What is the Substance of Education?

by | Jun 28, 2021 | Quality, Wellbeing

Shining a light on the substance of education through the lens of its component parts

What is the Substance of Education?

Substance conjures up something of a high quality, solid and tangible, strong and dependable. The substance of education, according to a speech in 2021 by Amanda Spielman of OFSTED is essentially the curriculum and how well it is designed and delivered to ensure that all learners can achieve their full potential.

Amanda Spielman in her speech in June 2021 at the Festival of Education and again in her much longer speech in 2017 at the same event reinforced her belief in the importance of the substance of education’. She says,

“..education should be about broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation; about leaving the world a better place than we found it”.

She continues to be very clear that the curriculum is what is important and is what creates the substance of education. The curriculum must ensure deep and rich opportunities to create a good education for all in orderly classrooms; developing wider interests through sports, music and other curricular activities; building friendships and delivering good pastoral care. She also acknowledged that a good school contributes much to the well-being of children but she says very clearly that well-being is not an activity, it is an outcome.

“It is so important that schools do what they do best and don’t get knocked off course by the pressure for them to solve every social ill.”

Substance in relation to curriculum design and delivery is, therefore, more than the sum of its parts. The planned curriculum must clearly show how subject knowledge is taught, define the skills learners need to access that knowledge and demonstrate how that learning is retained in the long-term memory over time.  She, like me has no truck with the phrase ‘catching up’. Good teaching and opportunities to enrich the fabric of education will make sure pupils will recover.

What is the evidence that the curriculum has substance?

Systems Redesign
When everyone is working together the structure is strong and stable

Delivering high quality outcomes for all learners within any setting or cohort is at the heart of the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) in England and defines the substance of education. The design of the curriculum must, therefore, embrace a number of key essentials:-

  • A deep understanding of how knowledge is sequenced within the National Curriculum from early years to the end of key stage 3 and beyond
  • Clarity as to how learners build on their prior knowledge and understanding
  • Opportunities for learners to make connections across all their learning so that they can make sense of the world they live in
  • An identification of the skills learners develop as they progress through the curriculum and assessment of how well they can apply skills in different contexts
  • A focus on ensuring that assessment is seen as a key component of the planned and delivered curriculum
  • A tacit awareness of how learning is taking place through the skilful use of a range of pedagogies, learner outcomes and learner voice

Join us at one of our highly acclaimed webinars that dive deeply into what we mean by the substance of education.

How Can Coaching be the Answer to those Deep Dive Questions?

Create depth and clarity for the deep dive questioning

The most important element of the substance of education is the essential need to make sure that all staff across the whole school, from the smallest primary school to a large academy or secondary school know the part they play in delivering the planned curriculum. The more staff work together to plan and build the curriculum offer so that it flows, deepens knowledge and ensures learners progress towards those carefully crafted end points the more likely that offer will have depth and breadth and demonstrate cohesion and a shared vision.

The only way to achieve this is through coaching and the creation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)  where coaching conversations are an opportunity to build a culture of trust, the sharing and cascading of good practice, a consistent approach to achieving the stated curriculum intent and having at their fingertips a profound understanding of how the curriculum is having an impact on learning, progression and achievement for all.

Coaching is the most profound way to sustain a culture of excellence and improvement where coaching conversations help individuals to clarify their goals, reflect on their successes and what is working well and understand the barriers that need to be overcome. The curriculum is fluid. In order to create a consistent, whole school dialogue where everyone is on message can only be achieved using a framework for change and we know here at Learning Cultures that the best way is through coaching. We have coaching courses for everyone with a pupil facing role. Start now and know the answers to those deep dive questions.

Planning next steps leads you closer to your goal

Creating innovative futures that will help learners to find ways to capture the learning they have missed in ways that are exciting and inspiring is a far better way to plan the next steps in curriculum design and delivery. Amanda Spielman says,

“….for most children, most catching up will happen in their usual classroom with their usual teachers.”

“The magic of teaching  – imparting knowledge, developing skills and building confidence – will mostly happen where it always happened. We should not let the pressure to fill learning gaps bend what schools and colleges do out of shape.”

“Broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation is still exactly what’s needed from our schools.”

Creating a culture that leads to the above will happen with powerful and challenging CPD delivered using a coaching approach that will lead to sustainable, highly innovative and collaborative ways that breathe life into the substance of education or a deep and rich curriculum offer, whichever phrases you prefer.

New Books


The book ‘Primary Curriculum Design and Delivery by Glynis Frater‘ has now been published.

Find Out More

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