How To Think About “End Points”
The Ofsted School Inspection Handbook makes several references to “end points”.
[Inspectors will look at]:
the extent to which the school’s curriculum:
· is planned and sequenced so that the end points that it is building towards are clear and that pupils develop the knowledge and skills, building on what has been taught before, to be able to reach those end points
the extent to which teachers:
· deliver the subject curriculum in a way that allows pupils to transfer key knowledge to long-term memory. Teaching is sequenced so that new knowledge and skills build on what has been taught before and pupils can work towards clearly defined end points
[leaders’ demonstration of:]
· the extent to which there are clear end points
· whether subject content is broken down into appropriately sized steps and sequenced to build towards those end points
I think we run into problems when we think of endpoints as too… pointy. In mathematics, a point has zero dimensions – it’s less than a speck. But the aim in curriculum -- the end of the journey, the purpose of it all -- is huge, rich and multi-dimensional. We’re seeking to build a subject-specialist schema. To see the world through the lens of a subject, to have access to the knowledge, explanations, techniques, to engage in the debates and production of meaning, to join the great conversations that take place across eras through our subjects – nothing could be more different from a speck.
The only way to define the desired end product of a curriculum is to define the curriculum itself – what are the explanations, descriptions, facts, links, processes, techniques, vocabulary and debates the students will learn? What is the standard of work they will be taught to produce?
Because of this, it’s futile and counter-productive to attempt to create “end point documents” other than the documents that codify the detail of our curriculum. “End points” – or final schema -- are the substance of the curriculum the whole way through. What will students learn and remember? What we intend students to learn as they go along must be what we intend for them to remember at the end – otherwise what is the point?* Defining all of this is the work of a whole curriculum – it could be hundreds of pages long. What’s the alternative? Without this level of detail, it’s impossible for teachers to know if they are teaching the right stuff, and we don’t have a hope of conceiving of the steps to get there, since we don’t really know what “there” is.
We may well find short documents with headlines useful for other purposes – but we must be clear on what a shorter document can and can’t do.
Things a shorter, summary document can do:
Give an overview to help support our curriculum thinking: do we have the right headlines/areas covered? Does the sequence look effective at this scale or should some things be moved?
Give an overview to help our planning e.g. what equipment we’re going to need in January, the topics that were studied last year, etc.
Give an overview to help communicate our curriculum thinking to new staff, SLT, Ofsted or other people
Things a shorter, summary document can’t do:
Clearly define the intended final result of a curriculum– in other words, the “end point.”
Think carefully about the documents you want, what you want them to do, and what is possible for them to do. What we want is not always possible and shortcuts usually short-change. When leaders lack clarity over the purposes and possibilities of documents we risk creating unnecessary workload and failing our noble subjects in an emaciated representation of them. All this creates that uncomfortable professional angst in Heidegger’s sense – a feeling that there isn’t any real meaning in things, that we’re just going through the motions, creating performative nonsense. Reductive documents rob our profession of joy and meaning and prevent us doing the best for our students. We are custodians of all that is wonderful about knowledge, learning and the subjects, and it is only our critical evaluation of the tools of our trade that keeps those riches safe.
*Although Christine Counsell adds interesting nuance to this with her conception of fingertip and residual knowledge.