John Catt Educational
18 Sep 2021
When two of education publishing’s big hitters collaborate on a book, that’s a must-read for me. As a teacher and leader with a passion for curriculum development, when I found out their aim here was to help dispel bad curriculum leadership practices, I was sold. Although the quirkily titled Huh is primarily aimed at secondary colleagues, I looked forward to some insights I could share with my primary colleagues.
And from the foreword, I wasn’t disappointed. Myatt and Tomsett’s authentic tone, their acknowledgement of the challenges schools face, and their leadership insights about line managing those with greater subject expertise than your own add up to a refreshing dismissal of ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches.
Then, Claire Hill’s initial chapter hit upon a core issue I come across a lot: that those who are most passionate about curriculum can often also be those who cause most damage to its design. There’s an important insight here about how failing to appreciate colleagues’ personal journeys can be intimidating and limit progress. Sometimes guilty of this myself, I was keen for tips on avoiding it.
Though secondary-focused, Hill’s solutions were certainly helpful. But her chapter also highlighted some huge primary issues for me, namely size of team and structure of staffing. Some primary leaders will be able to rely on in-house ‘experts’, but many will not.
Yet curriculum development readily appears on school development plans, begging the question as to how many are really constructing curriculum from its foundational purpose up, as opposed to engaging with it only superficially from fear of acknowledging inexperience and inviting poor judgment. Either way, Huh gives a good starting point and support structure for all colleagues, even the most insecure, to focus on the big picture and avoid a checklist reductionism.
This initial chapter alone makes the book a worthwhile investment. Its focus on practical solutions means I will be sharing it with every governing board I work with to help develop shared understanding and to answer their termly question: “Why is it taking so long?”
The remainder of the book is structured primarily around subject chapters, and although this could put primary leaders off, I found them fascinating and varied in approach. It was enlightening to see how key stage 3 curricula are often planned in subject silos. While my primary bias had me thinking as I read that our global curriculum model could aid this, I was left pondering the possible negative impact of our approach on our secondary colleagues – sometimes beyond our control.
Liz Dunbar’s chapter on music really brought this to life. All primary heads would love to have a specialist to drive this area but music is not a national priority; it’s not used to judge how good a school is, and often budgets don’t allow it. This means primaries’ music offering varies hugely depending on staff willingness and ability to go above and beyond, and leaves secondary music teachers to pick up a huge disparity of experience, knowledge and love of the subject. This raised some big questions for me about cross-sector collaboration, the challenges faced by small schools, and how to develop expertise in those who may lack passion for the task.
The concluding chapter summarises the importance of conversations between line managers and subject leaders in school. While of course they are of value, the reality in primaries is that these conversations could be between the same school leader and the same subject leader with responsibility for four or five subjects.
I felt refreshed by reading that almost all of the case study schools here had a real focus on year 7 transition, but I felt this exposed necessary work to stem the disparity between primary and secondary.
Huh gave me a helpful look into the world of secondary line management and brought up a multitude of questions about how primaries can help bridge that gap. But it can’t all be on us to change. There are many good reasons why curriculum looks different for us too.
So I hope there is a primary version in the pipeline. Primary and secondary leaders alike would benefit.