NOU 2015: 8

The School of the Future — Renewal of subjects and competences

To table of content

4 Curriculum model

Figure 4.1 Illustration Chapter 4

Figure 4.1 Illustration Chapter 4

Chapter 3 discusses and describes how the school subjects can be renewed to satisfy future competence requirements in working life and society. In Chapter 4 the Committee assesses and gives grounds for how competence-oriented subject curricula focusing on pupils’ learning as the core school activity can be developed.

The new subject curricula should have fewer and more uniformly designed competence objectives. Overriding national curricula objectives which have clear priorities and indicate clear directions are important if we are to have good education adapted to different pupils, pupil groups and learning contexts. This will give school leaders, teachers and other educational staff the autonomy to make professional assessments. The Committee recommends clearer progression in the subject curricula and descriptions of pupils’ learning progression in support/guidance resources. The Committee believes that the subject curricula will be better tools and clearer governing documents if they are combined with the nationally designed guidance resources. This will help teachers and teaching staffs to make priorities in the everyday school. This chapter recommends some frameworks for how the national curricula and guidance resources should be designed and how they can interact.

4.1 Development of a model for subject curricula

The school subjects must be renewed in order to meet the needs for future competence requirements in society and its working life and to guarantee good learning for pupils. The question is which model for competence-oriented subject curricula will be most effective when the competence areas from Chapter 2 are to be integrated into subjects, and when cognitive, practical, social and emotional aspects of pupils’ learning are to be put in focus. In this section the Committee recommends how the current curriculum model can be developed. The curriculum model must apply to both the Knowledge Promotion Reform and the Sami Knowledge Promotion Reform.

4.1.1 Curriculum coherence

Several analyses have indicated that there is a lack of coherence and consistency in the current main curriculum.1 Further development of the curriculum documents should ensure coherence in the main curriculum.2

An analysis of the main curriculum for the Knowledge Promotion Reform found that the view on learning, pupils, teachers, knowledge/competence and general education in general is expressed implicitly and not dealt with in a consistent manner, with the exception of the teacher and the teacher’s role.3

Curriculum research uses the term curriculum coherence– exploring whether there is coherence between the elements of the curriculum and the content. This may refer to the fact that the curriculum in its entirety is a logical entity, and that the content does not have conflicting elements across subjects and school years.4 This could also refer to whether there is coherence between the various elements of the curriculum, for example between the subject curricula and assessment systems.

Coherence within and between subject curricula refers to vertical coherence, which means that expected progression in pupils’ learning is clear from one year to the next. Vertical coherence may also mean coherence between the Core Curriculum and subject curricula. Horizontal coherence means coherence across the subject curricula, for example when cross-curriculum competences or interdisciplinary topics have objectives in several subjects so that they can interact with and reinforce each other in important areas. Curriculum development means finding a system that ensures horizontal and vertical coherence, both within and across subjects. Striving to ensure that the subject curricula constitute a whole may be important for their quality as governing documents and tools, when, for example, bearing in mind the desired progression in pupils’ learning.

The evaluation of the Knowledge Promotion Reform showed that there was a lack of coherence between the Core Curriculum, the Quality Framework and the subject curricula.5,6 The reason is that when the Knowledge Promotion Reform was introduced in the 2006/2007 school year, the previous Core Curriculum was retained because it functioned well and was popular among teachers. In the Report to the Storting On the right path [På rett vei] the Ministry of Education and Research proposed to renew the Core Curriculum.7 Bearing this in mind, in 2014 the Ministry began work on renewing the Core Curriculum so that it will better reflect social developments and the modified objects clause from 2008.

The Committee recommends that the Core Curriculum should be developed so that it will support the Committee’s priorities for the content of school. Its design should be based on a solid foundation of knowledge about pupils’ learning. One goal should be that the Core Curriculum forms a framework for understanding and operationalising the subject curricula. If in general the curricula are to express a holistic picture of pupils’ learning, the competence areas that are recommended in Chapter 2 and the breadth of the competence concept should be clearly visible consistently throughout the entire main curriculum. It is recommended that importance should be attached to making vertical and horizontal coherence an important consideration each time parts of the main curriculum are revised.

Figure 4.2 Illustration Chapter 4

Figure 4.2 Illustration Chapter 4

4.1.2 Focus on competence

Based on research and experiences gained from the Knowledge Promotion Reform and from other countries, it is recommended that the subject curricula should be renewed with a stronger focus on competence. This will contribute to pointing out that the most important aspect of the school’s day-to-day activities is to focus on pupils’ learning. The Committee recommends

  • fewer and more uniform national competence objectives

  • areas of competence instead of main areas

Fewer and more uniform competence objectives

Analyses of the Knowledge Promotion Reform indicate that several of the subjects have a large number of objectives. It has also been found that the subject curricula do not distinguish between objectives that require advanced application of knowledge and skills, and objectives that are easier to achieve.8 One way of developing the curricula may therefore be to reduce the number of objectives. Several countries have moved in this direction. Having few and clear objectives was an important premise in the development of subject curricula in Sweden and in the Danish primary school reform of 2014.

