School Curriculum - what is the role for governors?

School Curriculum - what is the role for governors?

Happy New Year!
January 2019 and we learn from Ofsted that our focus must move to the school curriculum. In the new framework the quality of teaching, learning and assessment will still be judged, but will be “viewed in the context of the provider’s curriculum”.(1) For many boards this will not be new; some have, over a period of time, had regular discussions and school visits to see aspects of the curriculum at work - but have we had a clear understanding and focus for this activity?  We have the national curriculum to follow (in maintained schools) but how does the board shape the curriculum that the school delivers?

As with everything school governance I believe this begins with the board having set a clear vision, values and aims for the school. (More on this is my next blog - if I survive this one!)  Having that clarity of strategic direction enables every other activity of the board to have a focus.  For example the board can learn much from asking the Head to address the question 'how does our curriculum deliver the school's values?'  The board can ensure that, inline with their vision, the curriculum is accessible to all children and it can constantly ask about the most disadvantaged members of its school community to ensure that this is the case. 

At the school I chair we have a strategic aim around 'the healthy child; mind body and soul' and our curriculum has a clear role to play in aspects of delivering this.  A whole board meeting dedicated to this led to some great discussions on the value we put on PE;  on how confident staff feel about delivering PSHCE, Relationships and Sex Education and Religious Education and where does teaching safe, kind and purposeful online activity get covered?  This resulted in the purchase of a completely new resource for PSHCE, a review of the use of sports premium funding and a new behaviour policy.  All good stuff - learning about the school, delivering challenge to the SLT and having impact. 

A recent reading of Mary Myatt's latest book The Curriculum (2) added to my thinking on this subject and led to some great discussions with our Head. (the first few chapters are useful for us governors) We learn that the curriculum can be led by two drivers, skills and knowledge - so which does our school follow - or is it a bit of both and why?  Neither stand alone argues Mary Myatt but I see an increasing emphasis on knowledge.  This seems sensible to me, we need this so that our children can grow up negotiating the complicated world outside the classroom and making a success of it. Skills have their place too of course - it is a question of balance. I like the quote from Kofi Anan used at the start of the chapter 'knowledge is power. Information is liberating.'(3)

Mary also has a chapter on 'the purpose' of our curriculum and, for me, this is an aspect that the board can, and should, influence through its clear strategic vision. A key part of 'the purpose' of our curriculum is to deliver the vision, values and relevant strategic aims. I would also argue that one answer to the question Mary poses early in this chapter, 'why am I teaching this lesson?', becomes easy  - because it delivers the vision for education in this school. 

Of course there are layers and layers to this planning and our role as governors is at the very top level.  The nitty gritty is for our professional colleagues to plan using their expertise and knowledge but, having that strategic plan gives us great opportunity for questioning their rationale. We might, in fact we absolutely should, ensure that pupils and parents have had an opportunity to have some input into curriculum design in our schools.  A recent survey by Parentkind showed that 56% of respondents wanted schools to consult them on curriculum.(4)

A further area where we governors should ask questions is the professional development of our teachers' subject knowledge.  There are so many demands on CPD time in schools but if our teachers don't keep up to date in their subject areas we are doing them and our children a disservice. Ask the question - how is curriculum development supported through the CPD of staff?  Ensure you have the resources in place to support this - or, if there is no money, (I know shocking isn't it but the reality in my school's case) consider creative free ways of doing this.  Local networks and Edutwitter come into their own here!

Finally colleagues - enjoy this aspect of the board's work - I love these discussions they are always interesting, engaging, informative, challenging and constructive. They move the school forward, they enable policy to be constructed, they allow focus for allocation of resources, they challenge leaders to think about the actions they take, they improve the education we deliver for our children and are the very essence of good governance. 

1. Ofsted, Education inspection framework 2019: inspecting the substance of education

2. Myatt, M., (2018) The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence, John Catt Educational Ltd
3. Kofi Anan quoted in Myatt, M. (2018)

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