A lot of time, effort and hence money is put into curriculum planning in the College sector but do we do it right, do we get the fundamental of the College on the right footing.

I am not sure! But I am sure that this is often not the case.

A lot of time, effort and hence money is put into curriculum planning in the College sector but do we do it right, do we get the fundamental of the College on the right footing.  I am not sure!  But I am sure that this is often not the case.

In the words of W.Deming the American pioneer of quality and productivity improvement:

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

Well we know that we all plan but are we doing this effectively or properly?  It’s probably more appropriate to say:

“Failing to plan properly is planning to fail”

Curriculum planning is the core business cycle where the College works through in detail how it is going to undertake its business in the year ahead.  Or more accurately for “years” given the needs to deliver multi-year curriculum, to promote appropriate progression and to align staff skills and resources with the offer.  It’s about “getting the core business of the College right”.

The work of the FE Commissioner highlighted the need for more effective curriculum planning in much of the sector:

“There is an absence of detailed curriculum planning that demonstrates a match with the needs of learners and takes into account the cost of provision”.

It is not a one off exercise either but is best seen as a non-stop cycle which drives continual performance improvement; a classic “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) Deming cycle.  See diagram of “The Curriculum Planning Cycle”.

To be effective the curriculum planning cycle should properly consider all the external and internal influences on the College and its curriculum.  It is not just about putting numbers into a spreadsheet.

So ask yourself, in your curriculum planning cycle, do you properly consider:

  • Funder priorities;
  • Labour market and business intelligence;
  • Views of your Curriculum Managers;
  • Good practice and comparators from the sector;
  • Funding allocations and their future direction;
  • Performance and trends;
  • Staff skill sets; and of increasing importance,
  • Financial imperatives.

If not then you need to review your processes, tools and techniques to ensure all is properly considered. A good start is to ask the following:

Does your curriculum planning process address the two fundamental questions of:

  • Are we delivering the right curriculum?
  • Are we delivering it in the right way?

Is it clear, transparent, informed by outside influences and best practice in the sector?

Does it engage staff and drive change in the College?

Is the planning tool, clear, easy to use and aligned with other systems in the College?

Does it clearly define the staff resource required to deliver the curriculum and accurately inform the budget? and,

Does it deliver the financial and quality improvements needed?  Let’s face it finance is pretty important at the moment and the evidence suggests that good finance and good quality go hand in hand.  Let one drift and the other will tumble with it.

My top 10 tips to effective curriculum planning

I have been working as a consultant in the sector for over 15 years, supporting more Colleges than I can count through curriculum planning in all sorts of circumstances.  So, influenced by that experience, here are my top 10 tips to effective curriculum planning and getting “the business of the College” right:

  1. Set your stall out! Start now and give it the importance and profile it deserves, publishing a simple but clear process with timelines. It always takes more time than anticipated so allow for iterations in the process and ensure that the quality cycle is aligned with the process.
  2. Give a senior manager the overall responsibility for the process throughout the cycle with direct reporting to the Principal/CEO.
  3. Incorporate the strategic perspective with Governor involvement and take a three year view of curriculum development in the light of past performance, funders priorities and labour market/business intelligence.
  4. Set clear targets with top tier Curriculum Managers in the light of the above considerations (tip 3) and future allocations.
  5. Get your top tier Curriculum Managers on board, listed to their voice and ensure it is a supportive process. Their experience and expertise is valid and often vital.
  6. Learn from the sector and get the delivery models right in the light of best practice. There is a wealth of experience and information out there.
  7. Ensure that the detailed planning tool is clear, simple to use and includes performance measures which link back to targets set at the outset (tip 4).
  8. Ensure the resource and budget is directly and transparently driven by the curriculum plan. All too often in the past this has been driven by the staff already in place.
  9. Get commitment and physical “sign-off” by the top line Curriculum Managers which should be facilitated by their involvement throughout the process (tip 5.).
  10. Do review performance in line with the plan on a regular basis and adjust the budget in line with recruitment. Do not shy away from this difficult but vital part of the process.

Here’s to an effective curriculum plan for 2017/18!


Mobile: 07802 883466

The Curriculum Planning Cycle