It is a challenge for school when new subject matter and new areas of competence are added to the subject curricula without taking anything out. Curriculum overload, in the form of many and comprehensive objectives, may make it difficult for schools to prioritise, i.e. choosing the essentials and dropping some elements. Fewer and more uniformly designed objectives may contribute to solving the problem of curriculum overload in school. At the same time, having fewer subject curricula objectives will mean having more overriding objectives, and this could be perceived as making the schools’ and the teachers’ jobs more demanding. The Committee nevertheless emphasize that concentration on the important ways of thinking, methods, concepts and coherence in the subjects, and progression in the subjects, will make the priorities clearer. The most important work when renewing the subjects will be to make priorities so that the subjects’ building blocks are clearer. This direction in the development of the subjects will give room for local pedagogical assessments. The Committee finds that the subject curricula must be designed so that they allow the teachers the professional freedom to make decisions on the choice of content, ways of working and organisation.

Several of the subject curricula in the Knowledge Promotion Reform have overlapping competence objectives. These overlaps are in part the expression of the wish to open for an interdisciplinary approach. However, an unintended result has been that the subjects are too broad.9 It is therefore proposed that competence connected to interdisciplinary issues should be expressed more systematically than is the case today. Overlapping objectives can be removed from one or more of the subject curricula, or formulated in new ways so they support each other. The interdisciplinary topics that the Committee recommends should be strengthened in school are described in Chapter 3.

Areas of competence instead of main areas

In the Knowledge Promotion Reform the competence objectives direct school’s work on the pupils’ learning. They are also formulated within the framework of content-oriented main areas of the subjects. The social studies curriculum, for example, is divided into the three disciplines, history, geography and social science, in addition to the main area The explorer [Utforskaren], which includes methods in the social studies subjects. Content-oriented main areas may challenge the teachers’ autonomy and professional judgementwhen it comes to choosing which subject matter to teach. The Committee argues that using the competence areas as structuring elements in the subject curricula will give the subject curricula a stronger competence focus as the question to ask will then be about which subject material should be chosen to promote the desired competence. With a division into competence areas the social studies curriculum will, for example, focus on how knowledge in social science is built and established, and may comprise discussions, critical assessment, arguments, grounds for conclusions and presentation of the subject to a stronger degree than is the case today.

With areas of competence in the subject curricula, the subjects will be developed so they have a structuring function for the content of school. Subject matter and methods will still be structured according to how they contribute to developing pupils’ competence. The Committee proposes that the description of the main areas in today’s subject curricula should be replaced by a similar description of the competence areas. Moreover, descriptions may be made on the discipline level in connection with the four areas of competence. The objective of the subject should continue to frame what the pupils should learn, and place the subject in a larger context.

Other models for competence-oriented subject curricula

Today the subjects structure the content in school, but there are other ways of organising the content than according to subjects.10 A purer competence-oriented curriculum model might consist of only competence objectives or competence areas. This could contribute to putting important competences even more in focus in the teaching and learning activities. An advantage of such an organisation would be that what the pupils should learn might be related to several disciplines at the same time. Models of this type may be relevant in a longer perspective, but as of today there is no knowledge base or experiences that would legitimise such solutions.

Another example of how overriding descriptions of objectives may be designed is the National Framework for Lifelong Learning (Norwegian abbreviation: NKR).11 Here competence is operationalised in knowledge, skills and general competence. The NKR model shows how knowledge and skills are part of the competence, and also comprises progression over school years and levels.

The future design of a main curriculum must be based on a model that makes it clear which competences the pupils should attain. A new model must make the subject curricula into educational and governing tools which support the competence focus in school and strengthen the work performed locally.

4.1.3 Clearer progression

Clearer descriptions of expected progression give the teacher and teaching staff help to follow up pupils’ learning within particular areas of the subjects over time. From the evaluation of the Knowledge Promotion Reform we know that schools and school owners have different needs for support.12 It is necessary to examine in more detail different ways progression can be expressed in the subject curricula to support the teachers’ work.

The national subject curricula must set clear objectives, but it must be left to the schools to decide how to achieve these goals. There are many different ways of learning that lead towards a goal. The competence objectives in the national subject curricula should not be so detailed in their description of progression that they do not allow for different learning progressions for pupils or restrict local priorities or the school’s opportunities to give their pupils adapted teaching. This consideration is one of the main reasons why the competence objectives in primary and lower secondary school today are formulated according to main levels and not according to each school year. The Committee recommends that this should be continued as one of the main principles.

Expected progression in pupils’ learning may be expressed in different ways in the subject curricula and support material – by expressing progression between main levels more clearly, by means of guiding descriptions of the pupils’ learning trajectories and through goal attainment descriptors.

