Introduction

The hints and tips are provided to support the school leadership team to more fully understand the layers within the whole-school curriculum planning process and the interrelationships between these layers.

The aim has been to keep these whole-school curriculum planning resources as simple as possible, while recognising that some additional information may be required to assist schools to undertake this task.

Feedback, questions or suggestions are encouraged.

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The hints and tips will continue to evolve in response to your questions and feedback.

Hints and tips

Why is a whole-school curriculum plan important?

According to the US education researcher, Robert Marzano, a detailed analysis of educational research revealed that one of the most powerful predictors of student achievement is a guaranteed and viable curriculum. A guaranteed and viable curriculum is defined as a combination of opportunity to learn and time to learn (What works in schools: Translating research into action 2003). It is not enough for a curriculum to be implicit, it must be explicit and it must be coherent. Effective planning and documentation is a significant part of providing a guaranteed and viable curriculum.

Schools have considerable flexibility in determining how best to organise and structure their teaching and learning programs. It is expected that schools will publish a whole-school curriculum plan that sets out the teaching and learning program provided by the school

This plan sets out:

  • the content of what students learn based on the Victorian Curriculum F–10
  • the structure of how students will be taught.
Each school’s plan should be tailored to reflect local decisions, resources and priorities.

 

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Defining curriculum and the teaching and learning program

Within the whole-school curriculum planning materials there is reference to both curriculum and the teaching and learning program. It is important to have a clear and consistent understanding of the terminology and recognise the relationship between curriculum and the teaching and learning program.

The curriculum is:

  • a statement of the purpose of schooling. It defines what it is that students will have the opportunity to learn as a result of their schooling. The content of the curriculum includes both knowledge and skills.
  • the common and core set of knowledge and skills that are required both for life-long learning and active and informed citizenship.
  • a mandated requirement for all schools.

In Victoria the school curriculum is set out in Victorian Curriculum F–10.

A high-quality curriculum is not a collection of disconnected items of knowledge and skills but incorporates a set of progressions that define increasingly complex knowledge, skills and concepts. Enabling students’ progress along this progression or learning continuum is the fundamental role of teachers and schools.

The school’s teaching and learning program is:

  • the school-based plan for delivering this common set of knowledge and skills in ways that best utilise local resources, expertise and contexts.

Schools have considerable flexibility in the design of their teaching and learning program. The mandated curriculum, as set out in Victorian Curriculum F–10, has been designed to allow time for schools to include areas of learning that reflect local priorities. In most schools, the mandated curriculum will not constitute the whole teaching and learning program. This enables schools to develop particular specialisations and areas of expertise and innovation while ensuring the mandated curriculum is delivered.

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Where should we start?

The self-assessment tool on this website is a good starting point. It is designed to provide guidance to your school during the process of developing and/or reviewing a whole-school curriculum plan. The self-assessment tool outlines the four interrelated layers of the curriculum documentation: By School, By Curriculum Area, By Year Level, and By Unit/Lessons. Using the self-assessment tool, schools can quickly see the key elements within each of the four interrelated layers, and the extent of existing documentation. Reading the brief introduction to each layer within the curriculum planning process before commencing the self-assessment tool will also be helpful.

The results generated from the self-assessment tool will give the school leadership team the basis for a structured discussion about what actions to prioritise to enable the development and/or review of a comprehensive whole-school curriculum plan.

Schools are not expected to be starting from a blank page. Documentation at the curriculum area layer and the unit/lesson layer is often the most comprehensive, although there may be some gaps. Schools are advised to use this ‘stock-taking’ opportunity to bring already existing materials together in a coordinated manner, ensuring the relevant materials are included, and that there is consistency within and between the layers.

The school leadership team has the potential to set the tone and to support staff to understand the importance of this work and to set realistic timeframes to prepare and review the relevant documentation.

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Understanding the four interrelated layers in curriculum planning

The whole-school curriculum plan has four interrelated layers: By School, By Curriculum Area, By Year Level, By Unit/Lesson. Each layer highlights different elements and represents a different perspective of how the curriculum is being organised into the teaching and learning program.

