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13 September 2023

Sequencing the curriculum: why now?

What schools choose to teach and when, or the curriculum, is a set of decisions that can have a huge impact on educational outcomes.

The United Curriculum includes content that is ambitious and, crucially, sequences content so that, each year, our educators build on what went before, making sure that our pupils know what they need to know, at the right time. 

We spoke to Charlie Cutler, Director of Curriculum, about the importance of sequencing in the United Curriculum. Charlie said: 

“At the most fundamental level, we need to sequence content so that we build pupils’ knowledge in small steps: we teach multiplying whole numbers before multiplying decimals; we teach verbs before adverbials; we teach lines of latitude before biomes. But this only scratches the surface of how effective sequencing can impact pupil outcomes.” 

The order in which we introduce content can help, or hinder, pupils' ability to build their knowledge in schemas. Charlie said: “Careful sequencing decisions can reduce the likelihood of misconceptions forming. For example, choosing to teach perimeter and area separately (in the context of addition/subtraction and then multiplication/division) means pupils are less likely to confuse the two.” 

Ordering content so that pupils move from the concrete to the abstract can also make a big difference in pupils’ understanding. Charlie said: “In year two science, pupils are taught how the same substance can exist as solid, liquid and gas. This is because they can see that in their everyday life, for example through a puddle evaporating or their ice cream melting. Because they can understand the concept from real everyday things in their lives, they can start to give that vocabulary to those things and identify concrete substances as solid, liquids and gases. Pupils then review this concrete understanding in year four and are taught the more abstract particle model.” 

Charlie added that curriculum designers should be ambitious and should consider the sequencing of content across subjects too. “Should we really ask pupils to rearrange formulae in science or draw graphs in geography before they have been taught these skills in maths? Can we expect pupils to truly, conceptually understand the movement of tectonic plates in geography, before they have understood the science behind convection currents? Issues like sustainability cut across lots of subjects too. We need to think carefully about what knowledge is taught, when it is taught, and how it is used across the curriculum.” 

Not only is a carefully-sequenced curriculum crucial for students, but it is helpful for teachers too. Charlie said: “Decisions in the curriculum take time, time which is precious, and something that teachers always need more of. A well-sequenced curriculum which highlights the required prior knowledge and what connections can be made, means teachers are freed up to spend more time focusing on adapting the curriculum for their local context, and identifying and filling gaps in pupils’ knowledge.” 

At United Learning, we believe that careful sequencing is a crucial ingredient for achieving the best outcomes for young people, and the research and evidence supports this. By collaborating with teachers and subject experts, we’ve been able to meticulously sequence the ambitious content in the United Curriculum. 

If you’d like to find out more about the United Curriculum, click here: 

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