A Pedagogical Mind: 5 Books that have shaped my curriculum thinking

I’ve been thinking about books and ideas that have molded and formed my pedagogical brain. For post one in this series, see here. For post two in this series, see here. Here’s five books and a couple more suggestions, that have shaped my thinking on curriculum to date….

Seven Myths About Education – Daisy Christodoulou

Daisy’s style is so clear and precise she needs no more than 180 pages to unravel the roots and shoots of progressive thought and the impact it has had on ur education system . The saddest thing about reading this is what I noticed about the teaching I received when I was a student and how it had been so deplorably shaped by bad educational ideas. I look back and think about my wonderful teachers, so passionate about what they did each day, and feel disappointed that their pedagogy was being shaped by the policies that were informed by these bad ideas. 

As I have said somewhere else, bad ideas in education have a deep and lasting negative impact on our system. Therefore exposing them is important. But exposing them just for the sake of it is fruitless; far better to propose plausible alternatives that have been road-tested elsewhere in our world. Daisy Christodoulou carefully unpicked the tangled web of bad ideas in education that had created unhelpful myths about teaching, schools and how education ought to be and for me, pointed me in the direction of something more hopeful. Starting with curriculum development.

If I hadn’t had read this book, I don’t think I would have done as much deep study into curriculum, leading to a Masters dissertation in curriculum in disadvantaged contexts.

If I hadn’t had read this book, I don’t think I would have been as passionate at helping other schools in my SLE work later on.

If I hadn’t read this book, I don’t think I would have read all the others below.

The Knowledge Deficit – ED Hirsch

How could I not read this book after reading Daisy’s? Although I do think that Daisy went further and deeper into what a knowledge-led curriculum might look like in the UK, her ideas largely stem from ED Hirsch and his work in America. 

This book was an excellent start to unravelling the threads of where many of the ideas Daisy talks about came from. Focussing his attention in this book mostly on reading and book related learning, he advocated for a core of common content and background knowledge being central to student success. 

I could go on and on about ED Hirsch and the other books he has written on this subject, as there is much that he has written that has shaped my thinking. But this book in particular shaped my classroom practice almost instantly.

After reading this, I made a point of filling my lessons with reading, reading at every opportunity.

After reading this, I made a point of teaching knowledge more explicitly than I ever had done before. 

After reading this, I began to consider carefully what the common facts and words for each unit would be and decided to teach them directly.

These small actions, every day, had an enormous impact on the rigour of classroom learning that went on in my room. Although at first, many found the amount of reading we did a challenge, it became apparent very quickly that building this habit would help them achive far greater levels of academic success. 

Cleverlands – Lucy Crehan

What is it like to work in other education systems? When I heard that Lucy Crehan had written Cleverlands, based on a tour of the some of the top performing education systems in the world, I simply had to read it. It offered a £8 whistle stop tour from an expert guide, helping me see how strange some of the things we do in our education system are and what we might be able to learn from other systems. 

Her discernment of what was going on in the classrooms of the world ensured I could form my understanding of the bigger picture and what I thought and felt about how schools should work. 

But like Daisy, she didn’t just stop at discerning what was going on or meticulously researching the background to the systems she visited, she proposed ideas for the future, proposing five principles for high-performing school systems. 

Her work still resonates with me now in meetings about teacher development, curriculum design or evaluation. Although I don’t often say it out loud, I think to myself….in Japan, I know they do it like this and I wonder whether this could work. Thanks to Lucy’s book, my thinking on curriculum development has most definitely been shaped by educators across the world. 

The Curriculum: Theory and Practice – AV Kelly

Actual copy….

Old, tattered, worn, yet brilliant. I bought this book from Amazon after some preliminary reading for my masters as it was mentioned time and time again in papers I was reading. Within about four chapters, I could see why.

The particularly strength of this book is how clear he is about terms, ideas and concepts related to curriculum.

This is often a big problem in education; we are not clear enough about the words we use to explain the ideas we have. It means that we risk talking past each other and wasting time trying to make sense of the ideas others have.

AV Kelly systematically analyses, through historical, sociological and psychological lenses, the way curriculum had been designed and shaped over the past one hundred or so years. The edition that I picked up was a third edition, just after the first national curriculum had been published of which he has very little good to say about.

What shaped my thinking from a reading of Kelly’s book can be summed up in the following quote:

“The educational value of the school curriculum will depend entirely on the quality of interaction which his or her teachers make possible, that the real curriculum is thus in the hands of the teacher, that, to quote what has long been an educational cliché, all curriculum development is teacher development.”

We must not be fooled by beautiful curriculum plans, resources or the like. The teacher and their understanding of the curriculum is the most important thing.

All curriculum development is teacher development.

Knowledge and the Future School – Michael Young, David Lambert, Carolyn Roberts and Martin Roberts

If skill-led curriculums are not the answer and rote learning facts approaches to curriculum are not the answer either, then how should school leaders proceed in building and shaping curricula?

Young and his colleagues suggest a new future for curriculum development, with powerful knowledge at the heart of it. The essence of my masters degree was firmly rooted in the ideas of this book and it has coloured my vision for education ever since. I’ve written a little bit for a range of publications on this and you can find more about those here. However, for the purposes of this post, the reason it is on this list is that its vision for how we choose the knowledge we include on the curriculum was, ironically, so deeply powerful to my understanding and equally practical, I was able to shape three years of hard graft curriculum development on the ideas. 

The work that I did with my colleagues with these ideas at the heart of it had an enormous impact on my school: record SATs results, two quality marks and students who genuinely loved history and geography like they had never done before. In more recent years his work has been challenged by other academics but with little other practical alternatives. 

For this book in particular, I can truly say that it not only ‘shaped’ my thinking but had an impact on the lives of young people and their education. 


I could go on here. Mary Myatt’s Gallimaufry: Curriculum to Coherence, Christine Counsell’s blog, David Didau’s blog and Robin Alexander’s work in primary education to name a few.


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