‘No limits: Curriculum for success in the 21st century’: Aspirations Academy

Nesta Education is committed to making the education system: broader, fairer and smarter. By broader we mean more of a holistic approach to education moving beyond a narrow focus of exams and academic attainment. Aspirations Academy, are doing interesting work in this space, they are working out practically what this holistic method of education could look like. Therefore, we asked Steve if he would share some of his insights around the innovative ways Aspirations Academy are choosing to teach.

Curriculum is important

The term curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or programme. Curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, this includes the learning standards and learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments and other methods used to evaluate student learning.

To develop coherence the curriculum needs to match the vision and purpose of the school and to do this leaders need to have a curriculum philosophy. In England, the recently introduced new Ofsted inspection framework is as refreshing as it is encouraging, setting out a clear expectation that schools develop a clear rationale for the curriculum they offer in their school. Curriculum philosophy is partly driven by the standards and expectations required by the state or national government, however it is important for school leaders to develop their own curriculum philosophy, one which not only meets the required expectations but which also mirrors and supports the leaders’ own educational vision.

Curriculum can often follow top down method

Curriculum philosophy refers to the design and goals of the curriculum that reflects the educational philosophy of the educators who developed it. Consequently, curriculum reform may occur through the adoption of a different philosophy or model of teaching by a school or educator. Most schools in most countries follow a curriculum that is heavily prescribed by the government and is often driven by adherence to the meeting of national or state attainment and progress expectations. This generally leads to a very narrow learning experience, with the result that teachers become frustrated by the lack of opportunity to be creative in their teaching, as well as often being overwhelmed by the workload required to meet these national standards. Meanwhile, students are mostly just being taught to pass tests and exams and can often become frustrated due to a lack of challenge and involvement in their own learning, leading to passive disengagement. Sadly, you can observe this in many classrooms in many schools in many countries. We believe that as a lead learner, with a clear educational philosophy, you can meet national requirements very effectively by developing a creative curriculum philosophy. Brave, committed leaders can develop and structure the curriculum in ways that are quite different from the more traditional approaches commonly used in schools. There are some schools and organisations doing just this, why isn’t everyone?

Testing a different vision of what a curriculum could look like

Our curriculum philosophy has been continually modified, enhanced and developed by a wide range of teachers and leaders in the schools that we have led. The current outcome of this work is that the ‘No limits: Curriculum for success in the 21st century’ will be introduced in all Aspirations Academies in Years 4, 7 and 12 in September 2019. It is still developing and changing as we monitor its impact on performance and quality. We continually talk about the need to transform education. Curriculum development is at the heart of this. Our aim is to develop a challenging and engaging learning experience that delivers the qualifications, skills and qualities required for young people to succeed today and in the future. The curriculum has to be innovative and transformational whilst, at the same time, ensuring that students achieve the expected levels of attainment and progress in the current knowledge based system. If students can exceed expectations in terms of performance then perhaps governments may take note of the different curriculum approach and move away from the constraining and outdated education model that currently exists in many countries.


Steve Kenning

Steve is Managing Director and co-founder of the Aspirations Academies Trust, a multi-academy trust sponsoring fifteen academies across the country, (primary, secondary and studio scho…