Introduction to curriculum

This themed collection aims to support teachers and school leaders in developing their understanding of the curriculum design and delivery process. A themed collection brings together a range of useful resources on a specific topic to support practitioners deepen their knowledge in this area and shape their own professional learning. These collections can also be used to inform colleagues’ professional development as well as school policy and practice in a particular area.

This collection incorporates a range of content types to support professional learning and reflective practice, including:

  • Research summaries that  provide an overview of the evidence base
  • Case studies from practising teachers and school leaders 
  • Reflective questions to support the learning
  • Webinars and video content delivered by leading experts in the field

An introduction to curriculum

The term curriculum means many different things to different people. In its simplest form, curriculum can be defined as the ‘educational experiences that are planned for learners in educational institutions’ (Wiliam, 2013: 7). However, planning a curriculum is a complex process, with many different components to consider, including the overarching rationale, content, resources, pedagogy, sequencing and assessment (Nieveen, 2022). Practitioners need to think carefully about how these components align to successfully achieve the intended outcomes. 

There are also a wide variety of actors involved in delivering a curriculum, including classroom teachers, teaching assistants, school leaders, parents and governors (Nieveen, 2022). It is important that all parties involved have a clear understanding of the rationale underpinning the curriculum plan and their unique role in delivering it.

In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on the quality of the curriculum, which has also been recognised in the 2019 Ofsted Framework. Whilst this focus has been welcomed by many practitioners, there is still significant contention around what constitutes an effective curriculum. There is a particularly entrenched debate over a ‘knowledge’ versus ‘skills-based’ approach to curriculum design, which continues to divide educators, academics and policy-makers alike (Oates, 2018). However, despite their distinct features, these curriculum models are not as binary as they seem. In practice, one very much lends itself to the other and it is perhaps useful to see them on a spectrum (Oates, 2018). The process of curriculum design will also often be unique to the staff, students and wider community – as Marland (in Claxton, 2021) states, ‘how you teach depends on who you are teaching and what you are teaching them for: one size fits no one.’

We invite you to watch the video below to learn more about the key principles of curriculum design. Here, Tom Sherrington, author of ‘Rosenshine’s Principles in Action’ and ‘Teaching Walkthrus’ explores some of the key components of curriculum (re)design and implementation. As you watch, consider:

    • What are some of the key principles of curriculum design that might be helpful to you?
    • What could you explore further for your own context?




Claxton G (2021) The Future of Teaching and the Myths That Hold it Back. London: Routledge.

Nieveen, N. (2022) ‘Curriculum design and teacher professional learning’, Impact. 14: 1-4

Oates, T. (2018) ‘Skills versus Knowledge: A curriculum debate that matters – and one which we need to reject’, Impact. 4: 18–19.

Ofsted (2019) ‘Ofsted Inspection Framework’. Available at:  (accessed on 28.11.23)

Wiliam, D. (2013) Principled Curriculum Design. SSAT Ltd.


The following section provides a range of articles that explore practitioners’ experiences and perspectives related to curriculum. In many of the articles below, practitioners provide a detailed account of how they have used research findings to inform the curriculum (re)design and implementation process in their setting, and reflect upon the impact of this on their students, staff and wider community. In other articles, authors offer thoughtful and considered insight on a particular topic related to curriculum.

We invite you to make notes on the perspectives and the approaches taken in these articles to inform your own next steps and consider how you might apply some of these insights in your setting. 

 You could also consider the following questions:

  • What are the key components to consider when planning and implementing a curriculum? Are there any components of your curriculum that need clarifying?
  • What are the common challenges faced by practitioners when planning and implementing a curriculum? How have they sought to overcome these challenges?
  • Are there any strategies from the learning that could contribute to improving your subject knowledge and/or delivery of your current curriculum?


