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Curriculum for Excellence: Building the Curriculum 3: A Framework for Learning and Teaching


building the framework: looking at this in greater depth

The Curriculum

The curriculum is the totality of experiences which are planned for children and young people through their education, wherever they are being educated. It includes the ethos and life of the school as a community; curriculum areas and subjects; interdisciplinary learning; and opportunities for personal achievement.

Ethos and life of school as a community

The starting point for learning is a positive ethos and climate of respect and trust based upon shared values across the school community, including parents, whether for young people in school or those not in school. All members of staff should contribute through open, positive, supportive relationships where children and young people will feel that they are listened to; promoting a climate in which children and young people feel safe and secure; modelling behaviour which promotes effective learning and wellbeing within the school community; and by being sensitive and responsive to each young person's wellbeing. Children and young people should be encouraged to contribute to the life and work of the school and, from the earliest stages, to exercise their responsibilities as members of a community. This includes opportunities to participate responsibly in decision-making, to contribute as leaders and role models, offer support and service to others and play an active part in putting the values of the school community into practice.

Curriculum areas and subjects

The curriculum areas are the organisers for setting out the experiences and outcomes. In drawing up the experiences and outcomes, learning in each curriculum area has been reviewed and updated to emphasise the contributions it can make to developing the four capacities. Building the Curriculum 1 - the Contribution of Curriculum Areas outlines these contributions and also explores opportunities for connections between curriculum areas.

Curriculum areas are not structures for timetabling: establishments and partnerships have the freedom to think imaginatively about how the experiences and outcomes might be organised and planned for in creative ways which encourage deep, sustained learning and which meet the needs of their children and young people.

Subjects are an essential feature of the curriculum, particularly in secondary school. They provide an important and familiar structure for knowledge, offering a context for specialists to inspire, stretch and motivate. Throughout a young person's learning there will be increasing specialisation and greater depth, which will lead to subjects increasingly being the principal means of structuring learning and delivering outcomes.

Interdisciplinary Learning

Effective interdisciplinary learning:

  • can take the form of individual one-off projects or longer courses of study
  • is planned around clear purposes
  • is based upon experiences and outcomes drawn from different curriculum areas or subjects within them
  • ensures progression in skills and in knowledge and understanding
  • can provide opportunities for mixed stage learning which is interest based

The curriculum should include space for learning beyond subject boundaries, so that children and young people can make connections between different areas of learning. Interdisciplinary studies, based upon groupings of experiences and outcomes from within and across curriculum areas, can provide relevant, challenging and enjoyable learning experiences and stimulating contexts to meet the varied needs of children and young people. Revisiting a concept or skill from different perspectives deepens understanding and can also makes the curriculum more coherent and meaningful from the learner's point of view. Interdisciplinary studies can also take advantage of opportunities to work with partners who are able to offer and support enriched learning experiences and opportunities for young people's wider involvement in society.

Opportunities for personal achievement

Personal achievement provides children and young people with a sense of satisfaction and helps to build motivation, resilience and confidence. The experiences and outcomes include opportunities for a range of achievements in the classroom and beyond. All establishments need to plan to offer opportunities for achievement and to provide the support and encouragement which will enable young people to step forward to undertake activities which they find challenging. This is one of the key areas where schools need to work closely with voluntary youth organisations to help young people access information and opportunities and make their voices heard.

Reflective Question

  • How well do your current curriculum structures meet the four contexts for learning detailed in this section? Which area will require most development?

The purpose of the curriculum: the four capacities

The child or young person is at the centre of learning provision. The purpose of the curriculum is to enable the child or young person to develop the 'four capacities'. The headings of the four capacities serve well as a memorable statement of purpose for the curriculum, but the indicative descriptions underneath the headings are probably even more important in terms of understanding the attributes and capabilities which contribute to the capacities.

four capacities

The experiences and outcomes in the range of curriculum areas build in relevant attributes and capabilities which support the development of the four capacities. This means that, taken together in appropriate combinations across curriculum areas, experiences and outcomes will contribute to the attributes and capabilities leading to the four capacities. The expanded statements of the four capacities can also form a very useful focus for planning choices and next steps in learning.

The attributes and capabilities can be used by establishments as a guide to assess whether the curriculum for any individual child or young person sufficiently reflects the purposes of the curriculum.

Reflective Question

  • How well do your current curriculum structures meet the demands of the four capacities?

Experiences and outcomes

The OECD noted that if a curriculum is operated as a rigid structure, the time available for learning will be for subjects and not students. The experiences and outcomes are grouped under the headings of the curriculum areas: expressive arts; health and wellbeing; languages; mathematics; religious and moral education; religious education in denominational schools; science; social studies; and technologies. They describe learning which has a clear purpose at levels from "early" to "fourth", as set out later in this document. They describe stages in the acquiring of knowledge and establishment of understanding and support the development of skills and attributes. They are written so that, across the outcomes and experiences, children and young people have opportunities to develop the attributes and capabilities for the four capacities. They can be applied in a range of contexts which will be meaningful and relevant to the children and young people and so offer a degree of personalisation and choice which can give children and young people a sense of ownership of their learning. The curriculum areas are therefore the organisers for setting out the experiences and outcomes. They are not intended as structures for timetabling.