Clearer progression in the competence objectives

A direct further development of today’s curriculum model will be to make the progression from one year to the next clearer with competence objectives covering all the 13 school years (the learning trajectory). The evaluation of the Knowledge Promotion Reform has shown that progression from one year to the next is not equally clear in all the subjects.13 It would be an advantage to clarify how the progression is envisioned, bearing in mind both teachers’ planning for pupils’ learning in an area of the subject, and for enabling assessment and feedback on pupils’ development in the subject. The Committee believes that the subject curricula objectives should make it clearer what characterises progression in each subject.

The Danish subject curricula from 2014 have phase goals, i.e. goals that lead towards the competence objectives. For each competence objective, goals have been set for a number of phases corresponding to the number of school-year levels there are before reaching the competence objective, but without being connected to particular school years. The phase goals are level-based, not year-based, and they are envisioned as an aid for the teachers’ work to prepare operative learning objectives when planning and carrying out teaching. It has proved difficult to set goals for pupils’ learning that can lead to a competence objective that lies many years ahead, and the phase goals are an answer to this. They help to ensure that locally designed learning objectives have an appropriate progression in the subject.14 The Committee notes that phase goals are a way of highlighting expected progression in the learning that comes in addition to the progression in the competence objectives. The committee adds that the progression goals must be based on a balance between an empirical basis and what is stipulated prescriptively/normatively, because the pupils will have different learning trajectories.

Descriptions of learning trajectories

Descriptions of pupils’ learning trajectories are also a way of showing progression. Such descriptions have pupils’ actual skill development and cognitive development in the subjects as the point of departure for designing learning trajectories.In the US, such descriptions of learning trajectories have been made within some limited areas in natural science and mathematics. The descriptions are based on empirical research on how the pupils’ learning trajectories develop in practice.15

The purpose of describing learning trajectories in this way is to support teachers when planning and observing pupils’ learning and development in the subjects. This is useful to enable planning the teaching for a whole class and for individual pupils, and for adapting the teaching to the levels of the pupils while they are learning. This is particularly important when it comes to assessment as it will be possible to determine where the pupil is in his/her understanding of the subject, to give relevant advice on further work adapted to each individual and to give a fair final assessment. The descriptions of learning trajectories show the key concepts or building blocks in the subjects.16

Research connected to the learning progressions based on the learning trajectories has considered relatively limited areas in subjects, thus the research basis is so far limited. However, there are examples of descriptions of learning trajectories in the subject curricula of several countries. In Scotland, guiding progression descriptions of different disciplines have been developed, and are based on knowledge and consensus on the learning trajectories within a subject.17

The aim of the descriptions of learning trajectories must be to support teachers in their work on planning the teaching and learning. Pupils will have different learning trajectories in the subjects, and teachers must adapt their teaching to their pupil group. If the descriptions are to avoid placing too rigid restrictions on the teaching, the Committee finds that it will be most appropriate if they have the status of guidelines. Guidelines, not regulations, will also give greater opportunities for revision according to testing and new knowledge.

The description of learning trajectories should be based on knowledge and consensus on expected progression in subjects, and should be developed by considering learning sciences, didactics, subject didactics and pedagogical research and practical experiences together. It is therefore necessary that the development work should be planned as cooperation between expert communities and school practitioners. The descriptions should be tested in practice, as has been done in an on-going research project which is developing standards for assessment of learning to write.18 A systematic form of testing is important so decisions can be made on an informed basis and so that solutions that function well in practice can be found. The Committee recommends that descriptions should be developed of learning progression in guidance resources, and that this development activity should start parallel to the curriculum development.

Support for final assessment

In competence-focused subject curricula the objectives are the basis for assessment of a pupil’s competence. In some countries, such as Norway and Denmark, the objectives and the levels they indicate form the point of departure for assessment. Some subject curricula have also formulated standards or descriptors for achievement which make it clear what it means to have achievement on a certain level, for example to achieve grade 5. The standards are often connected to particular grade or competence levels. An example is the Swedish subject curricula, where the knowledge requirements describe three different grade levels for each stage, or the Finnish subject curricula, which have assessment criteria for what characterises high achievement in all subjects.

The standards for final assessment are developed to support teachers’ and examiners’ final assessment with a grade. The descriptors indicate the requirements for the different grades. In years without grades and/or no final assessment such descriptors may give the teachers a basis for assessing how the competence of the pupils is developing from a lower to a higher level, and thus support the planning of the pupil’s learning progression.19 However, such level descriptions may lead teachers and pupils to focus attention on the level the pupil “belongs“ to, instead of progress and process.20

Teachers and school leaders have called for national criteria which can contribute to valid final assessment and common national guidelines for the assessment work. Guiding national descriptors for achievement after Year 10, which have been developed in five of the subjects in Norway that have learning pathway from Year 1 to Year 10, have been well received.21 The descriptors indicate the quality of competence in a subject. The Committee recommends that a future curriculum process must assess how competence objectives in the subject curricula in years with final assessment may indicate the different levels of achievement more clearly or be supplemented with descriptors for different levels of achievement.

