Oak updates

11 October 2023

What our new curriculum is, and what it isn't

Matt Hood OBE

Chief Executive

In a few days, we’ll be sharing our new curricula and the first of our new teaching resources, with more rolling out over the rest of the school year.

I’m proud of what we have developed over the past year and eager to share it with teachers and schools.

But when Oak first launched in the pandemic, we were open about our limitations. I want to be equally open now.

First, let me explain what we have done. In English, history, geography, maths, music and science we’ve worked with expert partners to develop curriculum plans for each subject and key stage.

We’re now creating the lesson-by-lesson teaching resources mapped to these plans and, in the coming days, we’ll start to release them.

Our partners include schools, a publisher, a subject association, a university and a charity. Each brings different strengths.

They’ve been supported by a wide range of UK publishers, giving schools access to their rich texts, music and art.

It’s clear curriculum expertise is not placed in a single organisation but spread far across our education landscape.

Curriculum resources

Together, we’ve spent months reviewing the evidence in each subject. We’ve debated the topic choices and the most effective order to teach them.

We’ve considered robust feedback from independent experts and teachers. We’ve agonised over, tested and iterated the details on our resources, all to maximise what pupils learn.

But rather than simply trumpeting this work, I want to be reflective about how our new offer is not a finished product nor a complete solution to the complex problem of what and how to teach.

First, our curriculum and lesson resources won’t be absolutely right for any school.

Every curriculum, and every resource, should be adapted to reflect the context and focus of each school and edited by teachers to meet the needs of pupils in each classroom.

If we claimed otherwise it would not only be false, it would be detrimental.

Second, many schools and teachers may disagree with our decisions. Curriculum choices are hard.

In key stage 1 history, for example, we decided to develop a unit on significant rulers from the past, including Mansa Musa and Suleiman the Magnificent, but some familiar topics have been left out, such as the Great Fire of London.

Some will look at our curricula and conclude this won’t work in their school. That’s absolutely the right call for them.

Third, it’s a gradual rollout, so we’re only releasing a fraction of the national curriculum to begin with.

We’re starting with six subjects and, unlike in the pandemic when we launched everything in a big bang, we’re beginning by sharing teaching resources in one or two early-release units in each subject.

For some, that might be frustrating if they want to teach a particular unit this term.

Gradual content rollout

But it’s deliberate. With our partners, we are currently working with more than 100 teachers to create the resources and it’s important we take time to increase the focus on quality, so we’ll be releasing resources on a rolling basis throughout the year.

By April, about half the resources will be available, with every lesson covered by summer 2024.

We’ll then move on to a much wider range of subjects in 2024-25. In the meantime, our existing resources will remain for teachers to keep using.

Even with these caveats, going through this process has cemented my belief in a change I hope we can contribute towards: the value of teachers using curriculum schemes and resources as a diving-off point in their work.

Too often teachers are told that using curriculum resources is taking a shortcut, not doing the hard yards.

My greatest wish is to challenge this myth so that more curriculum models are available and teachers are actively encouraged to use them.

I want Oak to be just one of many quality providers that schools choose from.

Where good quality alternative offers exist, we want to encourage teachers to use them.

It’s why, in the future, when you come to Oak you will not only see our sequence, you’ll also see those from other quality providers.

So as we start to share our new offer, I’m excited by the role it can play for teachers - giving them inspiration and a launch pad.

But my wider hope is that we can start to shift the narrative: encourage teachers to consider curriculum models and resources from a range of providers, whether these are designed by Oak, created within a trust or come from another external provider.

They are only a starting point, but a starting point that is expertly designed and developed, and has the potential to improve the curriculum, build expertise, reduce teacher workload and support retention.

And we can all do with more of that.

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This article first featured in Tes magazine.