Curriculum: The Mirror and the Window

Of course it was the working group of English teachers who came up with the image that stuck: the mirror and the window. The mirror signifying that all pupils would see themselves in our curriculum. The window representing our ambition to show all pupils the world beyond their immediate experience. And so it was that our work to enrich our curriculum to better reflect the diversity of our country became less about balancing different perspectives, and more about bringing all pupils into a shared story.

Our curriculum review was a collective effort by teachers across our schools. Teachers of each subject considered their curriculum afresh. We wanted to remain true to each subject’s unique quest for truth, and we needed the end product to be a coherently sequenced programme of study based on the National Curriculum, but it was time to widen the lens to include voices and stories that we’d previously overlooked, to ensure that the knowledge we teach is not just powerful, but powerfully diverse.

Many of the biggest changes are in history, where we are including more global history for primary and secondary pupils and teaching pupils about the experiences of minority ethnic communities in European history – both the substantial positive contribution of people of colour over centuries and the least comfortable aspects of this history.  We are also supporting our teachers to teach these topics effectively and sensitively. But the changes stretch beyond history, and include, for example:

  • In English, ensuring that pupils are exposed to a variety of texts by black and Asian authors and with characters with a variety of ethnicities, and that these texts are varied and not limited to stories of oppression.
  • In Geography, representing the diversity that exists in all places, so that our case study of Mali’s capital includes images of Bamako’s affluent suburbs as well as its poorer neighbourhoods.
  • In modern foreign languages, providing pupils with context to explain why so many countries across the world speak French, Spanish, Portuguese and English.

At a whole-school level we reflected on the way that curriculum choices can affect the curriculum that pupils experience. At one school, pupils told as that their curriculum in History, Geography and RE becomes more inclusive at key stage 4 and key stage 5, but lacks diversity at key stage 3. We resolved to enrich our KS3 curriculum, so that all pupils are exposed to powerfully diverse knowledge, regardless of the path they go on to take.

We reflected on the hidden curriculum – the unwritten and unintended norms and values that students experience in school. Our annual student survey, with its questions such as ‘I feel that I belong in this school’ and ‘the adults in my school treat pupils fairly’, provides a way in to this vital but hidden aspect of the school that pupils experience, rather than the school we think they experience.

As a result of this process we’ve renewed our curriculum vows. So alongside familiar references to entitlement, mastery, coherence and character, our curriculum principles now include a line on representation: ‘all pupils will see themselves in our curriculum, and our curriculum takes all pupils beyond their immediate experience’.

At the launch event for our enriched curriculum the historian and broadcaster Professor David Olusoga compared British history to a great decaying mansion in which only a few rooms are inhabited, while the others are firmly locked. He challenged us to open up these rooms and face up to the nuanced reality of our national story, where good and evil, dark and light, hope and despair, sit side by side; to give the story of slavery the same attention as the story of abolition; to acknowledge the complexity, diversity and globalism of our past rather than revel in tales of heroism and exceptionalism. 

The curriculum is never done. As each school brings this work to life in their own local context, we hope that all of our pupils recognise something of themselves in our curriculum, and that all of our pupils are taken to new places by our curriculum. This is the power of curriculum.

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