The relationship between objectives and descriptors must be clearly indicated, and the descriptors must be described on a national level so they will not interfere with the teachers’ autonomy to make pedagogical decisions. The descriptors must be based on the competence objectives in such a way that they must be used together with the subject curricula to give meaning, and so that there will be room for local realisation and adaptation. Cooperation between colleagues on competence objectives and descriptors may contribute to common understanding and shared language about what the pupils should learn, and what characterises different levels of achievement.

It is important to consider whether standards for final assessment should be highlighted as part of the statutory subject curricula or in guidelines. An argument for the statutory requirement is that control is necessary so that the grades pupils receive on their diploma are set on the same basis across schools and individual teachers. An argument for the guidelines status is that statutory standards may create an ambiguous dividing line between what should be focused on in the teaching, and what should be the basis for the assessment.

Textbox 4.1 Tjensvoll School: Pupils’ progression in a subject

Tjensvoll School, in Stavanger in Rogaland County, is a primary school with pupils from Years 1 to 7. They work systematically with the learning and development of each pupil. The school has special reading and mathematics supervisors who support all the school’s teachers.

Knowledge about the pupil as the point of departure for further learning

The school has good results in reading. They have a binding syllabus where they map the pupils to determine whether they achieve their goals. The supervisors contribute to school’s follow-up of individual pupils. The school has for several years worked systematically with pupil reading and writing in all subjects.

The basis for the work is a common plan for the school’s efforts in reading and writing competence that is used actively by the staff. It includes a description of what reading and writing means in all subjects and the school’s framework for teaching each school year. The plan contains reading strategies and general learning strategies the pupils must learn in each school year. Moreover, the plan describes what the school needs to map to be updated on the pupils’ progress in reading. The school uses the results of these surveys to obtain information about how individual pupils have developed their competence. If the pupil does not achieve the desired competence, the school immediately takes the initiative to determine why, and to find out what the pupil needs in his or her further learning process. Such measures may be adapted teaching, special follow-up by the teacher, guidance from the reading supervisor, special teacher or a person from the school’s resource team and cooperation with the home.

The school’s mapping is the key to obtaining information about what the pupils have learnt and how they can learn more. This applies to pupils who are lagging behind and to pupils who need extra challenges. The school’s leaders have established a good framework that contributes to better learning for each pupil. The supervisors follow up pupils and classes in all the school years. They inquire about and observe the development of the pupils. The supervisors have contributed to making the whole staff more aware of and willing to discuss the learning and development of each pupil.

4.1.4 Emphasising cross-curriculum competences

Pupils’ learning in school generally takes place by working with the subjects. In the interim report the Committee finds that cross-curriculum competences should be integrated in subjects in a systematic manner.

Systematic integration in subjects

Subject-specific and cross-curriculum competences must be made clear in each subject. This is decisive if they are to be given priority in the learning activities in the day-to-day school activities. For example, creativity must be developed by having the pupils work with subject content, such as natural science issues or artistic forms of expression. A number of the cross-curriculum competences are generally requirements for learning in the subjects. This applies, for example, to reading, writing, persistence, motivation and being able to plan, implement and assess one’s own learning processes.

All the cross-curriculum competences described in Chapter 2 are developed through working with the subject content and must therefore be integrated in competence objectives to make it clear what the pupils must learn in the subjects. Experiences of integrating the cross-curriculum basic skills in the Knowledge Promotion Reform have shown that it may be demanding to integrate competences that are relevant in several subjects in a clear manner. Fewer objectives and more cross-curriculum competences will put further demands on curriculum development. The Committee finds that the proposal relating to work division between the subjects in the disciplines is an answer to this challenge, see sections 3.2 and 4.3. When the subjects are developed with a greater degree of work division, not all the competences will need to be present in all subjects. If curriculum development involves setting priorities through the key building blocks in the subjects, the new subject curricula will be less complex.

Fewer curriculum objectives with more integrated cross-curriculum competences will also place demands on the local work with the subject curricula. The Committee believes that giving priority to key building blocks with clearer descriptions of progression in the subject curricula and support material will facilitate pupils’ in-depth learning in the subjects. Fewer and more cross-curriculum objectives may alleviate the problem of curruculum overload. These measures may make it easier for teachers and teaching staff to set priorities in their work at school.

Making cross-curriculum competences in the subjects visible means that the subject curricula will be different because the subjects are different. But it appears that the dissimilarities in today's subject curricula are greater than what can reasonably be claimed according to the actual differences, nature and different purposes of the subjects. An analysis of the current subject curricula points out that there does not appear to be good systematism behind the way in which the competences that are important for many of the subjects are integrated into each of those subjects.22 This leads to a lack of horizontal coherence in the subject curricula and give unclear governing signals.23 Research findings suggest that the quality of the curriculum coherence in the subject curricula impacts their quality as governing and support documents.24

The breadth of the competence concept

The Committee recommends four competence areas as the basis for setting priorities in the content in school. Pupils’ learning in all areas means collaboration between cognitive, social and emotional aspects of the learning. Integrating the breadth of the competence concept in the subject curricula raises some questions, such as those on assessment, cf. Chapter 5.

