Planning curriculum adjustments: a guide for senior and subject leaders

Are you planning adjustments to the delivery of your academic curriculum? Josephine Smith suggests considerations for leaders in a secondary school

Author details

Josephine Smith is head of a secondary school within a MAT in Lincolnshire. She was previously a vice principal and head of English and director of Key Stage 4 in schools in Leicestershire and Rutland.
Josephine holds NPQH, is a Research...

An online search for advice on curriculum adjustment in the light of disruption to schooling returns many excellent resources. Experts rightly focus on fostering wellbeing and nurturing pupils as they return to their school communities. Support is available for what is termed a ‘recovery curriculum’ and we are reminded that no student will learn successfully if they are anxious or remain disconnected.

Less advice is available for school leaders and subject leaders on adjustments that may need to be made at whole school or subject level to the delivery of the academic curriculum.

The gaps in understanding that can normally exist between students...will have been exacerbated by the school closures

This article is written to help secondary school leaders and subject leaders navigate the demands of modifying what they are teaching, when and to who, after months of disruption to face-to-face learning time.

Where we all left off

When the revised Ofsted inspection framework was published in May 2019 curriculum planning was made the clear focus of school effectiveness: school and subject leaders were left in no doubt that the route to helping a young person learn most effectively was by leaders scrutinising and articulating their curriculum intent, strategically planning its implementation and carefully monitoring its impact.

Back then (a professional lifetime ago!) school leaders and teachers were anxious that meeting Ofsted expectations in readiness for an inspection under the new framework would take time; Ofsted concurred.

In February 2020, Sean Harford acknowledged in an Ofsted blog that ‘a great curriculum does not just appear perfectly formed overnight. It takes a great deal of thought, preparation and work to plan it.’ An extension to the transition period was announced, taking us through to July 2021.

And then the pandemic struck...

Colleagues who have been working hard since May 2019 to craft a purposefully sequenced curriculum now have an added context: they can’t presume that all pupils have had similar learning experiences or exposure to the same learning opportunities over the past year.

Even if staff have been able to deliver high quality remote learning, the simple fact is that the gaps in understanding that can normally exist between students, even those in the same class, will have been exacerbated.

So what do school and subject leaders now need to consider? Use or adapt the questions below to form an agenda for an SLT, subject leaders or department meeting in your school.

School leaders

  • Should the curriculum time weightings given to subjects previously remain the same this year?
  • If they need to change how does this affect staffing and timetabling? Is this deliverable? What compromises might need making?
  • Should students in Years 7, 10 and 11 continue with all of the same subjects as were planned previously for them?
  • Should the school take a one size fits all approach or should only identified students continue as planned and others follow a modified curriculum? Should this be based on engagement in lockdown or understanding of learning? Both are difficult to quantify.
  • Can/should changes only be made when we know the extent of the ‘catch up’ required? When will this be, realistically?
  • Can any revised curriculum be delivered remotely if necessary?
  • How will we determine what ‘catch up’ is required?
  • How can the catch-up funding help with all the above?

I anticipate that in spite of Ofqual’s decisions regarding arrangements for examinations and assessments in 2020/21, some Year 11 students and their parents will be requesting they give up certain subjects in favour of ‘concentrating on others’.

If you can foresee such subject swings, or indeed are planning to orchestrate them (I anticipate it will hit modern foreign languages and perhaps other GCSE courses that form part of the core offer in your school such as religious studies), you will need to make timetabled provision for those students no longer sitting in their current timetabled class. Consider how you might redeploy under-scheduled teachers whilst providing staffing which caters for those keen to work on say, extra maths and English.

Subject leaders

How about these questions to focus your planning?

  • Does the order of delivery of units need changing?
  • Do lessons need sequencing differently?
  • Are there different priorities now which mean removing certain planned lessons?
  • Does Ofqual’s decisions re assessments in 2021 mean that there are sections of the curriculum you will no longer deliver to Year 11 and Year 13 students?
  • Does learning need revisiting and therefore weaving into the curriculum plan again?
  • What strategies can and should be used each lesson to:
    • assess prior learning
    • determine gaps in learning
    • revisit learning regularly to consolidate knowledge?
  • How can the catch-up funding help with all the above?

In planning for wider school opening, you will probably find that hierarchical subjects with a logical sequence of learning are somewhat easier to review and plan a way forward. In cumulative subjects some difficult decisions need to be made about what content is most useful to emphasise.

Top tips for senior and subject leaders

  • Ensure that as much joint planning time as possible is available to subject teams.
  • Divide up the work. We already know that time spent discussing curriculum implementation and sharing responsibility for planning schemes of work is the most effective use of time for departments.
  • Subject leaders must tell senior teams what you need to help students catch up. If senior leaders have learned anything in the past year it's how to be flexible and adjust plans in the light of updated information.
  • Don’t feel pressured to start catch up programmes straight away. Time spent ascertaining what the gaps in learning are is time well spent.
  • Remember that any curriculum planning needs to feature plans for a potential local lockdown and delivery via remote learning.
  • As ever your best is absolutely good enough. No senior or middle leader should expect to reverse the effects of school closures!

Useful reading

Last Updated: 
22 Dec 2020