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Curriculum Design – Do you really need to choose?

Many schools over recent years have felt the need to decide on whether they should have a knowledge-based or a skills-based curriculum and it is an important decision to make. On one hand we want to equip our children with transferrable skills such as questioning, hypothesising, and evaluating; skills that they will be able to use throughout their learning journeys and in a wide variety of vocations. On the other hand, we want them to acquire knowledge from the past, learn about the history of different cultures, developing global awareness as well as an understanding of their local communities. 

But is this what our learners need?

We are educating children ready to work in a world that we have no idea about, to solve problems that do not even exist yet and use technology that has not yet been invented. Large amounts of research suggests that schools are failing to prepare students for the future and the challenges they may face. 

Piaget had the right idea when he said:

The principal goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

Whilst I believe this to be true, we also must ensure that we learn from those who have gone before to prevent us from continually ‘reinventing the wheel’ or repeating past mistakes.

So, what should we choose? Knowledge or skills? Is there really a choice to make?

I am not so sure there is. Knowledge and skills are linked and go hand in hand. As we develop more sophisticated skills, we also develop a deeper knowledge and whilst we cannot know everything, we need to know something. What use would a deep knowledge be without the skills to use that knowledge? What use would a wide variety of skills be without the knowledge to apply them? 

If we are to look at a set of multidisciplinary skills like the multidisciplinary problems children are likely to face in the future then we should be encouraging learning that fosters collaboration, resilience, problem solving, initiative and creative thinking skills.  Our belief at TT Education is that knowledge and skills go hand in hand.  We may know what a guitar is, we may know who plays guitar, we may know some guitar pieces of music, we may even learn the history of the development of the guitar, the design technology of how they are made and the science of the physics of sound – but can we play a guitar?  

Skills are the embodiment – the application, if you will – of an acquisition of knowledge.


Take writing, for example – a child may know some fairy stories, may have analysed and discussed common forms and conventions of the genre, and could even draw a timeline or character analysis of some of the main events / characters in a story – but can they write one; creatively, compellingly, applying good grammatical and spelling skills and grip an audience – with ‘cohesion’?  This shows us why skills are so important.  

So how do we structure a curriculum that captures the essentials of both of these pursuits?  By ensuring – from the outset – that subject leaders and teachers are, first and foremost, aware of and ‘buy into’ the idea that both are essential, and thenceforth by ensuring that our structures of curricula, assessment, medium-term plans and lesson design feature a range of skills-based AND knowledge-acquisition activities.  In this way, we will truly achieve a broad and balanced curriculum – and one that equips our children for the future that has not yet been written.

If you are interested in knowing more, you might like one of our foundation subject courses; Raising Attainment in… History, Art, Music, Computing, RE, - or an all-encompassing course like Creating a Broad and Balanced Curriculum  - or perhaps one of our webinars such as ‘Creating Collaboration’.