In the Knowledge Promotion Reform social and emotional aspects of pupils’ learning have not been integrated in the subjects’ competence objectives. The social and emotional development of pupils must be assessed in a dialogue between the pupil and the teacher in light of the Core Curriculum and the Quality Framework. A possible consequence of this is the lack of coherence between the national documents and the objectives in the subjects.25

Committee fins that integrating the breadth of the competence concept is an important aim. Aspects of the social and emotional competences must also be part of the subject learning, for example, engagement in and attitudes to the subjects and one’s own learning in the subjects, persistence, expectations for own mastering, being able to plan, implement and evaluate one’s own learning processes and the ability to interact with others. In the renewal of the subject curricula, part of the development work will be to find good solutions to how the social and emotional competences can be expressed in the form of competence objectives.

The Finnish curriculum reform (LP2016) has examples of how the breadth of a competence is expressed in objectives that are in focus in several subjects. In the new Finnish subject curricula the following competences across the subjects are given a high priority: The ability to think and learn, cultural and communicative competence, everyday competence, multi-literacy, digital competence, working-life competence and entrepreneurship, and the ability to participate, influence and contribute to a sustainable future. The aim is to support a pupil’s development as a human being, as well as to promote expectations for participation in a democratic society and a sustainable way of living. An example is how objectives for pupil motivation and interest in mathematics are connected to self-confidence and the perception of mastering.

The social and emotional development of pupils generally takes place in collaboration with co-pupils and teachers, and not all aspects of pupils’ learning in this area are relevant to formulate or assess as objectives in the subjects. For some social aspects of learning there may be good reasons to formulate some process objectives for school’s work with the social environment, where the assessments of achievement take place on the system level, rather than formulating the goals as individual objectives for the individual pupil. The Core Curriculum may, for example, have objectives that deal with the expectations for common responsibilities for the school environment, for all to experience a sense of belonging and for interpersonal relationships. The Education Act establishes that school must contribute to a good psycho-social environment for all pupils and to good relationships between pupils.

The Committee emphasize that common objectives on the school level and a greater degree of process-oriented objectives in the subject curricula are two solutions for strengthening the objectives for the social and emotional learning and development of the pupils. Coherence internally in the main curriculum should be made clearer in a new Core Curriculum by showing how objectives for the pupils in the subject curricula are linked to common objectives for school.

4.2 The subject curricula and guidance resources

With more overriding subject curricula the need for supporting resources increases. The Committee emphasize that there is a need for a curriculum concept that includes statutory national subject curricula and guidelines for the national subject curricula. It is recommended that the Norwegian curriculum model should be developed with a closer and more dynamic collaboration between subject curricula and guidance material for these curricula. The experiences from the Knowledge Promotion Reform and from other countries indicate that good coherence between governing documents and guidance documents requires that the guidance documents are part of the curriculum model. However, experiences of previous subject-curricula reforms show that it is difficult to maintain an overview over a large volume of guidance resources from national bodies and they may therefore not be used as much as was intended. It must be clear what the guidance principles of the main national curriculum implies and what the other supporting resources are. A three-part model is suggested:

  • statutory national subject curricula

  • nationally designed guidance resources

  • other supporting material

Research indicates that the local work with the subject curricula under the Knowledge Promotion Reform has contributed positively to development, professionalization, variation in work forms and methods for and attention on adaptive teaching.26 Studies show that schools working systematically with subject curricula analyses and assessment in the subjects over time change the participants’ understanding of the curricula.27 Research also show that teachers are struggling when it comes to preparing manageable learning goals and giving direction to the weekly and monthly learning activities of the pupils. There are also examples where the learning activities become fragmented when the competence objectives are broken down into learning objectives that are detached from the subject body they are a part of.28

To realise the content of the subject curricula there must be good coherence between the national and the local work on them. It is recommended that the education authorities should give better support for the local work on the subject curricula through guidance resources. The curriculum concept the Committee advocates includes statutory national subject curricula and guidance sections for the national subject curricula. If available knowledge about the subject curricula and the practical day-to-day affairs of school is used as the point of departure, it appears appropriate to develop national guidance resources that are connected to.

  • the cross-curriculum competences and

  • descriptions of the pupils’ learning trajectories in the subjects

The Committee recommends that the guidance resources should be made at the same time as the subject curricula.

4.3 Framework for designing national subject curricula

If the four areas of competences are to serve as the basis for prioritising the content of the subjects, a renewal of the subject curricula is necessary. Below a framework for the curriculum development is outlined.

4.3.1 Openness and dialogue

In Chapter 6 the Committee points out that common understanding among all the stakeholders in the sector is decisive if the development work in primary and secondary education and training under the auspices of national authorities is to succeed. An overriding recommendation is therefore to have clear objectives, explicit rationales and key concepts that are foregrounded and explained in all the subject curricula and guidance resources.

