Curriculum: Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Last year I wrote about how some things to do with curriculum have got a bit weird. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how some things to do with curriculum have got a bit weird. This bloated weirdness has magnified: curriculum is almost not curriculum. Like a curricular Jacob’s ladder, we trudge towards what we think might be a curricular heaven, when in some parts we’re actually clinging on to Jacob’s elevator and rocketing towards curricular oblivion.

What has become troubling in this swirling curricular stew is that, somewhere along the line, curricular purpose has become skewed. There’s a fluttering of well-intentioned curricular tools, sometimes proxies for curricula. There are strangled cries of ‘Intent, Implementation, Impact!!” echoing across the land, often reluctantly enforced in schools by senior leaders who know it’s nonsense but have to do so because it’s a more senior person’s ‘vision’. And then there’s great curriculum, working quietly, brilliantly, thoughtfully and giving children the very best start in life, but it’s not recognised.

Curriculum, that colossal Wreck if we’re not careful, is becoming hero leadership all over again.

Hero, transformational leadership cast a tub-thumping shouty shadow over schools for years with its vision and dynamism and inspiration, whatever that means. It stifled many a new leader, trampled over those who did know their stuff, and deterred potential leaders who knew it was a hiding to nothing. And so, after havoc was wreaked from years of hollow ‘heroic’ leadership where pupils and teachers were let down by the hand that mocked us, we tentatively crawl out from under the pedestal and blink in the sun.

In some parts, the sun’s gaze blinds. In swirling sands a new transformation is born: Curriculum. Curriculum will save you! Curriculum is the answer! Curriculum should be at the heart of a school, before anything! Well, quite. The trouble is, is this Curriculum, curriculum? Too late. Off Curriculum thunders, tub-thumping again through schools, leaving damage in its wake.

Already there are curriculum quick-fixes. Already there are curriculum conversations that aren’t curriculum conversations, but shout CURRICULUUUUUUUM because it’s curriculum, yeah? Already curriculum is spoken of using the language of royalty, to be revered and lauded. Already there’s the Disneyfication of curriculum greatness thrust awkwardly upon some. But the fanfare’s a little sharp, the embouchure off.

This sits so uncomfortably with me. Curriculum liberates. Curriculum has democratising power. I believe in the absolute necessity to get it right. And curriculum is a leveller. There are no kings, queens, princes or princesses. Curriculum invites us all to eat at its table, not stand in its shadow and bow.

Beware. Beware those lifeless things. Let’s not look for a simple, supposedly transformational answer. And certainly not a regal, heroic one. There isn’t one.

We can’t get this wrong, because nothing beside remains.