Overcoming curriculum inertia: a zero based approach

Arguably the most difficult stage to implement significant curricular change is in the senior phase of secondary education.

The “high stakes” nature of the upper secondary school assessment system combines with other factors, such as self interest, fear of change, rigid staffing and timetabling models, and avoidance of potential conflict to create a state of “curriculum inertia” which is incredibly difficult to shift.

There is no blame to be attached to this inertia. It is a natural consequence of a system which has laid down sedimentary layers of practice, structures and expectations one upon the other, from one generation to the next – regardless of changes to examination arrangements.

In my recent post on senior phase options I listed a number of possibilities, which, if combined, could radically change the way in which we meet the needs of senior students. Yet regardless of how good these ideas might be, curricular inertia will make it incredibly difficult to see any more than a few translated into practice and certainly not enough to reach a tipping point in favour of the needs of the student – as opposed to the needs of the system.

The orthodox approach to senior phase curriculum planning has been to adopt an incremental approach where tweaks are made from one year to the next but which in reality result in minimal and cyclical change.

An alternative approach to be considered is borrowed from the world of financial budgeting – Zero based budgeting:

“Zero-based budgeting is an approach to planning and decision-making which reverses the working process of traditional budgeting. In traditional incremental budgeting, departmental managers justify only variances versus past years, based on the assumption that the “baseline” is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget must be approved, rather than only changes.[1] During the review process, no reference is made to the previous level of expenditure. Zero-based budgeting requires the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly, starting from the zero-based”

Zero based curriculum planning adopts similar a similar philosophy i.e.schools start the planning process from scratch based around the needs of students and build from that point, with no reference to what was done before.

Of course, this would be an enormous change for schools and the reality is that we ARE limited by the staffing profiles which have evolved to suit our existing curricular models, even if they don’t facilitate the needs of young people.

Nevertheless, I reckon that by adopting at least some elements of zero based curriculum planning we can begin to envisage a model of delivery which is very different from what we have today. It is only by describing that vision that we can begin to plan a coherent change strategy to translate that into practice.

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  1. Pingback: Don Ledingham's Learning Log » The Market Place Economy: The driver behind 2 + 2 + 2?

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