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Key Elements (Secondary): Curriculum and Lesson Planning

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 04 November 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 07 April 2010 by ncetm_administrator

Features of effective practice

An effective structure for curriculum planning shows how mathematics is planned for at the long-, medium- and short-term level:

Has a Long Term Plan (Planning for progression) which:

  • clearly states an expected pathway of progression across the Key Stage
  • breaks down the Key Stage progression into a yearly plan
  • reflects the department’s vision and national priorities.

Has a Medium Term Plan (Structuring the planning of units) which:

  • links clearly to the long term-plan
  • makes clear what is to be taught and when
  • is based on prior attainment, not what year group the pupils are in
  • contains differentiated teaching objectives addressing process as well as content
  • gives clear links to rich and interesting activities and resources
  • indicates teaching approaches which will engage and interest the students
  • contains a schedule for various assessment items in line with a departmental or whole-school policy
  • reflects the department’s vision and national priorities.

Has a Short Term (Lesson planning) which:

  • links clearly to the medium term-plan
  • makes clear what is to be taught
  • encourages the teacher to plan a sequence of lessons rather than ‘standalones’
  • gives guidance for a range of teaching approaches to be used within the sequence of lessons
  • indicates key vocabulary that might be barriers to learning
  • gives guidance to support teachers plan in more detail the approaches and resources which will engage and interest the students
  • gives guidance for assessment activities and strategies e.g. probing questions, self and peer assessment opportunities
  • gives examples of ways in which learning can be taken beyond the classroom; e.g. application, historical links
  • offers prompts for reflecting on and evaluating the lesson in order to inform/review the planned next steps for this unit
  • reflects the department’s vision.

Case Study 1: School A - Long, Medium and Short Term Planning

Our approach to long term planning is to focus on progression from different starting points rather than using age to determine experience: our Key Stage 3 scheme of work is based on progression pathways. On entry to Key Stage 3, learners are placed onto one of the following three pathways:

  • Level 3 to Level 5
  • Level 4 to Level 6
  • Level 5 to Level 7+

There are five stages of the scheme of work, each designed to last one year. Each of these is based around appropriate progression, e.g. ‘consolidating level 5 and introducing level 6’. 

For example a learner on the ‘3 to 5’ pathway will follow each of the first three schemes of work in this design. A learner placed on the ‘4 to 6’ pathway will follow the middle three, and the final three are designed for learners on the ‘5 to 7+’ pathway.

Here is an example:

Case study one example one

Our medium term planning has sections for each unit of work like this one for ‘Integers, powers and roots’ where I have indicated some of the features that we have put in:

Case study one example two

Our short term planning sheet contains space for three lessons to a page:

 Case study one example three

Case Study 2: School B - Adapting Strategy Materials

Our scheme of work has been adapted for the original Key Stage 3 Strategy’s medium term plan. We have combined some of the units into more meaningful blocks of work (e.g. a much larger ‘handling data’ unit). When I started as a new subject leader I was concerned that for teachers new to the school, it wasn’t clear how the long-term plan fitted into the school’s calendar. So I produced the following spreadsheet:


Date Year 7
31-Aug Holidays
 Number Project (N1) 
(D1 + D2 + D3)
16 -Nov  N2 
30-Nov  A2 AND A3
04-Jan  S2 AND S3
18-Jan N2 AND N4
01-Feb   S4
22-Feb  N3
08-Mar A4
22-Mar  N5
05-Apr   EASTER
19-Apr  D4
03-May  A5
17-May  S5
19-Jul  Arts Week

It shows how events such as Arts Week and Citizenship projects fit into the calendar with the resulting alteration of unit timing. I am going to update this document every July and September as the school’s calendar is published. For Key Stage 4, I want to include the timing of module exams, work experience and coursework deadlines from other subjects so that we all know when the ‘pinch-points’ occur regarding homework.


Case Study 3: School C - Introducing a New Unit Planning Template

A strong focus in our school at the moment is on how to promote more engaging teaching and learning in the classroom. As a new subject leader I really want to enhance the experience of our pupils in lessons but I am anxious not to under value the current scheme of work by completely re-writing it in one go. 

So I submitted a proposal to the head teacher for a day off timetable for the department which included an invitation to Senior LT to subsequently see the fruits of our work in the classrooms (I made sure, in doing this, that this was linked to aspects of whole school development). Although my main aim was to produce units of work which involve activity and dialogue, I was also keen to get my department working collaboratively on good teaching and learning. I thought that one way to encourage a shift in practice was to recommend a new unit planning template. I chose a particular version from the National Strategy’s planning toolkit because of its three phase structure. I wanted to develop two generic aspects of the department’s work: building on prior attainment and involvement of pupils in assessment. 

