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How using a scheme of work lets teachers teach!

As a primary school teacher, I believe that schemes of work – used correctly – can liberate teachers and allow them to do what they do best – teach. However too often I’ve encountered the view that buying in a scheme of work is not a good idea. Criticisms include the notion that using a scheme of work is merely ‘rote teaching from a script’, or takes away a teacher’s autonomy.  I’d like to explain why I don’t think this is the case and how, in fact, using a scheme of work can actually release a teacher’s creativity rather than shackle it.

One major issue is that for primary schools there is a sense in which a teacher is “a jack of all trades and master of none’. This is because there are around 12 different subjects which primary school teachers have to teach –  all of which need to be imparted at a high standard, especially when teaching further up the school.
Planning what needs to be taught in each of these lessons from scratch is a laborious process that even an experienced teacher can find complex and/or repetitive. What critics of schemes don’t always consider is that when teachers plan lessons from scratch it is often from a mixture of desperate Google searches combined with whatever free materials they find on the internet, followed by shoe-horning that information into a lesson plan.
In contrast, a good scheme of work can allow teachers to tailor relevant, well-prepared and up-to-date material in the best way to suit the needs of their individual students.  Such schemes help provide the vital confidence which teachers need to carry the class with them.
Embedding a scheme of work at the beginning of term also lets teachers see what the subject expectations are before they start teaching. Teachers can quickly understand what stage students are at, where they need to be and adapt accordingly.  These advantages continue throughout the term too – for example when a different teacher has to take over a class or when a class is cancelled.  In the current global crisis, many schools have said that having schemes in place has been incredibly useful in easing the problems of going backwards and forwards between classroom and on-line teaching.
This leads onto the most important point. Using a scheme of work means that you can put your energy and experience into the actual job of teaching – giving the right support at the right time where it is needed, particularly to students who are falling behind.
Of course, all of this is not to say that a teacher who wants to plan from scratch should be prevented from doing so, especially if they are an experienced teacher with an area of subject expertise.  My personal view is that using a scheme of work produced by subject experts is an easier, more efficient and effective way of getting what you need to teach under your belt.   It goes without saying that schemes of work can – and often are – easily adapted throughout the year by the teacher to fit their students’ needs.  Many (including myself) supplement them with their own experience and knowledge, which is in itself an exciting part of the teaching journey. Schemes should not be seen as plans set in tablets of stone, but rather that the core, or bedrock, of what you need to teach is there for you.
Have you come across the old saying about the importance of the six ‘P’s?  This is usually explained as “Proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance”.  Taking this as relating to students’ as well as teachers’ performance, gives a neat summary of why schemes of work can be a vital part of a teacher’s tool kit.

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The author

Robert Pokorny is founder of Scheme Support, a directory of schemes of work for the English National Curriculum. He has been a primary school teacher in London for 8 years and is passionate about the role educational publishers can play in teaching and learning.

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