I have come to regard the term ‘catch-up curriculum’ with a wary eye; my argument is one of balance, stability and poise. In crisis, there are key elements that we must consider: the way in which we respond to crisis is not universal, as it relies upon our interpretation of the severity of the crisis itself. This is so bespoke to the individual. The second element, particularly around the role of leadership during a crisis is that we often call upon historically built patterns of behaviour, unknowingly so, when making decisions: put simply, we behave in a way that we know isn’t the most efficient, and hasn’t worked well in the past, but we do it anyway, because within our mistakes lies the familiarity that we so crave. Consequently, our cognitive bias will look to work at full-speed as we set about the task of making rational, reasonable choices for student learning.
With regards to curriculum planning in light of (not response to) the national picture, we have a series of questions to ask ourselves in order to make methodical decisions that pay heed to both of these factors. Firstly, that we look around to see what others are doing to inform our own choices, but we cannot make them our own choices, because our own choices are so heavily reliant upon our own contexts, staff, curricular heritage. Second, that we should be attention to the way in which we respond to choices around curriculum because they hold weight, and are so much more significant than just the next set of results, or ‘hitting the ground running’ with any particular year group. The way in which we convey our curriculum now has repercussions for our curriculum of years to come, because the connections we enable students to make in their first years of our curricular provision must act as tangible, cohesive crumbs towards what we aim to do in the future. What we do now must make sense to what we do in a year, two years or more, so it pays to be cautious.
We must time cost what we have available to us: it is implausible to believe that time can be bought, regained, recouped. The preposterous notion that we have all become a collective of the catch-up generation is not a narrative that I can confidently buy into, because it encourages the prospect of simply giving up because we have been entered into a race which we can never secure a place, or that the way in which we worked up to this point has been too slow, because double-time was always an option. Instead, looking to what can be carried out, what modifications we can make with the time presented to us; taking a best-bets approach to conducting, reviewing, refining what happens in our classrooms- this is both within our control and works within the remit of what we already know to be true. Teaching well, is the best way of teaching.
If we rethink our work of the past, we pose to possibly undermine our existing curriculum. To chop up the curriculum causes questions as to why the curriculum menu on offer was there in the first place. Such thought and care went into its curation, that to be able to make adaptations that seem irascible, or reactive rather than responsive may struggle to stand up. A well-designed curriculum is an art form, and to remove or switch around the pieces plays with the craftmanship. Again, this is entirely context-dependent, and I am not naive to the individual needs that schools may have to call on support mechanisms for the short term. However, leaving a curriculum map void of particular components that four months ago, would be argued as paramount, threading through as one unit hangs in reliance to the last; this deconstructs curriculum to a dangerous point where there is a sense of disconnect, in the absence of particular links that previously, we relied upon so fervently. We must weigh up the cost and consequences are as we view the piece of art which we created, and contemplate which brush strokes we can do without.
We cannot undo the work that maintains a sense of longevity. Whilst there is a short-term need for students that we remain accountable to provide, as ever- as it has always been- we need to keep our eye on the gains to be made for long-term planning and provision. Curriculum planning when executed effectively is one of the most cohesive ways to bring together a term; one of the most sustainable ways to provide a gold standard of your subject discipline for students and perhaps most importantly, provides us with an intrinsic sense of purpose for what it means to teach. In what has been a challenging and sometimes groundless time, planning for the certainty of the long-term future has brought a reassurance through a return to the subject. Whilst we couldn’t experience the classroom in the medium and format we have always known, we delved into our craft and subject instead, immersing ourselves with familiarity of our subjects instead of flinching in the face of panic. Setting foundations for the long term- preparing to teach a curriculum because it works well, not because it might work well for now, reaps rewards beyond the next academic year, and far beyond the four walls of classrooms, but for the people who serve it.
We cannot work at an unsustainable pace, not only for our workforce, but for our curriculum. Just as choosing to teach less will leave us with a dilution of what our subject is, or means, teaching more will also seek to bring it to malformation. Choosing not to teach more isn’t turning our backs on the quality of what we teach, but acknowledging that to teach more would warp our, and the student understanding of what our subject is. Moreover, and perhaps more detrimental than we realise, teaching more will seek to undo the adoration that we have for our subject as in the face of panic, it no longer resembles what we love.
We know that what we do works and we know where to build upon to make these areas stronger. To improve is to simply look at where our curriculum stands up and look to replicate the same approach in all aspects for the children that we teach. I would argue that we cannot do more than that: if we want to ensure that the disciplines is recognisable, if we want to ensure that what we teach is something to be regarded with devotion, if we want to ensure that as time passes, we are not returning to the blueprints we wrote in 2020 with a level of disdain, having to pick apart the mess that we made.
We know we cannot plan for what we do not know: only what we do. And certainty leads us to far higher greatness than attempting to create a curriculum concoction that even we do not understand: instead, we plan using our knowledge of the subject, how it works, what it is capable of, as we always have- there’s nothing new here. It fulfills us because we have lived it and breathed it before. The wonderful interpretation of this recovery curriculum- it is just the curriculum: as useful and beautiful as it always was. This isn’t more work, but the work that looks to give logic and reason at the time that we might be most grateful for it. It is the work and it will stand the test of time when we might need it more than ever.
Symbiosis: The Curriculum and the Classroom, co-authored with Claire Hill is available to pre-order here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Symbiosis-Curriculum-Classroom-Kat-Howard/dp/1913622088