The unit outline below has three phases:

  • phase 1 – how do the unit objectives link with prior learning (what rehearsal might be needed);
  • phase 2 – develop the new learning;
  • phase 3 – how does the teacher and the pupils know how much progress has been made (opportunities for informal assessment). 


Year Group: 7

Title: Mathematical Storytelling (Old Alg1 + Alg2)
Unit overview:
Conventions; notation; manipulation;
Applied to sequences
Length: 9 - 12 lessons
Prior learning
4 rules
Use and apply  arithmetic rules and conventions to algebra using correct notation.

To be able to generalise sequence structure (extending to nth term if appropriate).
Unit outcomes for pupils

Express in words the meaning of 3n, 3n + 2, etc.

Substitute into an expression such as 3n + 2.

Verify that 3x + 2x = 5x

Explain how to find the 50th (nth) term of a given sequence.

To be able to explain visual patterns (e.g. matchsticks or multi-link dogs).
Key mathematical terms and notations Other links
(Other links e.g. cross curricular or whole-school initiatives)
What next ?
(Connections to other topics or units)

Phase 1 – What do we need to do to ensure that pupils can access the main learning?

Phase 2 – How do we introduce and develop the new learning?

Phase 3 – What questions/activities do we use to assess the progress/learning?


What does Ofsted say?

(Excerpts from the Ofsted report Mathematics: understanding the score).

This report offers a range of external perspectives, examples of good practice and indications of national trends and standards which can be very helpful to a subject leader.

Here we have included elements which are relevant to this section on curriculum and lesson planning.

The quality of planning in mathematics

42. Secondary schools commonly used a range of textbooks, examination specifications and National Strategy materials to guide planning in mathematics. These generally reflected the content defined by the National Curriculum programmes of study and so provided adequate coverage of number, algebra, shape and data handling. This ensured that the vast majority of pupils studied mathematical content that was broadly appropriate for their age.

43. In both phases, planning for and tracking pupils’ progress in the key processes of ‘using and applying mathematics’ remain weak and, consequently, are the most underdeveloped elements in pupils’ learning. This is discussed further in Part B.

44. The best schemes of work included guidance on approaches, interesting activities and resources that help nurture pupils’ understanding. They were seen as living documents, subject to regular discussion and review, which helped staff to develop their expertise. …

45. Good schemes of work were rare in secondary schools. It was not uncommon for teachers to use only examination specifications and textbooks to guide their lesson planning, focusing on content rather than pedagogy. Few schemes included guidance on matters such as the most effective teaching approaches, how to meet the full range of pupils’ needs or on what constitutes an appropriate level of challenge. They provided insufficient support for teachers who were at an early stage in their professional development or for staff who were not mathematics specialists.

46. In many secondary schools, apart from adaptations needed because of changes in examination specifications, there has been little progress in developing the mathematics curriculum since the Key Stage 3 Strategy’s sample medium-term plans several years ago.

47. A small number of schools have used the introduction of the new two-tier GCSE to re-energise their Key Stage 4 schemes of work. This was not the case more generally. Instead, departments often simply identified topics added to or removed from previous specifications. Because of a lack of guidance, many teachers believed that the whole specification needed to be taught, irrespective of pupils’ attainment at Key Stage 3. Of particular concern is that some departments intend to ‘play safe’ by entering relatively able pupils for the foundation tier GCSE examination, thereby placing a ceiling on their achievement.

Links to the Secondary Magazine’s 'Diary of a subject leader'

The NCETM Secondary Magazine, published fortnightly, has a number of features of interest to those working in secondary education. These include ideas for the classroom, 5 things to do, the diary of a subject leader – and Up2d8 maths, which uses topical news as a starting point for further mathematical study.

We have included in this section links to the ‘Diary of a subject leader’ items which relate to the issue of curriculum and lesson planning:  


Reflection and Next steps

  • reflect on the features of effective practice and think about what key areas within Curriculum and Lesson Planning you want to develop now
  • look through the case studies and the excerpts from the Ofsted report Mathematics: understanding the score and decide whether there are any tasks or actions you might want to take that are prompted by these
  • use the NCETM Personal Learning Space to record any personal reflections, actions or tasks
  • from policy to practice.
Use this pro-forma to support you in planning your next steps.

Going further

 Secondary Home
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