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Challenging the Status Quo – Curriculum Timetabling

Following on from by blog last week on timetables, it makes sense to move on to curriculum timetabling. It may seem that this is much the same as the previous one, but there are subtle differences. In the blog on timetables, I tried to unpick the way we currently set up our weekly timetables – specifically around the arbitrary times we allocate to subjects. In this blog, I want to look at the more medium and long term planning elements to see if we can, again, challenge the status quo. As I mentioned in the first blog, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’, and now is as good a time as any to change.

When we sit down and plan our medium and long term approaches to the curriculum, in my experience, we tend to work it around the half terms. So we sit and either draw out on paper, or map out on a table in Word, the number of half terms (for long term plans) and the number of weeks in a half term (for medium term plans). With the increased focus on sequencing of curriculum, this may now be mapped out in terms of order but if not, this can be a long job to do. There is then the considerations over which subjects may go better together and maybe even how to divide up resources so that different year groups may access them.

This again raises the question of ‘why’. Not whether or not we should plan in the medium and long term, but why we do it in this particular way. Have you ever wondered why every unit in every foundation subject lasts six weeks? This is where the short term timetabling issues and the medium/long term issues are aligned. We are so preoccupied with making sure that our units fit nicely into the boxes of half terms that we are not necessarily fully focused on whether this is the right amount of time needed to cover the learning and knowledge that we want our children to acquire.

I was really prompted to think about this after listening to the Dynamic Deputies podcast episode with Andrew Percival. At the end of the podcast, he explains his school’s approach to languages. They have decided to teach Latin and he outlines the excellent rationale behind this in the podcast. It wasn’t this, however that peaked my interest. What I found particularly interesting is that languages is only taught in Years 5&6. The National Curriculum (with the exception of English, maths and science) doesn’t outline the specifics to be taught in different year groups. Instead, it has the end of Key Stage outcomes. So with the example of Latin/languages, as long as the National Curriculum is covered by the end of KS2, then how and when it is taught is left to school discretion.

What does this mean for curriculum timetabling and planning in the medium and long term? It should mean that we take the opportunity to relook at what we teach and how long is needed to teach it. I think it is important to preface this with saying that I am not particularly saying that it is wrong to plan things to fit in with half terms. What I am saying is that we need to re-evaluate the units of work that we teach to make sure that we are maximising the time that we have available to us.

If we were to look at a unit of science for example. In the year 5 programme of study, two of the ‘units’ are Animals including humans and Properties and changes of materials. There is nothing magical about this, but looking at the NC in terms of what ‘pupils should be taught to’, there is one objective under the Animals unit, but 6 under the Properties unit. This is a crude look at these units, but I would imagine that in most cases, we would allocate the same amount of time to both units without spending much time unpicking whether 6 weeks was needed to cover both.

The example is to highlight the point that we do need to start thinking deeply about how we structure our curriculum. We know that time is short and that there is a lot to cover. From speaking to colleagues and from reading various posts on Twitter, being time poor during the day, week and term is a common theme. If this is the case (and it certainly is in my experience both as a teacher and as a leader) then we need to do something about it. With so much work around curriculum being undertaken, we have an opportunity to look not only at the what we cover and when we cover it (curriculum sequencing and coherence) but also the ‘how long’ we cover it for. If we really spend time looking at the actual content we need and want to cover, we can focus our efforts onto that which we deem most important for the children and potentially free up some time to ensure that other areas of the curriculum do not become narrowed.

As is always the way with the status quo, moving away from something that we are so used to is not likely to be easy. However, if we don’t currently have enough time in our curriculum, then doing the same again will not magically create more time. The only way we can find that time to cover things in more depth, or to find that extra time for something that may otherwise slip away, is to do things differently.

As the quote attributed to Einstein states ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. If we want different results, we need to change the game.

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