Important themes such as enterprise, citizenship, sustainable development, international education and creativity need to be developed in a range of contexts. Learning relating to these themes is therefore built in to the experiences and outcomes across the curriculum areas. This approach reduces the need for other layers of planning across the curriculum.

To emphasise the importance of the learning which actually takes place, the statements are written from the child or young person's point of view. (In many cases, however, technical language is needed to make the expectations clear to the practitioner and in these cases the intentions should be explained and moderated by the practitioner in discussions with the child.)

  • 'Experiences' set expectations for the kinds of activities which will promote learning and development
  • 'Outcomes' set out what the child or young person will be able to explain, apply or demonstrate

All are designed to encourage a range of effective learning and teaching approaches. Further guidance on learning, teaching and assessment appears later in this document.


The experiences and outcomes provide opportunities for progression within each level and through planned progress to the greater demand of learning at the next level. Appropriate references and research have been used in each curriculum area to match the level of cognitive, emotional and physical demand at the different stages with what is known about good practice in learning. The outcomes cover a very wide range of skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work; these include literacy, numeracy and skills relating to health and wellbeing and go beyond these to include opportunities for the development of skills relating to the use of information and communications technologies, high-order cognitive skills, interpersonal skills, practical and performance skills.

Progression in learning will depend on learners having adequate opportunities to use higher order learning activities and develop breadth of learning through practice and application across a range of contexts, rather than on rapid movement through levels. The experiences and outcomes offer opportunities to consolidate and extend learning in individual areas in order to meet the varied needs of children and young people.

The experiences and outcomes recognise that children and young people will progress at different rates but that all are entitled to take part in activities which will engage and motivate them, nurturing their talents and enabling them to develop the skills they will need for life and for work. The experiences and outcomes therefore provide a basis for planning for both lateral (broadening and enriching) and vertical (becoming more challenging) progression. Whilst the framework sets out broad expectations for progression, curriculum planners and staff should use the breadth and depth enabled by the framework imaginatively to meet the needs of those who are exceeding these broad expectations as well as those who require additional support to reach them.

The period of time spanned by a level will generally be at least two years and the statements about the experiences and outcomes are generally expressed in a broad manner. This approach enables staff to plan for greater depth, rigour and security in learning but it also poses risks if expectations of pace and depth are too slow. The experiences and outcomes are designed to raise the bar of achievement and it is important that staff interpret them in the most aspirational way: the experiences and outcomes should not create artificial ceilings which might limit expectations of what children can achieve. It is expected that the deeper and richer learning provided by the experiences and outcomes will lead to young people reaching by the end of S3 a level of attainment and achievement deeper and more secure than at present.

The experiences and outcomes provide a basis for staff to engage with children and young people about their progress. Along with the learner, teachers will use their professional judgement and a range of evidence to evaluate progress and discuss with learners the next steps that are most appropriate for them. When children are secure in their learning and able to handle important concepts at a particular level and have opportunities to demonstrate what they have learnt and can do in a range of different contexts, they should move on towards learning at the next stage of their learning. Additional support should be provided where it is required.

Principles of curriculum design

The principles of curriculum design apply at all stages of learning with different emphases at different stages. The principles must be taken into account for all children and young people. They apply to the curriculum both at an organisational level and in the classroom and in any setting where children and young people are learners. Further consideration to applying these principles is given in the sections of this paper looking at the different stages of learning.

Freedom and responsibility

Establishments have freedom and responsibility to meet the needs of children and young people in their local communities

The curriculum must be designed, managed and delivered to take full account of each learner's individual needs and stage of development. This does not mean that there is an individualised approach to curriculum planning. Designing the curriculum requires planning in partnership with young people, their parents and carers and with a range of others who can contribute effectively to their learning, based on good evidence of progress in learning.

As the OECD report stated,

The concept and design principles of a Curriculum for Excellence offer a broad framework within which local authorities and schools can create a range of learning opportunities that contain both intrinsic and extrinsic incentives for engagement. It should be the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that their communities have access to a wide range of programmes involving different delivery platforms, flexible approaches and sharing and collaboration amongst providers. Schools for their part are responsible for offering a broad curriculum and for differentiating this to address particular strengths and weaknesses. (Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland)

National guidance needs to support a flexible approach which meets local needs and changing circumstances. The framework encourages more responsive and dynamic approaches, which includes planning across partnerships to improve outcomes for all children and young people.

Reflective Questions

  • How can you cluster experiences and outcomes into meaningful groupings to provide appropriate and exciting contexts for learning?
  • How can you best plan opportunities for learners to progress within levels through deepening learning and understanding within a curriculum area?