Principles of curriculum design
The vision for curriculum that schools have developed should then guide curriculum design.
Based on the curriculum requirements set out in legislation, their curriculum must:
- enable learners to make progress towards the four purposes
- be broad and balanced
- be suitable for learners of different ages, abilities and aptitudes
- provide for appropriate learner progression
- include all six Areas
- cover every statement of what matters
- include the mandatory curriculum components of religion, values and ethics, relationships and sexuality education, Welsh and English
- embed the mandatory cross-curricular skills
- incorporate a range of assessment approaches which support learner progression
- provide choice for learners in what they study at 14 to 16 but still ensure every learner has learning in each Area
This guidance should also:
- provide a breadth of learning, drawing together a range of experiences, knowledge and skills across a range of contexts, topics and activities, making links across Areas
- provide for, over time, an increasing depth and sophistication of learning
- be developmentally appropriate and drive learners’ progression
- incorporate opportunities for learning and consideration of cross-cutting elements, which:
- allow learners to consider local, national and international contexts
- develop understanding of careers and work-related experiences
- develop understanding of human rights education and diversity
Using the guidance to select curriculum content
Each element of the guidance within the Areas has been developed to support the selection of curriculum content. These are:
- statements of what matters
- descriptions of learning
- principles of progression.
Statements of what matters
A school’s curriculum must cover all of the statements of what matters from age 3 to 16, providing engagement with their key concepts in a developmentally appropriate way. These statements are therefore an essential part of schools’ curriculum design. Schools and practitioners must use the statements of what matters to guide the development of curriculum content, using them to:
- select experiences, knowledge and skills – the statements of what matters sum up the ‘big ideas’ or key principles of each Area and content selected should enable learners to develop understanding of the statements of what matters
- understand how learning should support learners’ progression – learning should contribute to an increasingly sophisticated understanding and application of the statements of what matters
- allow learners to explore topics and activities through different lenses – the same subject matter can and should be considered by learners through different statements allowing learners to experience a topic holistically, helping them to make stronger links across content, disciplines and Areas
- help learners to make sense of a range of experiences, knowledge and skills, focused around the fundamentals of each Area – using the statements of what matters to underpin learning helps learners develop a coherent understanding of a range of information, making connections between different learning, rather than accumulating isolated facts and activities.
Curriculum content must link back to the statements of what matters. This supports learners to make sense of everything they learn throughout the continuum of learning. Practitioners should use a range of contexts, perspectives and topics to contribute towards learning within a statement. This enables learners to develop a coherent framework of learning and an increasingly sophisticated understanding and application of those ideas or principles as they progress.
Descriptions of learning
Descriptions of learning provide guidance on how learners should progress within each statement of what matters as they journey through the continuum of learning. These are arranged in five progression steps which provide reference points for the pace of that progression. These expectations are expressed from the learner’s perspective and are framed broadly so that they can sustain learning over a series of years. They are not designed as stand-alone tasks, activities or assessment criteria. While the learning continuum is the same for each learner, the pace of progress through it may differ. As a result, the progression steps only broadly relate to age. They broadly correspond to expectations at ages 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16.
Descriptions of learning are designed to sustain learning over a period of years and this gives practitioners scope to use them to select content that provides both breadth and depth of learning.
Practitioners should use the descriptions of learning to bring together a broad range of experiences, knowledge and skills. They should be explored through a range of contexts, topics and activities selected in the process of curriculum design. This should also mean making links across Areas as appropriate.
Practitioners should support learners to engage with descriptions of learning in increasing depth and sophistication over a period of time. This should help learners to apply the descriptions of learning in increasingly challenging contexts and allow for diversion, reinforcement and reflection as their understanding and application of the key learning develops and becomes more sophisticated over time, provoking deep thinking, discussion and inquiry.
Where overlaps in learning exist, descriptions of learning are designed to be considered through a range of different disciplinary lenses and practitioners should seek to incorporate these disciplinary perspectives into learning. As learners progress, they should have greater opportunity to specialise and the disciplinary contexts for descriptions of learning should become increasingly apparent in curriculum design. In some Areas, disciplines also become more explicit in the descriptions of learning themselves towards the end of the continuum, as the essence of learning in an Area becomes more specialised.
Principles of progression
Progression in learning should always be at the heart of curriculum design rather than starting with a theme and fitting the learning to it. In selecting curriculum content, schools and practitioners must use the principles of progression to inform their approach to progression. While descriptions of learning articulate how learners should make progress in learning around specific statements of what matters, the principles of progression articulate the broader principles of what progression means in the Area as a whole. As such, schools and practitioners must use these principles to inform all learning in supporting progression. When considering descriptions of learning or a specific context, topic or experience, the principles of progression help practitioners to understand how learners should progress with greater sophistication or depth. Practitioners should also recognise that learners will progress at different paces.
The role of disciplines in learning
This guidance has been developed to support approaches which draw together different disciplines in curriculum design. This provides learners with a more coherent learning experience, as they seek to make meaningful connections between the different things they learn. In this respect, combining a range of statements of what matters in different Areas can allow learners to consider curriculum content from a range of perspectives and disciplines. The statements of what matters themselves, and where appropriate the descriptions of learning, have been designed to facilitate this kind of approach. This allows learners to link and reinforce their learning across different disciplines.
As learners progress, they should have greater opportunities to engage with different disciplines and to specialise within them, particularly when they reach the later progression steps. However, this should be a process of evolution, with learners gradually having greater opportunity to specialise. As learners progress, this process should be supported by discipline-specialist teaching, which, along with the multi-disciplinary approach to curriculum design, should prepare learners who seek to specialise further during learning post-16. This will require specialists to teach and specialists to design.
While learners should have opportunities to specialise, the curriculum must remain broad and balanced and each learner should continue to draw on learning from each Area throughout their time in compulsory education. Schools will be expected to enable all learners to access a range of courses of study and to take suitable qualifications at the end of compulsory education.