An Ambitious Secondary School Curriculum

Jonathan Glazzard and Michael Green

We wrote this book to unpack our understanding of an ambitious secondary curriculum. The Education Inspection Framework rightly places a significant emphasis on the curriculum as the substance of education. In recent years, schools have focused on raising academic attainment and this has led to unintended consequences, including teaching to the test and curriculum narrowing. A broad curriculum serves pupils well. It provides them with rich knowledge and enables them to develop their interests and talents.

The book addresses some pertinent concepts. We discuss composite and component knowledge and substantive and disciplinary knowledge. These are not terms that pupils need to know but it is crucial for teachers to understand what they mean. We argue that pupils make progress when they learn the curriculum. A well-planned and appropriately sequenced curriculum will enable pupils to know more, remember more and do more. The curriculum is the progression framework and therefore progress is not a numerical score. It is a qualitative judgement and therefore pupils make progress when they learn the curriculum as intended.

We argue that an ambitious subject curriculum is one which enables pupils to achieve the broad, ambitious goals of the National Curriculum. Ambition is also evident in the way in which the curriculum is designed to provide pupils with cultural capital. We argue that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities should follow the same curriculum pathway that all pupils follow – same pathway, same journey, same end points. This ensures equality of opportunity and enables teachers to demonstrate high expectations of all pupils. We argue that alternative curricula should be the exception for those pupils with very complex needs.

We address inclusion very explicitly through a variety of themes. These include designing a curriculum to address mental health, LGBTQ+ and race equality. We have devoted whole chapters to these themes. These aspects are not addressed in the National Curriculum, but we believe that education plays a fundamental role in advancing social justice in society. If these matters of inclusion are missing from the curriculum we have lost a crucial opportunity to eradicate prejudice in the future.

Each chapter is supported by case studies, critical questions and research boxes. We have provided practical guidance for leaders to support them with curriculum development and we have devoted a whole chapter to the academic and vocational qualifications that are taught in secondary education.


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