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 after lockdowns or periods of self-isolation.

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 were 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 two years.

Indeed, a Year 8 student in any secondary school this academic year will not have seen a ‘normal’ school year since they were in Year 5. Those starting their sixth form studies in September hadn’t even started their GCSE courses when they last had an uninterrupted year of learning. 

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

  • Do senior leaders understand the impact disrupted learning has had on students at individual and cohort level?
  • What data is available to check this understanding?
  • Has data collected to ascertain student engagement been used to make strategic curriculum planning decisions?
  • Has data to ascertain student progress been collected and used to make strategic curriculum planning decisions?
  • Should students in Years 7, 10 and 11 continue with the same subjects as were previously planned for them?
  • Could any other data or intelligence be collected to make sure that curriculum planning at whole-school level is evidence based?
  • Have senior staff read the conclusions of the government’s Proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2022? Does this require changes to any curriculum planning at whole school level?
  • Do we need to review what ‘catch up’ is required now?
  • How can the catch-up funding help with all the above?

I anticipate that in spite of Ofqual’s decisions regarding proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2022, 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?
  • Are there gaps, not just from last year but also the year before, that need filling or consolidating? This may mean considering the gaps in knowledge or understanding from a previous key stage and almost certainly from a different teacher’s planning.

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 following the pandemic, it's how to be flexible and adjust plans in the light of updated information.
  • Don’t feel you need to start from scratch with catch-up programmes. Instead, review and build on the successes of last year’s interventions. What worked? What didn’t?
  • Time spent ascertaining what the gaps in learning are is time well spent.
  • Remember that any curriculum planning needs to appreciate that Covid-positive students will still be away from school for 10 days, and they could be engaging in remote learning during some of that time.
  • As ever, your best is absolutely good enough. No senior or middle leader should expect to reverse the effects of the pandemic!

Useful reading

Last Updated: 
26 Aug 2021