Substantive and Disciplinary Knowledge | The Learning Challenge Curriculum

Substantive and Disciplinary Knowledge | The Learning Challenge Curriculum

The Learning Challenge Curriculum is undergoing some changes…

The focus on the quality of education remains Ofsted’s priority when judging if a school is still at least good. If a school wishes to secure a strong ‘good’ outcome, it must appreciate the interrelationship between the curriculum intent, implementation, and impact. Therefore, the new Learning Challenge Curriculum emphasises what pupils need to know and remember by the end of each phase of education. In making these revisions, we wanted to consider what knowledge we felt was essential for pupils to know and remember before leaving each key stage.

Naturally, the National Curriculum does provide guidance. However, the National Curriculum should only be a part of the whole curriculum. We have attempted to take into account, amongst other aspects, locality and pupils’ cultural capital. To this end, we want your locality to focus heavily on the history and geography curricula. We have endeavoured to create a narrative for each subject, with knowledge being built on progressively as pupils move through the school. This knowledge needs to take into account ‘disciplinary knowledge’ as well as ‘substantive knowledge’ so that pupils are supported not just to ‘know and remember’ but also ‘to do.’

We have also considered interleaving opportunities, with subjects like history and geography sequenced so pupils can build on prior learning. For example, pupils studying Ancient Egypt in Year 4 history could then follow to look at deserts, including modern Egypt, in Year 5. This cannot be achieved throughout the curriculum, but we have attempted to look for opportunities across all subjects, especially interleaving art and design technology with science, history, and geography.

A focus on pedagogical principles is at the heart of the Learning Challenge Curriculum’s implementation. We have ensured that time spent on the intent considers the delivery. Our profession currently benefits from ongoing research into aspects such as ‘cognitive load’ and ‘metacognition’. We have, therefore, given this full consideration when it comes to the implementation.

Prior Knowledge

Each unit of learning starts with igniting pupils’ prior knowledge. This is the ‘link it’ stage, where pupils are prompted to consider links within the subject, to other subjects, or to themselves. We now know enough about cognitive load to recognise the potential benefits this will have on long-term retention. Once established, we move to the ‘learn it’ stage, where the composite learning is broken into manageable components, including introducing new and relevant vocabulary. This will be even stronger if staff work to further improve their subject knowledge by researching the subject matter to be delivered. Importantly, having taken time to ensure ‘what’ pupils should learn and remember, we now give equal consideration to ‘how’ pupils will know and remember key knowledge.

Learn it!

During the ‘learn it’ phase, we have built-in checkpoints called the ‘check it’ phase. This helps pupils and staff review the learning to date within each unit. It will also allow opportunities for staff to recognise gaps in pupils’ knowledge and to enable them to do something about them. In this way, rapid intervention could be available at timely stages through the ‘learn it’.

Show it!

At the end of a learning sequence, we have created a ‘show it’ phase which is beneficial in enabling pupils to showcase their learning. This could be achieved at an individual or group level. The aim is to get pupils to present an aspect of their learning to the rest of the class. In this way, it supports their cultural capital by providing opportunities for pupils to present information to others. The ‘show it’ phase could be a PowerPoint or a short, filmed presentation. Importantly, there is an encouragement for pupils to come up with innovative ideas.

Know it!

Finally, the ‘know it’ phase effectively checks if the learning has stuck. This would typically be after the unit of learning has been concluded and could be later, or even much later, in the school year. There are several ways in which ‘retrieval tasks’ could be implemented, with many schools and academies favouring short activities that aim to engage pupils immediately. The diagram below attempts to capture the distinct phases I have outlined.

The changes make the Learning Challenge Curriculum more cohesive and gives greater consideration to ‘how’ it will be delivered. We have ensured that the link between the curriculum intent and implementation is much stronger. At the same time, we have attempted to provide leaders with the evidence that the curriculum is having the desired impact on pupils’ knowledge and achievements. This is done by heightening the expectations of what should be seen in pupils’ books. This is because we know that one of the most important pieces of evidence concerning pupils’ achievements comes from scrutinising pupils’ books and then having discussions with pupils themselves. If the structure outlined in the Learning Challenge Curriculum is followed, pupils’ books should provide compelling evidence that the quality of education is strong in your school.


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