Another overriding recommendation is to attach importance to treating curriculum development as open and dialogue-based processes, where the stakeholders in the system influence each other. The opposite approach would be top-down curriculum development, where the authorities would present complete and finished solutions. The most constructive development work will most likely take place by testing various approaches in practice, and then adjusting them on a knowledge- and experience-based foundation.

Figure 4.3 Illustration Chapter 4

Figure 4.3 Illustration Chapter 4

4.3.2 Leadership and decision-making

It is recommended that the development work should have an open, inclusive and dialogic form. To ensure coherence and consistency in the curriculum, the work must be launched, led and completed by the national education authorities, where the final conclusions are made at the central level. The Sami Parliament is an important partner in the development of new subject curricula, both when it comes to contributing to verifying knowledge about Sami matters for Norwegian pupils, and to contributing to relevant subject curricula for the Sami school.

The subject curricula for school subjects are designed in a process where social changes, political ambitions and pedagogical considerations play important roles during various phases of the process. The Committee prefers to have knowledge-based curriculum development where expert knowledge about making a curriculum has the most weight in the decision-making process. It is recommended that all the national subject curricula for compulsory school should be established by the same public agency that organises and leads the work after the political guidelines have been given early in the process.

4.3.3 Renewal of the subjects within the disciplines

The Committee does not recommend that the subject renewal should start with each subject but rather with the selected disciplines in school, see section 3.2. The development process must rely on systematic cooperation between the subjects in each discipline and between the subjects across disciplines where needed. In a future design of the subject curricula, the development of objectives for pupils’ learning and provisions for how pupils’ competence should be assessed should be a common process. This section proposes some frameworks for the curriculum development.

Framework for cross-curriculum competences

The Committee emphasize that there is a need to develop a framework for curriculum developers that will highlight the cross-curriculum competences in the subject curricula. Groups of experts who receive a mandate from the education authorities to develop the national subject curricula must have a common understanding of the competences that are to be integrated in the subject curricula. The framework must be designed independently of the subjects, must define the cross-curriculum competences and must describe their function and progression.

The framework will be important in the renewal of the subject curricula, serving as the underpinning for the groups on the discipline and subject levels to ensure that objectives are created for what the pupils should learn. It must be used as the basis for systematic integration of the competences in the disciplines and in subject curricula. The framework will initially be a tool in the national curriculum development. Based on expert assessments it will be up to the groups to decide how the competences can be made clear as part of the discipline/subject.

It is recommended that the framework should be made before the curriculum groups start their work, and that sufficient time should be allocated for this development work.

The Committee finds it important that the understanding behind the cross-curriculum competences is also shared by those people who are to adopt and use the subject curricula. The framework may be further developed into a guidance resource as a tool for local work with the subject curricula.

Curriculum groups within the disciplines and subjects

The subject curricula are to be renewed by curriculum groups, i.e. groups of experts mandated by the national education authorities to develop the national subject curricula. The Committee recommends that a curriculum group should be appointed for each discipline, and that the subject renewal and curriculum development should start in these groups. Close cooperation between the subjects within each discipline should ensure that the responsibility for subject-specific competence, cross-curriculum competence and interdisciplinary topics which the subjects have in common is divided into a systematic, academically grounded and knowledge-based manner. The Committee recommends that the curriculum group for each discipline complies with the principles for subject renewal in Chapter 3. Two particularly important considerations are that the work must be based on close collaboration between learning science, didactics and subject didactics, and that it ensures horizontal and vertical curriculum coherence. The most important work of the curriculum groups will be to prioritise key ways of thinking, methods, principles, concepts and coherence in the subjects. The building blocks of the subjects include subject-specific and cross-curriculum competences.

When the competence areas are to be put in focus in the subject curricula, the different subjects in each discipline must be considered together. The goal for the development on the discipline level must be that the subjects reinforce each other by several of them having objectives for pupils’ learning in important areas and with a progression between the school years that correspond to each other. Such common responsibility will ensure vertical and horizontal curriculum coherence. The subjects can also be developed with a greater degree of work division. This means that not all the cross-curriculum competences must be present in all the subjects or disciplines, but that they are integrated where it is most relevant and appropriate.

The Committee recommends that a curriculum group should also be appointed for each of the subjects to be renewed. The curriculum for each subject must be designed within the framework decided by the curriculum groups for each discipline. The mandate for the curriculum groups for each subject should include making a foundation describing how the subject is relevant in a future perspective, the building blocks of the subject, and which competences the subject must assume special responsibility for and in which ways. Such a foundation should also assess the boundaries between other subjects, in addition to the subject’s responsibility for interdisciplinary topics. Close cooperation is recommended between each discipline group and the appropriate subject groups throughout the subject curricula-development process.

