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Curriculum for Wales: Are linear curriculum development models helpful?

Rhianna Murphy, PhD Student at Cardiff University

Wales is in a time of unprecedented curriculum reform. In September 2022 Wales started the roll-out of their reformed Curriculum for Wales (CfW). This purpose-led curriculum is designed to be flexible giving schools and teachers the opportunity to design their own curriculum (Welsh Government, 2023). In response to these curriculum reforms, the Welsh Government, the Welsh Consortia and academics alike have raced to provide schools and teachers with support and resources to enable them to effectively develop school-level curricula. This has led to the use and development of multiple linear curriculum development models. Estyn (the education and training inspectorate for Wales) has labelled these models as ‘helpful’ (p. 8) but could they be problematic for schools and teachers?

Linear curriculum models are not new and have been present in the field of curriculum studies since its birth in the 1920s. For example, Tyler’s (1949) Rationale is a well-known and still frequently used model. Tyler’s Rationale involved four questions, which formed four sequential steps to curriculum development.

Figure 1: Tyler’s Rationale for curriculum development

While CSC, Partneriaeth and Hwb have used or developed different curriculum models, they all provide a linear step-by-step approach to support schools and teachers with their curriculum development, reminiscent of Tyler’s Rationale. Table 1 presents the linear steps found in each model.

Table 1: Summary and comparison of curriculum development models used or developed by the Welsh Government or Regional Consortia

Linear models like these have been praised for their systematic approach to developing curriculum as they enable the process to be broken down (Hlebowitsh, 1992). However, these models have also been subject to criticism as they tend not to reflect what happens in practice (Kliebard, 1970). Karlström and Hamza (2021) carried out a study observing trainee teachers working together to plan a lesson. They found that Tyler’s Rationale could not be applied to the situation as teachers did not work in a linear or sequential way, with discussions moving back and forth between Tyler’s linear steps. This criticism could also apply to the curriculum models used and developed by CSC, Partneriaeth and Hwb, as they also contain linear steps. While Partneriaeth presented their model in a wheel, to show that the steps should be returned to, their steps are still sequenced linearly.

Linear models have also been critiqued for their reduction and simplification of curriculum making, as they tend to exclude context, such as budgets, local requirements, and teachers’ experiences, knowledge and skills. This is true of the models used and developed by CSC, Partneriaeth and Hwb. Priestley recently developed a diagram that captures all the sites of activity and layers of curriculum making (Figure 2). Through the use of an interlocking wheel, his diagram aims to encompass the complexity and non-linearity of curriculum making through identifying all the actors and sites of activities involved.

Figure 2: Redrawn diagram of Priestley’s (2021) sites of activity of curriculum making

Linear curriculum models have been further criticised for focusing on measurable objectives, which can neglect broader aspects of education, such as creativity, critical thinking and socio-emotional development. These are all important aspects of the CfW (Welsh Government, 2023). This neglect can occur as these objectives and outcomes are not as easily measured (Kliebard, 1970). While CSC’s, Partneriaeth’s and Hwb’s curriculum development models order the curriculum development process differently, they all indicate that the process includes setting learning experiences or outcomes which can be assessed. These linear models could potentially reduce the focus of the curriculum to measurable outcomes.

‘While linear curriculum models may be “helpful” to provide structured and sequential ways of curriculum-making and development, they also come with problems and challenges.’

While linear curriculum models may be ‘helpful’ to provide structured and sequential ways of curriculum making and development, they also come with problems and challenges. First, curriculum making may not happen in a linear manner and teachers might need to approach the steps in a different order, re-visit steps or work with multiple steps at once. Second, the Curriculum for Wales, aims to develop not only children’s knowledge but also their creativity, skills and values – things that are not easily measurable. It requires teachers to consider the wider context, the needs of their students and other sites of activity in their curriculum making process. Linear models may struggle to incorporate feedback, diverse perspectives and emerging trends, limiting their ability to address the multifaceted aspects of a purpose-based education. Therefore, we must err on the side of caution when presenting teachers with curriculum models that can position curriculum making as linear and sequential.


Karlström, M., & Hamza, K. (2021). How do we teach planning to pre-service teachers: A tentative model. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 32(6), 664–685. 

Kliebard, H. M. (1970). Reappraisal: The Tyler Rationale. School Review, 78, 259–272.

Hlebowitsh, P. S. (1992). Amid behavioural and behaviouristic objectives: Reappraising appraisals of the Tyler rationale. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 24(6), 533–547.

Priestley, M., Alvunger, D., Philippou, S., & Soini, T. (Eds.). (2012). Curriculum making in Europe: Policy and practice within and across diverse contexts. Emerald.

Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. [Twenty-ninth impression, 1969] The University of Chicago Press.

Welsh Government. (2023). Curriculum for Wales: The journey to curriculum roll-out.

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