Curriculum time


The Cinderella problem

In Cinderella, the wicked stepmother tells her she can only go to the party once she’s done her chores. And of course the list is way too long complete. It’s much the same with the science curriculum. You never get to have a ball and teach the way you want to, because that wicked GCSE syllabus has given you much too much content to get through.

Reality can be stranger than fairy tales. We were commissioned by AQA to analyse how long it actually takes to teach all the Programme of Study (at 11-14) and GCSE (14-16). The time from year 7 to mid-way through year 11 is 4 1/2 years. However, we found that there is about 5 1/2 years worth of stuff to teach. That’s a cinderella problem. In case you’re wondering how we got these numbers, we based them on an average amount of curriculum time allocate to science, and the number of ‘big pieces’ – conceptual ideas and skills.

The cinderella problem is surely one of the main reasons schools now typically spend 3 years doing GCSE instead of two. I find that sad, because having designed the KS3 Science Syllabus with AQA to take 3 years, schools are now trying to squeeze it into two years and finding it doesn’t work. But I feel worse for the middle and lower achieving students students, who don’t have enough time to enjoy the thrill of learning science, before the magic wears off and they’re force marched through GCSE for 3 years.


Changing two Key Stages into one

What if we could wave a wand and that ugly combination of KS3 and GCSE turned into a beautiful 5-year plan. What would it look like?

Concepts in order  Instead of two separate collections of content, a single 5-year plan could be a set of layers, each building on top of the last. The layers are key concepts and skills which can be ordered from easy and concrete, to difficult and abstract. Imagine how much higher students could climb up the tower of understanding.


Repetition disappeared  Every few statements in the GCSE specification I get deja vu. So many of the concepts duplicate what’s in the KS3 Programme of Study. No wonder kids get bored. A 5-year plan could magic away the repetition by invest the time in year 7 and 8 to ensure students master the concepts fully. You would get the time back later because you only need to build on the prior learning, instead of re-teaching it.


Higher order thinking Because of time pressure, many curriculum focus too much on knowledge coverage. This makes it difficult for middle and lower achieving students to do better than expected. Because they’re not learning how to think better. What they need is more guidance and practice with the complex cognitive of applying and analysing knowledge. Then, they will find it easier to learn new content.

The content fits

Blueprint is our solution for integrating the 5 years of secondary science into a high quality curriculum. Learn more about Blueprint. We have analysed the content, concepts and skills and what is involved in teach them all properly. According to our estimates it is feasible to teach everything in depth in 4.5 years.