Each curriculum group must be composed with such a wide range of experts as the subject renewal requires for Norwegian and Sami pupils. The traditional science disciplines should not be the only determiners of the premises for the choice of content in school. This means, for example, that the curriculum group in mathematics may need a statistician and an economist, that the curriculum group in Norwegian may need a media and communication researcher or that a technology expert is needed in the natural science group. Only some examples are mentioned here from some subjects, but they make a point that must apply to all the subjects and disciplines.

For competences connected to the interdisciplinary topics of climate change, the multicultural society and public health and life science, it is recommended that the subject curricula should show the connections across the disciplines.

Flexible distribution of subjects teaching hours per subject within the disciplines

It is recommended that the close cooperation between the subjects within the disciplines should be followed up through corresponding cooperation in the schools when working with the subject curricula locally. The Committee finds that increased flexibility in the distribution of teaching hours per subject in the disciplines mathematics, natural science and technology, languages, social studies and ethics and practical and aesthetics subjects will provide good opportunities for enabling in-depth learning and good progression in the pupils’ learning. Cooperation across the subjects may help to reduce the problem of curriculum overload in school and help pupils to understand the connections so they can apply knowledge and skills in various subject contexts.

However, a flexible distribution of teaching hours per subject does not appear to be a sufficient means to ensure interdisciplinary cooperation. From 2000 to 2005, a pilot project in Sweden looked into the effects of giving schools greater flexibility in organising the distribution of teaching hours locally. The intention was to improve the possibility of interdisciplinary work by moving away from allocating time for each subject to stipulating time for reaching an objective. Studies of the project show that it is not sufficient to assign time for local prioritising of interdisciplinary work. The intentions of the interdisciplinary work must be connected to overriding goals and be legitimised through dialogue and embedding on the different levels in the sector.29 If interdisciplinary work is to be done in systematic ways in the day-to-day school activities, the responsibility for it must be assigned in terms of leadership and subject coordination.

In Norway, the national authorities have traditionally been focused on ensuring a minimum of time for each subject. Strong state control of the distribution of teaching hours per subject has been a key measure for achieving this. National distribution of teaching hours per subject has also been an element in the idea of the comprehensive national school, where a uniform school programme for all pupils has been seen as important. This does not mean that today’s scheme is without flexibility. The subjects have a total amount of time assigned for the main levels, and the local authorities are responsible for allocating the teaching hours for each school year. The primary school level comprises seven years and one main level. Five-per cent flexibility has recently been introduced for the local level. This means that schools/school owners may reallocate up to five per cent of teaching hours between the subjects, both in primary and lower secondary school and upper secondary education and training. This scheme is so new that it is not possible to refer to experience of it, and no studies have been conducted on how it works.

Textbox 4.2 Myklerud School: With concept learning as the point of departure for in-depth learning

Myklerud School, located in the municipality of Nesodden in Akershus County, has pupils from Year 1 to Year 7.

The school wanted to work more systematically with pupils’ learning and believed it would be possible to exploit pupils’ potentials in a better way. As a step in this process it was therefore decided that the entire staff needed to be more systematic. The overriding goal was to ensure good quality of learning and teaching in all classrooms.

Systematic teaching of concepts and procedures

The school wanted to focus on a small number of key concepts in the subjects over time. The concepts should contribute to good understanding of the content and processes in the subjects. Understanding concepts is also important for further learning in the subjects.

The school has introduced concept learning in natural science as a prioritized area. Here they have concentrated on such concepts as evidence, substances and observation. They have prepared a concept wall in the classroom on which they write key concepts and what they mean. The pupils have raised their awareness of concepts and procedures. Instead of stating: “It was warm,“ they may now say “I observed a change in temperature”. They have also become more aware of the fact that concepts mean different things in various subjects and in colloquial language. When they have to do things several times they learn in a better way, and in the next session they can start on a higher level than where they last were.

In-depth learning

To develop good understanding of concepts the pupils must use these concepts over time and in various ways. In Myklerud School the pupils practise concepts by reading, speaking, writing and carrying out practical exercises. This means that the concepts stick, and the pupils learn them better.

Pupils who have developed robust understanding by being familiar with concepts and procedures are ready for more challenging tasks. Pupils who work with understanding the basics of a subject have benefited from several repetitions, and this has improved their capacity to express what they have learnt. They all feel it is motivating when the teaching is connected to practical projects and pupil activity. To increase the pupils’ activity level, they are often asked questions where they initially must consider the answer, then speak with their neighbour, and later share what they have been speaking about with the whole class. Because the school focuses on learning concepts, the pupils have improved their articulation and their ability to ask relevant questions in a subject. This makes it possible to confirm that they have understood, or correct them if they have misunderstood something.

The school would like to expand the model from natural science to other subjects and school years. Focusing on important concepts in the subjects has helped in the development of goals and good criteria, while the criteria have made it easier to plan the teaching around the important topics.