The table below demonstrates the interrelationships across and between each layer as well as the specific curriculum planning elements within each layer. Schools are advised to consider the consistency of related information between layers, as well as specific information, when preparing each layer of documentation.

Curriculum Planning element Layer
School Curriculum Area Year Level Unit/ Lessons
Policy statement u      
Areas of specialisation stated u      
Coverage of all curriculum areas u      
Diagram or table representing the teaching and learning program u      
Specific/appropriate curriculum areas  
Content descriptions    
Achievement standards    
Assessments used to monitor and progress student learning    
Time allocations c c c c
Overarching concepts and ideas developed across years of schooling   u    
Sequencing of knowledge and skills    
Context/topics to be covered  
Context/topics in sequence    
Provision for the range of student abilities       u
Co-curricular activities     u  

Key:

  u   Unique element to a layer

  c   Common element to all layers

As the four layers are interrelated, each layer cannot be developed in isolation. The relevant information needs to gathered and coordinated and where the information is not available then it needs to be developed.

Curriculum planning cannot be seen as the responsibility of an individual teacher, it is a school-wide activity. It is the school’s responsibility to provide a high-quality program for all students as they progress through their primary and secondary school education. This is impossible for the individual teacher to prepare in isolation. The units and lessons that are developed for and delivered in the individual class are significant, but the teaching and learning program needs to be seen as more than a unit, semester or yearly plan.

Viewing the teaching and learning program from the perspective of the curriculum area and year level layers enables schools to assess the coverage of the knowledge and skills from the curriculum, to identify the context/topics required to deliver the knowledge and skills, and to ensure the sequencing of materials best supports the student’s progression of learning.

The big picture school layer of documentation supports the governance of the school, ensuring local priorities, resources and decisions guide and are evident in everyday practice.

The whole-school curriculum planning materials provided on this website are designed to support schools to draw together the many pieces of curriculum documentation in a considered manner. Schools can then base their discussions and future planning on a comprehensive set of documentation and ensure that the teaching and learning program being delivered in their classrooms is consistent with the curriculum and that local decisions truly reflect the school’s resources and priorities.

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Is curriculum planning ever complete?

Whole-school curriculum planning is an ongoing process. Schools may find it useful to consider the development of these plans as a cyclical or iterative process, responsive to new curriculum, priorities, data and/or reflections on practice.

For example, the school may consider the need to review the whole-school curriculum plan to align with the development and implementation of the school’s strategic/improvement/action plans. At the teacher level, adjustments may be made to existing sequences of lessons in response to formative assessment data.

Schools also have the flexibility to consider their curriculum planning in bands/stages of schooling and to structure appropriate themes or topics to be covered over a two year rotation.

The self-assessment tool is provided to guide your whole-school curriculum planning. You may return to the website at different times and with different purposes and find that the prompts in the self-assessment tool trigger a different discussion at the school, and support you to prioritise your next steps.

The challenge for schools is to be committed to this ongoing process, to identify roles and responsibilities, and to complete the tasks in a systematic manner.

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How should we use the examples on this website?

This website provides two suites of whole-school curriculum documentation examples based on the AusVELS, one for a primary school and one for a secondary school. Examples based on the Victorian Curriculum F–10 will be published during 2016. The Annotated Overviews demonstrate how the examples for both primary and secondary schools connect across the four layers. These suites include documents from each of the four interrelated layers of documentation involved in comprehensive whole-school curriculum planning.

The examples have been designed to foster school-based discussion and to provide guidance to schools about what their own documentation may look like. As these examples were being developed, they provided a rich source of collegiate debate within the school, and were worked on over a period of time. As other colleagues contributed to the development of each suite of primary and secondary school examples, they came to see the connections between layers and viewed these as ‘working documents’ specific to their own school’s stage of curriculum planning, rather than final documents.

Schools are welcome to use the examples on this website; however, they have not been provided as a set of proforma or templates. Schools are advised that they are not restricted by the examples provided and may consider developing their own documentation, including proforma or templates for use across their school.