Taking curriculum seriously
Curriculum: Concepts and approaches
Broad? Balanced? Curriculum?
Building curriculum coherence
Curriculum alignment: A reflection of its place in a school curriculum
Working towards big ideas: Implications for the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment
What is a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum?
Skills versus knowledge: A curriculum debate that matters – and one which we need to reject
Living and learning inside the story: How storytelling can shape curriculum design
Developing a pastoral curriculum
Teacher participation in curriculum change: Our school story
Community curriculum-making: Mixing the ‘local’ with the National Curriculum
Placing Retrieval at the Heart of our Pedagogy and Curriculum
Building an ethically vibrant curriculum: a church school perspective
Designing a curriculum: The challenge faced by many specialist settings
Designing a primary knowledge-rich curriculum: Where we’ve been, where we are, where we are going
Multidirectional narratives: Diversifying the English and history curriculums
Curriculum design and teacher professional learning
Rethinking curriculum: Designing for the future
Knowing your subject: The role of disciplinary knowledge in effective teaching
a highjumper clearing the bar
The Learning Skills curriculum: Raising the bar, closing the gap at GCSE
What happened to curriculum in the early years?
Making time for music: Advocating a place for music in the curriculum
Disaffection in mathematics and its curriculum implications
Designing a curriculum to nurture compassionate citizens
How can we embed arts across the primary curriculum?
Designing a Key Stage 3 drama curriculum that is ambitious for all
A curriculum enabling all to achieve: International perspectives
Speaking up: The importance of oracy in teaching and learning
Building subject-specific CPD opportunities
|Figure 1
Pupil agency in action: Developing curriculum and pedagogy
Photo by Meagan Carsience on Unsplash
Developing inclusive pedagogy: Some theoretical insights from research evidence
From curiosity to interest: The use of effective pedagogy to develop students’ long-term interest

Research summaries and reviews

Research summaries are short articles that summarise findings from a single research article. Research reviews are longer articles that critically evaluate the evidence on a larger research theme. 

Many of the summaries below act as an introduction to the different curriculum models most often used in schools. However, this is not a definitive list, as even within a particular model there can be numerous variations. Other content explores more specific elements related to curriculum design and delivery, including creating an ambitious curriculum for all, diversifying and decolonising the content and incorporating student voice.

We invite you to read the research and consider the following questions:

  • What curriculum model most closely aligns with your current curriculum? How so?
  • What are the strengths and possible limitations of the curriculum models presented in the research summaries?


Curriculum design: The curriculum design process
Curriculum design: Knowledge-centred curriculum
Curriculum design: Problem-centred curriculum
Curriculum design: Aims-based curriculum
Curriculum design: Area-based curriculum
Curriculum design: A play-based curriculum
An ambitious curriculum for all
Implementing inclusion: The ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how soon’?
Decolonisation, power and knowledge in the curriculum
Children’s agency and the curriculum
Connecting the curriculum to nature can deepen learning

Reflective questions 

Having engaged with the resources above, take a moment to reflect on your learning. The following questions will help to consolidate your learning and inform your next steps.

  • In what ways has this learning resonated with your existing knowledge about curriculum planning and implementation. Is there anything that has shifted your thinking? 
  • How do you currently support curriculum design and delivery in your context?
  • Are there any challenges or questions you have about this process? Who might be the best colleague to discuss these with?
  • What is your school’s vision for their curriculum? How is this reflected in a) the classroom b) wider school activities?
  • Do your students face any challenges when accessing the curriculum? How do you work with colleagues to overcome these challenges?
  • How do you assess what is learnt in the curriculum? Do you face any challenges in this process?
  • How is your school working towards making the curriculum more inclusive?
  • How does the curriculum draw on your local community? 
  • Does your school offer any opportunities for students to be involved in the design of your curriculum?
  • What areas would you like to prioritise learning more about? 

Further content

Hear from leading experts in the field on a range of topics related to curriculum. More specifically, these webinars will encourage you to think critically about your curriculum, providing insight and practical guidance towards a more inclusive and creative approach. You may also find these a useful starting point to begin discussions with colleagues.

Decolonising and diversifying the curriculum
Why our curriculum needs to be LGBT+ inclusive and how we can do it
An ethical curriculum for tomorrow’s generation
Logo for Rethinking Curriculum project
Rethinking the curriculum – Finding the balance of a knowledge led curriculum
Logo for Rethinking Curriculum project
Rethinking the curriculum – Making your curriculum choices ambitious
Logo for Rethinking Curriculum project
Rethinking the curriculum – Teaching for creativity and creative thinking