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Teaching Issues

Are Curriculum ‘Statements of Intent’ worth it?

Good intentions

Ever since teachers got a whiff that Ofsted was no longer just interested in ‘outcomes’ but was now focusing on the ‘Quality of Education’ and the three ‘I’s, there seems to have been a debate about what curriculum intent actually is.

In the summer, before the start of this new Ofsted regime, the echo chamber that is twitter went into overdrive. Some people started discussing and then sharing statements of intent. Others (some highly influential) tweeted that such statements were not needed. Even Ofsted’s curriculum lead, wadded in, talking in tongues, with tweets like  ‘your curriculum itself is your statement of intent.’ 

Sorry, I must be thick, but what on earth does that actually mean? After all the term ‘curriculum’ in itself is not that clear and it depends on who you read/listen to as to what ‘curriculum’ actually is and means.

School Leaders

But despite all of this noise ‘echoing’ on social media, school leaders seemed to take no notice. Maybe they are too busy to have engaged in this virtual debate?  Many of these school leaders do want to see statements of intent from different subjects. Recently  I have been running training with history teachers and leaders from different clusters of schools. At a number of these meetings  the diktat is clear, ‘we want you to  write a statement of intent for your subject.’

Who is right here?

So, who is right here? Should you bother writing a statement of intent for your history department?  Or is ‘your curriculum your statement of intent’?

I think what we need to do is unpack what ‘curriculum intent’ actually means when it comes to history.

It seems pretty obvious to write this, but your curriculum intent is everything you intend to do to make your students learn good history. So this means:

  • knowing what you want your students to know and do at the end of the 2/3/5 years that couldn’t do at the start. This includes both substantive and disciplinary knowledge.
  • Thinking about how you will get to get them to know the stuff you want them to know and do by the end.
  • Considering how you are going to sequence the activities and inputs you are going to use to allow them to ‘get’ this stuff.
  • Having a clear way of checking that they are going to get this stuff – some people might call this checking ‘assessment.’

So, in a nutshell, your curriculum intent is everything that you have done before you get up in front of the class, open your mouth and start teaching them.

This includes your Schemes of Work, your long term planning (maybe having one page showing your entire KS3 curriculum), your models of progression that this is based on and your approach to assessment.

Statements of Intent?

OK, so that is ‘curriculum intent’, but what about ‘statements of intent’?

Well in my humble opinion it is really helpful for a history department to sit down together (in a department meeting?) and really thrash out what it is they are trying to achieve. What does history mean to them? What aspects of this history do they want their students to take away? What do they want their students to be able to know and do? For what aim?

This kind of discussion could naturally lead to a written statement of intent. A kind of vision statement. In this context, I would wholeheartedly support such statements. In fact, full members of HRC can read and download some below. 

But I only support such statements, if the long term plans and assessment processes that sit behind the statement, actually reflect and support what is written in the statement of intent.  If not, I fear, its a waste of everyone’s time.

A bit of research in curriculum planning

Between February and June, I worked with a group of 10 history teachers from across the south on curriculum planning. We discussed and thought about the questions above.

They considered what they wanted their curriculum to achieve. First, they unpicked what history actually is and what’s its purpose is. Next, they thought about the how’s and why’s. They all came up with initial statements of intent. Then they went away and analyzed, evaluated and improved their Schemes of Work to help ensure that they were aiming to implement and teach what they actually intended.

But without having the conversation first, their thinking about what they were trying to achieve in and across their curriculum, was a little cloudy.

I modeled this process and wrote my statement below. They then went back to their departments and thrashed theirs out. They can be seen by full HRC members below. The statements are a good starting point and come with a very large health warning that they are only statements. It is the SOW that really demonstrates the curricula intent.

Curriculum Intent Statement example

History fires pupils’ curiosity to ask questions and know more about Britain’s past and that of the wider world. Pupils should be encouraged to develop a chronological framework of British history that will enable them to make sense of the new knowledge they acquire. This will also allow them to understand the process of change, to see how we arrived ‘here’ and help them to make sense of the present. We want pupils to realise that the past is gone and history is constructed and contested. History’s unique concepts help pupils to construct arguments and support them to become analytical citizens who can question human motivation and society with skill and confidence.

For full or schools members, here are some more statements:

The rest of this content is for members only. Please Register or login.

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About the author
Richard McFahn
Founder of History Resource Cupboard, Richard has worked for 20 years as a history teacher, subject and senior leader, Advanced Skills Teacher, local authority adviser and history ITE tutor.

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