Using a proforma or template can assist schools to take a systematic approach to:

  • articulating the information that is required
  • gathering the required information from a broad range of people and sources within the school
  • reading, understanding and reviewing the coverage of the curriculum and the teaching and learning program.

Having common proforma and templates used within the school will greatly assist in efficiently building a clear and useful whole-school plan.

Evaluations from previous curriculum planning projects undertaken by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in 2011 and 2012 have shown that whole-school curriculum planning is most effective when all teachers are actively engaged in the curriculum planning process within the school.

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The many audiences for curriculum planning documents

As part of the increased flexibility for schools it is important to share documentation with the school community that demonstrates how the teaching and learning program has been organised to reflect local priorities and decisions.

Sharing documentation enables all members of the school to assist in the development and examination of the local priorities and future goals.

Schools are encouraged to think about who may benefit from having access to different aspects of the whole-school curriculum plan and what format would be most suitable. For example, the School Council may find the visual representation of the whole school teaching and learning program ‘By School’ very useful.

The table below provides a guide to the potential audience for the different layers of documentation within whole-school curriculum planning. Schools are best placed to know and understand their community and therefore which documents are most suitable for a particular audience.

Potential audience By School By Curriculum Area By Year Level By Unit / Lessons
School Council ✶✶
School Leadership        
– Principal class ✶✶ ✶✶ ✶✶
– Curriculum coordination roles ✶✶ ✶✶ ✶✶
Coordinator/s        
– Curriculum/Learning area ✶✶ ✶✶ ✶✶
– Year level/Band/Stage of schooling ✶✶ ✶✶
Teachers        
– Currciulum/Learning area specialists ✶✶ ✶✶ ✶✶
– Classroom ✶✶ ✶✶ ✶✶
Parents ✶✶  
Students   ✶✶  
Community ✶✶  

Key:

✶✶ Highly recommended for this audience

✶ May be of interest, offer the materials

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How do we indicate a time allocation at each layer of curriculum planning?

At each layer of documentation, schools will make decisions about how to represent time allocations. Schools may notice within the examples provided that different units of time have been used in different documents. For example, in the AusVELS By School: Primary School Example, the school indicates time in ‘Annual Average Hours’, yet in By School: Secondary School Example, the unit of time represented is by 'Average Sessions per week'.

Schools may find it useful to discuss how time allocations have been decided on and whether they reflect school-specific priorities to support and improve student achievement, and also to ensure that these decisions are demonstrated consistently across each layer.

It is worth noting that the time allocations in each layer of curriculum planning are not a measure of the quality of the teaching and learning program. Time allocations provide basic structural and organisational information. Robert Marzano points out that students need to be given time to learn, and how much time they are given influences the knowledge and skills that can be addressed.

For further information relating to how the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) approached the notion of indicative time allocation, see section 4.2 of the Curriculum Design Paper version 3.1 (page 8).

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How can a whole-school curriculum plan help improve student learning?

A clear benefit of documenting a comprehensive whole-school curriculum plan is to improve student learning by providing an explicit and coherent teaching and learning program based on the knowledge and skills set out in the Victorian Curriculum F–10. The process of developing a whole-school curriculum plan also involves verifying the currency of the information provided and ensures openness and accessibility across the school.

The four interrelated layers of curriculum planning documentation allows the school leadership team to work with staff to identify and address any gaps in the program and to support cumulative learning, making relevant connections and removing unnecessary overlap and duplication. Schools may have found it difficult to identify the areas for review and improvement using disparate documents with inconsistent information.  

Other examples of potential benefits of developing a whole-school curriculum plan include:

  • Themes developed in individual domains may be similar. Identifying this situation may present an opportunity to remove potential duplication of content or to provide depth or different perspectives to a particular theme.
  • The sequencing of content may be improved, such as students developing their understanding about graphs in mathematics prior to them using graphs in geography.
  • Opportunities to maximise student learning, such as using an excursion to a museum or art gallery as a way to address content from multiple curriculum areas.

