Don’t put the cart before the horse

Ensuring the curriculum, teaching and learning remains at the heart of the school development plan

The curriculum intent


In a comparative study entitled ‘Capturing the leadership premium: How the world's top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future’, Barber et al states:

“High-performing principals… see their biggest challenges as improving teaching and the curriculum.”

Barber et al, 2010, p7

Ofsted will be looking at a school’s ‘quality of education’ and will be providing a judgement as part of their four points of focus. As a result, there will be an enhanced focus on the school curriculum.

The curriculum will have three aspects to it:

  1. the intent: what we are trying to achieve through our curriculum

  2. the implementation: how our curriculum is being delivered

  3. and the impact: the difference our curriculum is making

School leaders often make the mistake of focusing on teacher behaviour in class, without first questioning whether the learning intention is appropriate for the students in class.


The idiom 'cart before the horse' is used to suggest something is done contrary to a conventional or culturally expected order, in other words - the thing that should come second is put first. Logically, the horse pulls the cart. Our horse should be our curriculum intentions, therefore, be the pulling force driving everything we do in our classrooms.


We can then monitor how effective our curriculum is being delivered. For example, Rosenshine’s 17 principles of instruction look at various effective classroom interactions, which helps teachers deliver well-crafted lessons. Monitoring the quality of these interactions will help us to ensure that we achieve our desired impact.


The curriculum implementation through the DPR


Since the curriculum lies at the heart of the core purpose of education, successful curriculum innovation requires the use of high levels of skill in all of the key areas of leadership including strategy development and implementation, human resource management, teaching and learning, financial management, accountability, and liaison with key stakeholders and the community.

Brundrett & Duncan, 2010, p4


The DPR is a powerful application that helps schools to both organise and implement their curriculum intentions. It is, therefore, necessary for school leadership to ensure all stakeholders are engaging with these leading curriculum intentions and reap all the benefits it has to offer.


Dangers of complacency and quick wins


However, the mistake would be to assume that both teachers and students will proactively and consistently engage with the curriculum through the DPR. The school leadership must make it their business to track and monitor the extent of engagement expected from teachers and students throughout the year with the DPR. This means someone senior, such as the curriculum deputy, oversee the leadership and management of DPR and are made to be accountable for its success. Otherwise, things will be left to chance, resulting in disappointing levels of engagement from students, parents and teachers.


One of the quick ways to improve the level of engagement is by introducing the DPR assignment. This forces both teachers and students to log into DPR regularly and interact with the key learning involved.


Whole school Insights: leadership of engagement data


DPR provides powerful engagement data through its Whole School Insights. The following are just a few examples of data you are able to analyse through the DPR Whole School Insights feature:


  • Assignment analytics: tracking both the frequency and quality of homework set by teachers and submitted by students

  • Patterns of student and teacher log-ins

  • The extent of student and teacher collaboration: broken down by text and voice

  • Amount of resources uploaded by departments

  • Key objective analysis: analysing the effectiveness of taught key learning objectives through the DPR strategic overview

These real-time engagement data can be downloaded instantly in order to evaluate the extent and the effectiveness of engagement with the school curriculum


Ensuring the curriculum, teaching and learning remains at the heart of the school development plan


Consider the diagram on the right. It looks at how some of the different components of school strategy fit together so that the school implementation plan could be implemented practically.


We strongly recommend that the school leadership explicitly state how they plan to improve the quality of engagement with DPR through its school development plan (SDP) and extend this to their department development plan (DDP). This will ensure the plan to improve the school curriculum remains at the heart of the school improvement plan.


An example of this can be seen below: a simplified excerpt of the CST SDP, which deals with the curriculum engagement through the DPR for the year 2019-20.




To ensure both support and accountability is tight, it is important for this plan to be extended to the other components shown in the Implementation Strategy diagram above. For example, all the actions that are required to achieve a target related to engagement with the curriculum need to be made explicit.


It goes without saying that both teachers, parents and students will need guidance towards how best to engage with the DPR. Therefore, school CPD should incorporate the necessary training required to achieve this aim. Students can be supported through form times, mentoring and during assembly times. Schools should also address parents during parents evening or by inviting them to an open evening.


The curriculum Impact


A major review of the research in the field, ‘Seven strong claims about successful school leadership’, states that school leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning

(Leithwood et al, 2006, p3).


Strong school leadership is required to ensure standards are raised. Regardless of the school's priority, it’s important that it is planned, milestones identified and individuals are held accountable to ensure its success. The desired impact is inevitable with a clear strategy, a SMART plan and strong leadership and accountability.




Further reading

  1. 5 Things that confuse me regarding OFSTED

  2. 2019 Ofsted inspection framework: what it means for your school (The Key-requires password/membership)

  3. Dylan William: Principled curriculum design

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