Curriculum Leadership

3. Designing lesson plans and activities

Schemes of work

For as long as there have been teachers there have been schemes of work. Many of them make instructive reading: few (if any) of the basic pedagogical skills are a recent discovery. Greek and Roman teachers were fully aware of the importance of motivation whilst St Anselm, a medieval schoolmaster, drew upon his experience of teaching novices when he wrote that 'those men are most happy who want to do what they have to do.'

Nor were Victorian schoolteachers always the fierce disciplinarians who stalk the pages of Dickens. That learning could be made enjoyable as well as necessary and that the key to this was to make it active (i.e involve the whole brain) is often stated in 19th Century teaching manuals: 'all a good teacher needs,' wrote Sir William Bryce, 'is command of means and a free hand.'

More recently there were several attempts to devise programmes for the Humanities and history areas of the curriculum before 1988, the most notable of which were sponsored by the Schools' Council. They are still gathering dust in the cupboards of some staffrooms where they will no doubt be joined in due course by those currently in use. Why have schemes of work so often proved disappointing?

Firstly, humanities schemes often reflect one particular teacher's approach and no two teachers - like no two children - are alike. Secondly, they appear to limit rather than encourage creativity. Despite the cry to 'adapt not adopt' schemes are often adopted wholesale and enterprising teachers find themselves compelled to justify any variations they make. Thirdly, they can date very quickly. Even without government intervention a curriculum that is going to look relevant must change to reflect the times. Fourthly, they may be of very uneven quality: a lot of commercially originated schemes are done on the cheap with very second-rate illustrations and an uninspiring format.

The curriculum leader's role therefore is to make use of what is useful but encourage colleagues to arrive at their own solutions if possible. At the same time every co-ordinator is going to be aware of the colleague who lacks confidence and for whom the ready-made plan is the only way to achieve improvement. How can the curriculum leader help this kind of colleague without hindering the others?

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