient (can we afford it?),
  2. Effective (does it do the necessary job?) and,
  3. Ethical ( does it do what we need it to do?)

What we have found is that where any of these are removed the balance is lost and the whole education and consequently the learner suffers. Where one or two are over-emphasised the balance is lost and the education as a whole is poorer as a result. Much of the rhetoric around at the moment is shouting about what can we afford- or  more specifically we can’t afford, and as a result we are in a climate where cutting the provision or expecting others to pay is the result. We see examples of where parents are being asked to pay for more or cuts are announced with some regularity. Toilet paper, pencils on the one hand teaching assistants and Arts classes on the other with many more examples.

Here is just one recent example, understandable in one way, concerning in another. The truth being that parents buying these essentials would not save the kind of money that is suggested. Now, we can put that down to sensationalised reporting, but sadly our experience tells us that this is all too often what is being done, scratching at the issue with a lack of real impact.

BBC News June 2018

The truth is that curriculum provision in all schools is in a battle to stay in balance. The pressure to be effective is the over-riding concern and so specific decisions are made within the capacity of the workforce at any point in time. The challenge- keeping all three imperatives in balance within a system that has not changed for many years and with a resource base that is becoming far more thin to spread (teaching staff and funding). The resolution- it goes back to a previous article – Hatchet or Scalpel – the answer is a establishing the methodologies that will maintain a balance of the three.

The challenge all school leadership bodies face is that designing a full curriculum provision has to hold the importance of all three.

  1. An efficient curriculum is the size and shape that is right for the funding provided, based on the number of children in the building and their local needs and characteristics.
  2. An effective curriculum meets all of the accountability standards set by the state system or parental expectations and it delivers! And having the right teachers doing the right things to enable the learners to be successful- however we measure it.
  3. An ethical curriculum balances what is right for young learners face in the new worlds ahead of them, covering all that will set them up for a long, fulfilling and prosperous future.

It is easy to be critical and that is not the intention of this discussion, it is a difficult set of criteria to balance. I applaud the professionals that make it work in their context, genuinely. I believe that because of it’s nature this will look different in the many contexts across the country. I might suggest a few things that fit this triad of considerations, I know there are many more and this is not intended to be simplistic, but just to pose a few things that impact the dialogue,

  1. The changes in roll size, the fluctuating birth rate or less than stable reputation of individual institutions means that the size of the school needs to respond or adapt. How can we be adaptive and responsive to these fluctuations other carrying on as normal? The breadth of curriculum able to be offered may, in the secondary sector particularly, mean small class sizes that become expensive to deliver or we simply cut out less populated subjects- arts, creativity and technology. What can we do to maintain the range of offers without providing a one-size-fits-all provision.
  2. The drive for accountability and standards, right as it is, means that decisions are often made focussing on the reputation of the institution ahead of what is right for the learners. Ouch, (sorry to be blunt) but my experience tells me that many feel this is an inevitability and I maintain that does not necessarily have to be the only reality. Performance table outcomes can drive the shape of the curriculum rather than the many and varied needs and aspirations of learners and the economic future of their communities, its a many facetted jewel that should not be prescribed by success promising ‘quick fixes’. Also it seems to happen as much at Key Stage 2 as it does at Key Stage 4- sadly, concentrating alone on the tested outcomes. Compliance to the norm is the key and for the  ‘sorry if you don’t fit’ we create ‘alternative curriculum provision’ with different accountability measures! Or different types of schools that don’t satisfy the accountability measures so can’t be seen to succeed, although they have exciting and brilliant curriculum offers for young  learners.
  3. What is right, fun and valuable are left aside so often from what is needed. ‘We haven’t got time for this and that’ are statements heard before ‘We believe this is really valuable for our learners.’ Physical Education leaves the timetable because, ‘what’s the point when they will be removed for revision classes anyway later in the year!’ ‘The course has no outcome result so it’s not needed’

I know this is not the place to sell products and that’s not my intention. We are finding that in the ICFP arena (Integrated Curriculum and Financial Planning) efficiency is a major driver, but we created SMARTcurriculum Method to open a conversation about the balance of all three imperatives. We believe It is about making the educational provision efficient, but also effective and an ethical provision that is right for our learners future, so that they are instilled with that love of learning, inquisitive and capable.

If you would like to talk further about SMARTcurriculum Method or are interested in using the SMARTcurriculum Application please contact us at info@cj-learning.com. Find information about the online application at SMARTcurriculum Application.

Chris Jones, CEO CJ Learning and CJ Learning Technologies.