Curriculum and teaching


This section is meant to inspire principals and teachers to reflect on how the curriculum defines what is considered worth knowing within and across national historical and political contexts, and how the content of the curriculum connects with the practices of teaching.

Questions for reflection on curriculum and teaching

  • How are roles and responsibilities for curriculum development distributed?
  • To what extent does the curriculum address areas like
    • Communication and cooperation
    • Creativity and innovation
    • Critical thinking and problem solving
    • Social responsibility, ethical and emotional competences
    • Personal responsibility
    • Cultural competence; cultural awareness
    • Citizenship
  • How do teachers understand, interpret and enact the curriculum?
  • In 1962, John Goodlad wrote: “Schooling is a rather wasteful business. The ends to be achieved are vaguely stated and dimly understood. The selection of means is a haphazard, trial-and-error business. The process is akin to shooting files with a shotgun without knowing whether we’re supposed to kill flies, snakes, or sparrows. (…)

We can go a long way toward the more precise clarification of educational ends and means without endangering the “something for everybody” principle of elementary and secondary education which some educator find so appealing. In fact, such clarification might reveal that “very little for everybody” or “a great deal for a precious few” is a more apt description of the present situation. It is not enough for teachers to say, vaguely, that they are concerned with achieving more than what is measured by conventional achievement tests. They must then clearly define what they are after so that the behaviour can be seen and evaluated when it occurs in the learner”. (Goodlad, 1962, pp. 222-223)

How does this resonate with the situation today?
(Goodlad, J. (1962). The organizing center in curriculum theory and practice. Theory into Practice, 1(4), 215-221.)


The term curriculum takes on different meanings across national contexts and within national contexts over time. Notably, there seems to be differences in connotations between Anglo-Saxon and continental traditions (Lundgren, 2015; Karseth & Sivesind, 2010). There are also differences regarding who makes a curriculum: the state, local governing bodies, schools or teachers, and whether curriculum is a text or a practice. Moreover, the curriculum can be a governing tool, or a tool for teaching. Several authors argue that in spite of variations, there seems to be at least some kinds of convergence across nations, in that international test systems, comparisons, standards and qualification frameworks impacts on the ways in which we think about, formulate and enact curricula (Sivesind, van den Akker & Rosenmund, 2012; Yates & Young, 2010).

At the core, curriculum concerns what is worth knowing, and how this knowledge is selected and organised in education to stimulate and develop able citizens. It follows that curricula inevitably must change over time, because societies develop and new knowledge becomes available. Thus, the conceptions about what constitutes “able future citizens” are always in flux.

For example, Karseth and Sivesind (2010) discuss how the curriculum balances two complementary purposes of schooling, cultivation (i.e. the national cultural and historical dimensions) as a basis for identity development, and qualification by furnishing students with the skills for future lives. Young (2013) is concerned with the difference between school knowledge and everyday knowledge, and argues that the twin purposes of transmitting past knowledge and being able to use that knowledge to create new knowledge are central for the construction of a curriculum that will give all student access to knowledge that they are entitled to. In a study of educational reform, Aasen et al. (2014) suggests that tensions between knowledge regimes are materialised on the content or subject matter dimension as tensions between ‘knowledge and competence, between competence and skills, and between focusing on learning processes and the demand for documented learning outcome’, and that such contradictions are at work within local practices. Related issues are the extent to which global economic pressures, international benchmarking and accountability regimes influence the official as well as the negotiated and enacted curricula (Yates & Young, 2010).

Curricula consist of matter or content – disciplines and school subjects are ordered, sequenced, selected and authorised in ways that on the one hand structures and directs work in schools, and on the other hand explicitly and implicitly defines what is considered worth knowing. In practical work in schools, the matter is given educational meaning through the interpretations, deliberations, and activities of teachers and students. The enactment of a curriculum then is about participation in a “reciprocal exchange of information, consideration and argumentation” (Klafki, 2000, cited form Karseth & Sivesind, 2010, p. 114). An important issue is whether such deliberations are under pressure in the current globalising context where standards and descriptions of skills to be learned (and measured) emerge as tools for learning, rather than framing texts for what to teach and learn.

Relevance for Leadership

Educational leadership is often associated with curriculum reform: how to implement new content or new methods. However, there is also another, and less spectacular, dimension to curriculum leadership that concerns the day-to-day practical work of enacting a curriculum. Uljens & Ylimaki (2015) suggest that there is a need for a coherent theoretical framework that bridges theories of curriculum studies, Didaktik and educational leadership. In their framework, educational leadership is “accomplished through activities such as developing routines and cultures of change, in order to create dynamic and reflected teaching opportunities, so that students become able to grow into an existing world while being prepared to change it according to their interests as related to others in a deliberative democracy” (Uljens & Ylimaki, 2015, p. 40).

Thus, educational leaders need extensive insight into curriculum content and how content is aligned both with standards and with the schools wider mission and values. Moreover, formal leaders need to recognise the need for broad perspectives and skills, and to enrol faculty with expertise as well as community stakeholders in curriculum development. Teachers, parents and students must be included and recognised as legitimate partners.

Curriculum renewal usually goes through stages of identification, development, implementation and evaluation. However, it is important to recognise that although curriculum at certain points needs to be set and stabilised, it is also a living process of teaching and learning. Leadership of curriculum processes requires continuous alertness to the schools’ practices. 


Curricula across national contexts:

Curriculum development

21th century skills


  • Aasen, P. et al. (2014). Knowledge Regimes and Contradictions in Education Reforms. Educational Policy, 28(5), 718-738.
  • Karseth, B., & Sivesind, K. (2010). Conceptualising curriculum knowledge within and beyond the national context. European Journal of Education, 45(1), 103-120.
  • Lundgren, U. P. (2015). What’s in a name? That which we call a crisis? A commentary on Michael Young’s article ‘Overcoming the crisis in curriculum theory’. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 47(6), 787-801.
  • Yates, L., & Young, M. (2010). Globalisation, knowledge and the curriculum. European Journal of Education, 45(1), 4-10.
  • Sivesind, K., Van Den Akker, J., & Rosenmund, M. (2012). The European curriculum: Restructuring and renewal. European Educational Research Journal, 11(3), 320-327.