In creating, implementing and maintaining anything, especially complex delivery systems, a great directive I was given as a younger manager was to ‘keep things as simple as possible.’
I remember my headteacher telling me, when trying to implement an assessment system where staff were struggling just to cope with the entry system, the technology was clunky and overly complex. It became counterproductive, its complexity prevented teaching staff from seeing the data as entered. Staff spent more time struggling to enter data rather than investing the time in developing understanding of what we were monitoring. It was a salutary lesson.
Certainly, in the years that have followed I have been very wary of unnecessary complexity and in my work with schools over the past 22 years I have made conscious attempts to get to the simple truths of any system.
In continuing my technical series on curriculum modelling in school design I want to touch on the subject of keeping it simple. Having conducted reviews of curriculum models in hundreds of schools the starting point is the population design structures (review the population design article to get that understanding). Often school leaders will say that they are perturbed by the number of multiple teachers teaching single groups (‘split classes’ in common understanding.) They cite accountability but really the issues are consistency and continuity. Teaching is made all the more difficult when multiple staff teach the same subject to a single class. I found one class of maths being taught over 8 session by 5 different teachers!
The more I see the more I have become aware that one of the main contributors to this feature is the significant complexity in the structure of the curriculum modelling. One of these characteristics is mixing population structures across a year group. Whole year blocks, half year blocks and third year blocks all used within one year group structure create blocks to the formation of the timetable. This is one of the main reasons for difficulty in making things fit in a way that teaching teams are consistent and manageable. Obviously, the quantity of part time teachers will also be a contributing factor, however, this is often mitigated by the management of these people’s time.
Banding year groups into sub-populations is a population design process. There are trigger points that make it feasible to divide a year group into smaller populations the point I am going to illustrate is that mixing these populations across a year group structure or using different structures across a school will make the delivery of timetable structures more difficult to create a high quality timetabled result.
Mixing half year groups, third year groups makes the scope of timetable delivery very complex and usually creates unmanageable structures.
The benefit in keeping it simple is a more manageable class structure.
Some present that halving year groups gives you more flexibility to set. It creates more depth to setting and however it will require larger teams, usually more requirement for high quality teachers and thus harder to appoint to. Its impact will be more split sets elsewhere as there are less places to put them across a linear framework.
Of the three curriculum models you can see above the top version is for half of the year group in the headline model. A the middle version a very complex and problematic model that creates many issues for teachers and learners, the lower model has simple population management with the complexity of three population styles that can limit positioning. The significant issue is that it creates holes where blocks cannot be placed.
One of the cited reasons for structure is the movement of learners within blocks, this usually matters where your preference is to setting. There are three principles within the population design theory to consider. These are:
- Mobility – the ability to move learners within the population to achieve justified learning goals without creating ceiling and blocks.
- Efficiency – the ability to deliver a curriculum that can be afforded within the funds available.
- Equity – structures that enable learners to be provided with a curriculum that is appropriate to their needs and fair in its capacity to deliver for equitably for all.
Many of the examples I see are driven by wrong assumptions about these these simple principles.
If you want to discuss your curriculum design or get it reviewed for simpler approaches contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02037012854 and we will arrange a time to talk it through with you.