A Curious Curriculum

Teaching foundation subjects well

By: Mick Waters , Claire Banks


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Size222 x 182mm
PublishedFebruary 2023

Written by Claire Banks and Mick Waters, A Curious Curriculum: Teaching foundation subjects well details the insightful and transformational steps that a school can take towards designing and delivering a rich, rigorous and wide-ranging curriculum. 

Foreword by Mary Myatt.

Rather than being a model curriculum that can be uprooted and planted in any school, the book is a model schools can use to design their own curriculum, one that not only encourages children to be active participants in their own learning, but also to see the benefits of being part of a bigger, wider family of learners. 

The authors concentrate on the foundation subjects, particularly history, geography and science but also design and technology (DT) and art and design – areas that are often challenging for teachers in primary schools. Subjects are brought together and explored under “big ideas” and, crucially, the emphasis is on avoiding the superficial and trivial and rooting teaching in extending and challenging children. 

In A Curious Curriculum, Claire Banks and Mick Waters share the story of one multi-academy trust (MAT) which designed and delivered a shared educational vision, a rationale for excellence in the curriculum, and the resources and support given to help reduce teachers’ workload. 

Claire and Mick present a clear model both for supporting a group of schools or leading one school, offering a fresh perspective on working on a MAT-wide curriculum, as well as providing a range of snapshot examples of the curriculum in action – in the form of documents, plans, photos and the learners’ own work. The book shares transferrable lessons from the trust’s journey to success, setting out an educational philosophy that pairs pedagogy with a well-structured curriculum designed with learners’ best interests at its heart.

All children deserve an engaging, exciting curriculum designed to spark their curiosity, feed their imagination and develop their skills and knowledge. With clear timelines and an honest and transparent dialogue about the challenges and benefits of working together collaboratively and the importance of external expertise, A Curious Curriculum is an essential read for all school leaders. 

Suitable for executive leaders, head teachers, curriculum coordinators and subject leaders in primary school settings.

Picture for author Mick Waters

Mick Waters

A former head teacher, Mick Waters works closely with teachers and leaders in schools, MATs and local authorities to support the development of teaching approaches and curriculum to ensure the best learning outcomes for children. For some years he was Director of Curriculum for England, based at the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), and before that held the post of Chief Education Officer for the City of Manchester. He is also invited to work at a policy level with government in different parts of the world. 

Click here to listen in on Mick's podcast with Pivotal Education - 'Mick Waters on Centralisation, OFSTED and Brilliant Schools'.

Picture for author Claire Banks

Claire Banks

Before becoming Director of Education for The Olympus Academy Trust, a cross-phase multi-academy trust in north Bristol, Claire Banks was a head teacher for nine years in an inner-city primary school. Throughout her career she has been interested in social and emotional learning and school climate, which has led to her work on leadership culture. Claire now works on curriculum design and school improvement in a system leadership capacity, offering school-to-school support to school trusts. Her passion for succession planning for the profession has led to her coaching and mentoring on aspiring heads and women in leadership programmes.


  1. The book is about developing a curriculum where educators and learners fully understand why and what they are learning in an enjoyable, innovative and creative way. It advocates – not before time – trying to do something different with curriculum design, notwithstanding that no two schools are the same and one size cannot fit all. It is a must have resource for primary schools, trusts, colleges and universities and for all those who have a passion for bringing the curriculum back to life and making it work for the 21st century. I will be recommending that my employer purchase the book and that itis added to essential reading lists.

  2. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, and an ideal textbook for school district in-service training programs and college/university teacher education curriculums, A Curious Curriculum: Teaching foundation subjects well is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, school district, and academic library Teacher Education & Curriculum Development collections.

  3. In the context of the current discourse on curriculum, we finally have a book of balance that needs to be read as a complete narrative on what it is to design, teach and receive a nourishing curriculum – where educators understand the power and importance of their choices. This book is an expert story that weaves the ‘why’ of values and ideology, the complexity of ‘how’ to organise learning in any school, alongside the ‘what’ in making those choices about children's formal and informal education, ensuring connection with their drive to learn. It also has extensive referencing to some of the world's best educational evidence and research, both from the past and using current thinking, and it weaves the research into the classroom and school narrative as lodestones for curriculum design.

    The book is both a passionate and highly practical treatise on curriculum that, for me, inspires the sense of education being about equity and growth in schools – for everybody. It makes it clear and audible that children and young people are entitled to a curriculum that ensures tasks and experiences are designed to support and challenge their intellectual growth and emotional needs and interests. It recounts a story of involving educators making many wise choices: choices about a variety of pedagogic approaches such as instructional teaching, enquiry-based teaching, design-based learning, teacher-directed and child-initiated learning, as well as choices about the content of the curriculum – what to teach and what not to – and the productive use of time, resources and space. The education community needs the balanced wisdom in this book and the sense of agency it gives to schools and teachers in doing the right kind of thinking for their children and their communities.