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Developing and using the curriculum policy/statement

A curriculum policy/statement is important because it provides a clear and consistent guide to staff about the general expectations of the school’s teaching and learning program and the delivery of the curriculum. It is also a platform for communicating these expectations to parents, students and the school community.

The curriculum policy/statement is a strategic document and is important for the school council. It should clearly link to other school level documents, such as the school’s strategic/improvement/action plans. 

This policy/statement should be up-to-date and reflect the use of the Victorian Curriculum F–10 as the basis for planning. It should also be specific to the school, reflecting the context and clearly outlining local decisions and priorities, including areas of specialisation and innovation. This policy/statement should not be a broad and generic document, but rather a document guiding and reflecting everyday practice.

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Why develop a diagram or table representation of the school’s teaching and learning program?

There are many advantages of having a visual representation of the whole school’s education program. It provides a basis for big-picture and comprehensive thinking about the school’s curriculum, and ensuring that everyone has the same information at hand. It can highlight areas of duplication, overlap and gaps in the delivery of the curriculum that are not obvious in an array of more detailed written documents.  It can be used for discussions within the school and the school community.

The benefit of a diagram or table representing the school’s education program will depend on how it is used in the school. It may prove particularly useful when reviewing the existing curriculum offerings, making decisions about implementing new curriculum, or ensuring that the intended program is being delivered and assessed in all curriculum areas.

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What is the benefit of examining the curriculum from a student’s perspective?

The Year Level layer of curriculum planning documentation provides information on how the curriculum has been organised into a teaching and learning program from a student’s perspective. This perspective ensures the teaching and learning program is sequenced in a way that supports students to progress effectively, using relevant connections between units/topics, and removing duplication and overlap. This documentation highlights opportunities for integrated or interdisciplinary learning, and links with co-curricular activities offered in the school.

The documentation developed for this layer is particularly useful for sharing with students and parents, so they can see what units/topics are being taught and in what order. This information can stimulate discussions between parents, the student and the teacher, and parents and their child.

Another important aspect of Year Level planning is to have a documented overview of the assessments used to monitor and progress student learning. This supports a discussion about what assessments will be used and whether there is an assessment burden concentrated at particular times throughout the year.

In the AusVELS whole-school example for a primary school, the By Year Level for Year 3 outlines the school-based decision to cover ‘Biographies, narrative (based on dream time), Historical reports and newspaper articles’ in the same term as the theme ‘Who lived here first?’ Articulating this connection adds depth to the History content covered in the integrated study and avoids duplication of content over the year.

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Getting started with Curriculum Area documentation

The Curriculum Area layer of documentation has a large number of elements specified in the self- assessment tool, and many of these are also core to the other layers within the whole-school curriculum planning process. This may be a good choice when considering where to start.

The development of Curriculum Area layer documentation requires teachers to become deeply familiar with the curriculum. It articulates the overarching concepts/ideas this curriculum area contributes to a student’s overall education across the years of schooling. This familiarity enables informed decisions to be made about the context/topics used to develop the knowledge and skills specified in the Victorian Curriculum F–10, as well as sequencing the teaching and learning to ensure student progress. Having these detailed discussions at the Curriculum Area level minimises the risk of repetition or serious gaps occurring when the units/sequences of lessons are developed.

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Developing a unit plan or sequence of lessons

The development of a unit plan or sequence of lessons is seen as the core work and the responsibility of the classroom teacher. It is important that this is developed in the context of the whole-school curriculum plan. The unit plan or sequence of lessons delivered in a term, semester or year cannot be seen in isolation – they are part of the bigger picture. This layer of documentation ensures that the unit plan or sequence of lessons reflect decisions made at Curriculum Area and Year Level layers of this whole-school process.

The classroom teacher needs to have a clear understanding of the elements required to be documented within this layer. Specifying the information required and gathering this information in a consistent manner makes it much easier for the school leadership team to draw together the whole-school curriculum plan and to continue to review this documentation to improve student learning. The exact form of this documentation should be decided by the school, preferably with teacher input, as this will develop greater ownership and build a professional and collegiate approach to curriculum planning.

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