4.4 The Committee’s recommendations

The Committee recommends that the subject renewal should start with the disciplines in school, mathematics, natural science and technology, languages, social studies and ethics and practical and aesthetic subjects. In the development process, systematic cooperation between the subjects is necessary within each discipline and between subjects across disciplines where this is needed. The close cooperation between the subjects in the disciplines must be followed up by corresponding cooperation in the everyday activities in school when working with the subject curricula locally. The Committee recommends assessing whether to increase the flexibility in the distribution of subjects and teaching hours between the subjects in each discipline as a measure to stimulate learning activities between subjects that have a clear division of responsibility and common responsibilities. Increased flexibility between the subjects in the disciplines will give good opportunities for enabling in-depth learning and progression in the pupils’ learning.

Based on research and experience of the Knowledge Promotion Reform, and experience from other countries, it is recommended that the subject curricula should be further developed with a stronger focus on competence. The Committee recommends fewer and uniformly designed objectives and competence areas instead of main areas. Additionally, there is a need for clearer progression in the objectives between the main levels. The provision of other types of descriptions of progression in the subject curricula can also be assessed. The combination of clearer progression in the subject curricula and descriptions of the learning trajectories in supporting material are measures that will make it easier for teachers and teaching staff to plan, implement and evaluate the teaching.

Developing a framework for the cross-curriculum competences is recommended, initially to be used as a tool for the work in developing the national subject curricula and then as part of the guidance resources which inform the sector in a good way and can be used on all levels in primary and secondary education and training.

Figure 4.4 Illustration Chapter 4

Figure 4.4 Illustration Chapter 4

The Committee recommends the following:

  • The focus on competence should be developed in the subject curricula, with fewer and more uniformly designed objectives for pupils’ learning than is the case today, and structured into competence areas in the subjects. The collaboration between subjects within disciplines must be made clear in the subject curricula.

  • The curriculum model should be developed through closer collaboration between the subject curricula and the guidance resources for the curricula. The interaction between the documents must be thoroughly considered and have rationales, so it will be clear how they can be used together. The guidance resources must be developed at the same time as the subject curricula.

  • A framework must be developed for the cross-curriculum competences as a tool in the curriculum development to ensure a shared understanding and system in the integration of these competences. The framework may at a later stage be developed into guidance resources for the sector.

  • Progression in the competence objectives between main levels must be described better than today. The progression in the subject curricula should be made clear by developing guiding descriptions of pupils’ learning trajectories in the subjects.

  • The progression descriptions in the guidelines must support the teacher’s work on adapting teaching to individual pupils and groups of pupils. Development of the descriptions must take place parallel with development of the curriculum.

  • It should be assessed how competence objectives in the subject curricula for school years with final assessment can indicate a clearer achievement level or be supplemented with descriptors indicating different levels of achievement. It will be an important consideration whether standards for final assessment should be made clear as part of the statutory subject curricula or in guidelines.

  • The distribution of teaching hours between the subjects in the disciplines mathematics, natural science and technology, languages, social studies and ethics, and practical and aesthetic subjects should be made more flexible to better enable work across subjects.

  • Expert considerations of the curriculum must be given importance in the decision-making process. All national subject curricula in primary and secondary education and training must be decided by the same public agency which organises and leads the work to develop the subject curricula.

  • The work on renewing the Core Curriculum must be considered together with the Committee’s proposal. A new Core Curriculum should constitute a transition between the objects clause and the subject curricula, and should express a view of learning and subject-specific learning and cross-curriculum competence that is consistent with the subject curricula.



Aasen et al. 2014


NOU 2014: 7 Elevenes læring i fremtidens skole [Pupils’ learning in the school of the future]


Björnsson and Hörnquist 2014a


Muller 2009, Schmidt and Prawat 2006


Dale et al. 2011, NOU 2014: 7 Elevenes læring i fremtidens skole [Pupils’ learning in the school of the future]


The (LK06) National Curriculum for Knowledge Promotion in Primary and Secondary Education and Training comprises two general parts - The Core Curriculum and the Quality Framework - which describes overarching goals and frame the Subject Curricula.


Meld. St. 20 (2012–2013) På rett vei [On the right path]


Dale et al. 2011, Hodgson et al. 2012, Björnsson and Hörnquist 2014b


NOU 2014: 7 Elevenes læring i fremtidens skole [Pupils’ learning in the school of the future]


See for example Fadel 2014


The Ministry of Education and Research 2011b: Nasjonalt kvalifikasjonsrammeverk for livslang læring (NKR) [the National Framework for Lifelong Learning]


Aasen et al. 2012


Dale et al. 2011


Rasmussen 2015


Mosher 2011


Mosher 2011


Education Scotland 2015


Berge et al. 2015


Throndsen et al. 2009


Mosher 2011


Gjerustad et al. 2014


Björnsson and Hörnquist 2014b


Aasen et al. 2012


Sinnema 2011


Engelsen 2008, Björnsson and Hörnquist 2014b


Sivesind 2012


Throndsen et al. 2009, Sandvik and Buland 2013


Hodgson et al. 2012


Sundberg 2005

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