    Thank you to Claire and Mick for putting the complex into tangible words of experience, knowledge and good judgement.

  4. As teachers and school leaders, we should all be celebrating the curiosity of our colleagues and our learners. This being vital ingredient for us all to move beyond being merely passive recipients and establish active participation in our learning. This book serves not only as a beacon for driving children’s learning through purposes, concepts and context but also doubles as a practical guide to navigating from curriculum policy, through to considered curriculum planning and then to purposeful pedagogy. Running throughout A Curious Curriculum you will find a blend of high expectations, well informed thinking, collaborative professionalism and prioritising the needs of the child – the essential building blocks of a successful culture of learning for any school.

  5. An intelligent, honest and practical account of a multi-academy trust’s journey to create an authentically rich and progressive curriculum. Claire Banks and Mick Waters present a compelling vision for a preferred future for primary school provision.

  6. This compelling narrative unveils the journey of a collaborative endeavour that is steeped in a commitment to an ecology of learning and flourishing. Claire and Mick provide an honest and insightful account of how the trust has been able to foster and nurture a curriculum that provides an equity of provision and opportunity for all children. With practical tips and key questions underpinned by an informed and inspired philosophy of education, this book is a crucial read for all pragmatic educators who are interested in planning for the unpredictable and cultivating joy.

  7. This is an outstanding book which is absolutely, and beautifully, rooted in both practice and theory. Unlike so many current books in education, it is not polemic, nor is it ideologically driven. As it describes itself, ‘this is not a “certain” book’ and it is all the better for it.

    It is a book rich in wisdom, practical ideas and commitment and every part of it is infused with experience, exemplification and illustration.

    There is so much in this book that I wish I had written, and even more that I am glad I have read. I will go back to it again and again and will look forward to every visit.

  8. The focus on curriculum development and its position at the core of school improvement is one of the golden threads of what makes for a strong and sustainable trust. When a trust is set up, it is done so with the core aim of creating better educational opportunities for children than were possible before. That was the deal! This brilliant book, from a trust I know well and have huge respect for, traces the development of curriculum thinking from the perspective of the trust, seen through the eyes of the schools. This book does not tell people what to include in a curriculum. Why would it? Instead, it is a case study in leading change. How to take people with you. How to communicate intent. How to create expectations of what will happen in different classrooms where the ownership of the trust curriculum is with the teacher and not the trust itself. The more our most credible practitioners can share with the wider sector, the better. This book adds to the growing library of must-read books. I loved it.

  9. I encourage all educators to read this book! Filled with a sense of joy, it has put learning at the centre for all. It will empower you to wonder, explore and become forward-thinking leaders. This book exemplifies the journey of a trust that has understood that if you want innovative learners, you need innovative educators/facilitators. Ultimately, innovation is not about a skill set, it’s about a mindset, and to develop this mindset takes planning, sampling and, most importantly, talking about learning. Claire and Mick guide the way with great models, questions and exemplars that will help any educator to critically assess where they are on the journey. I am left with the curiosity to take a deeper look at the curriculum models in our trust. I particularly love how the development takes into consideration how the curriculum will be experienced by the child by using ‘through the eyes of the child’ in the planning.

  10. This is so much more than a book on developing a great foundation curriculum! It is a book about effective change management, about leadership behaviours, culture and practice, underpinned by an honest narrative sharing all the benefits of hindsight. The ‘through the eyes of the child’ perspective reminds us all that we should never get distracted from this. I feel inspired!

  11. A Curious Curriculum is a must-read for anyone with a passion for a values-driven, child-centred approach to teaching and learning. Claire and Mick brilliantly articulate the interconnection between a philosophy of education, inclusive pedagogical principles and deep subject knowledge. Claire and Mick place great sensitivity on the context of individual schools and the autonomy of practitioners.

    What A Curious Curriculum does is immerse you in an inspirational and imaginative teaching and learning experience that is rooted in the eyes of children. There is emphasis, and rightly so, on the local national and international advocacy so that children can learn how to live and grow in a global community. The connection between the curriculum and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is heartening and encouraging. Claire and Mick take you on a journey to explore a learning-led approach that enables children and adults alike to flourish. This book is what every practitioner needs right now to deliver an aspirational and highly inclusive curriculum for our children in the twenty-first century.

  12. This is a powerful, hard-hitting book about how we ensure that the curriculum truly inspires curiosity and challenge in primary-aged learners. Alongside beautiful illustrations and inspiring stories of practice, there is a strong undercurrent that cuts across complacency. With dialogic pedagogy at the heart, this text seeks to explore how the highest standards can be achieved within and through foundation subjects – standards that can never be achieved via formulaic lessons. The authentic wisdom of these authors really packs a punch. Not to be missed.

