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​Why Teachers Should Understand Curriculum Design

About over 1 year ago By Alex Schulte

​Why Teachers Should Understand Curriculum Design

Every teacher working in local-authority-maintained schools in England delivers lessons based on the National Curriculum: the statutory set of subjects, topics and standards for assessment.

This does not mean every child at every school will learn exactly the same things. Each local-authority-maintained school has a degree of choice in how to use the raw materials in the National Curriculum to fashion its own distinctive curriculum. Meanwhile, academies can set their own learning programmes without reference to the National Curriculum at all.

Most teachers working below a leadership level won’t really be involved in these processes. However, understanding what goes into the curriculum design process could inform your perspective on how best to teach its contents.   

On 26 July, our in-house expert Liz Bell will be hosting the next in our series of free webinars, taking attendees through everything they need to know about effective curriculum design. You can sign up here.

Register for our curriculum webinar

But first, let’s whizz through a few of the topics she’ll be covering tomorrow on school curriculum best practice.

The National Curriculum: the basics

The National Curriculum was first introduced in 1988. The Curriculum that is in force today was written up in 2014, with some new additions in 2015.

The National Curriculum aims to serve as ‘an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons’. It is designed to introduce pupils to ‘the essential knowledge they require to be educated citizens’.

The curriculum is organised into ‘key stages’ – blocks of year groups with their own, individual formal assessments.

  • KS1 includes Years 1-2

  • KS2 includes Years 1-6

  • KS3 includes Years 7-9

  • KS4 includes Year 10 and 11

Ofsted’s three approaches to curriculum design

Ofsted’s inspection framework requires inspectors to judge the quality of education at schools according to three key principles:


  • Schools must be deemed to be teaching an ‘ambitious’, full curriculum that gives all learners ‘the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life’

  • The curriculum should be planned coherently and sequenced with ‘skills for future learning and employment’ in mind

  • Schools should have the same ambitions and expectations for all (or almost all) their pupils


  • Teachers must have good subject knowledge and adequate support from leaders

  • Teaching is orientated around pupils’ long-term memories

  • The environment is conducive to learning

  • Children are taught to enjoy reading


  • Pupils can apply their detailed knowledge and skills to achieve well in exams

  • Pupils are properly prepared for the next stage of their lives, whether that’s education, employment, or training

Designing a 3D curriculum

Educational theorist and ex-headteacher Clare Sealy has popularised concept of a ‘3D curriculum’. This approach seeks to build long-term recall by creating links between different concepts across three dimensions:

  1. Vertical links within a subject that allow key concepts to be encountered repeatedly over year groups

  2. Horizontal links connecting concepts across different subjects within year groups

  3. Diagonal links that connect concepts across year groups and subjects

These linkages don’t just improve attainment for exams. They help pupils construct holistic mental models of the world and how it all fits together. Clare’s detailed blog on the topic is worth reading for examples of how this intuitive theory works in practice.

Whatever your role or degree of seniority, understanding the principles of curriculum design will help you understand why you’re teaching what you’re teaching, and how to bring subjects to life.     

To find out more about this crucial aspect of pedagogy,  join Liz at her webinar on curriculum design tomorrow.

Sign up for our curriculum webinar