  13. Crafting a school curriculum that is rich in engaging learning experiences should be a priority for every school, yet it is a complex task fraught with challenges. A Curious Curriculum describes the journey undertaken by a school trust to bring teaching communities together to construct the foundations of a school curriculum that is engaging, motivational and wholly relevant to the present and future world in which our young people live. At the same time, it provides other schools with a framework to allow them to reflect on their own practice and inspires them with practical tools to reimagine a school curriculum that places high-quality learning at its heart. Thank you, Claire and Mick, for a compelling and uplifting read that will benefit educators around the world.

  14. Refreshing in its honesty and humility, A Curious Curriculum is a comprehensive resource for any school or trust leader looking to improve their curriculum. Rightly proud of Olympus Trust’s curious curriculum, the authors nevertheless do not present it as a blueprint for others to follow, rather as evidence of the depth of thinking and planning that characterise their approach to the foundation subjects. The real value of this book is in how it describes one trust's journey in navigating the snakes and ladders of curriculum development. Readers are invited not to 'drag and drop' the curious curriculum developed at Olympus, but to learn from how it was done, what worked and what was difficult. It was a joy and an education to see beneath the bonnet of such a considered and coherent approach to curriculum.

  15. You might have thought that snakes and ladders is a children’s board game, first played in ancient India in the thirteenth century. It turns out that snakes and ladders is, in fact, the narrative structure behind Olympus Trust’s journey towards a curious curriculum – five years of ups and downs towards a curriculum and a pedagogy that is genuinely changing children’s lives through their learning.

    Starting at the bottom of the metaphorical board, where school leaders could see that what was going on in their primary classrooms was not securing the sort of learning they wanted, this book charts the journey towards the top left square. Acknowledging that curricular and pedagogical development is a living thing and not a start-and-finish activity, the curriculum that has been developed is ‘curious’ for both teachers and pupils, and showcases the fascination of learning seen through the eyes of the children.

    This is an honest account, and an entertaining read, which resonates with experience, humour (do you know if chickens have belly buttons? Read on to find out), and a genuine understanding of the reality for teachers and head teachers working to do better in schools – both the snakes and the ladders they face in trying to find a way to avoid the morning rigour and afternoon muddle that often characterises primary timetables.

    A Curious Curriculum doesn’t offer an off-the-shelf solution (although QR codes link directly to resources for readers), but rather a lively buffet of what a curriculum could be – for those brave enough, and curious enough, to try.

  16. A really interesting read that will help schools navigating their important journey in developing and evaluating their curriculum. It highlights the importance of the thought behind individual curriculums and provides a structured way to reach the desired outcome, learning from this trust’s experience.

    We all know how much of a privilege it is to be able to visit other schools, see all they do and hear about their practice – this book does a great job of providing a way to ‘visit’ this trust’s curriculum and see their fascinating journey of their curriculum, almost as if we were in the schools and talking to the staff themselves. Real-life examples of the curriculum planning are included to help the reader understand the detail behind the aims of the curriculum and the depth of thinking behind the curriculum.

    The authors themselves highlight the importance of the ‘why’ and the vital role the understanding of the school community takes in adapting and shaping the curriculum to enable pupils to achieve.

    Trusts and schools can use this thinking to contribute to their own curriculum development.

    As a curriculum is constantly evolving, this open, honest book will be a useful addition to any trust or school library.

  17. Wherever you are on your curriculum journey, I highly recommend this book. Through the eyes of the children, it charts the long-term journey Olympus Trust has taken to ensure that the foundation subjects are taught as well as English and maths. It provides a practical walkthrough with real examples of their rich and engaging process, reminding us of the importance of sharing the ‘why’ behind all decision-making. This is not an off-the-shelf answer for your curriculum. It will inspire you to think and have rich discussions about how your curriculum and pedagogy are interwoven to ensure children are equipped with the best opportunities to flourish and thrive.

  18. A Curious Curriculum is likely to be an enormous asset to all in primary who (using the authors’ own words) seek to be ‘well informed, well read and thoughtfully discerning … careful to distinguish between trends, fads and genuine new answers to perennial questions’ in relation to the curriculum. This approach is to be admired for the whole curriculum and in particular for foundation subjects – which are so often the poor relative. I particularly like that the whole process of collaboratively applying this approach to create a truly owned curious curriculum that has both depth and breadth is analysed in a way that does not claim to create a model that can be ‘lifted and shifted’ into different contexts. Rather, what arises from the analysis is a set of principles and ways of working that can be applied and owned in a range of ways.

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