How to Use a Scheme of Work in the Classroom
I’ve seen it a few times in my teaching career; a cupboard full of disused textbooks, or a hidden folder on the shared drive full of unopened resources. All too often a scheme of work is bought only for it not to be implemented properly, and ultimately never used. No matter which subject you’ve bought a scheme for, here I’ll suggest three ways in which a scheme of work should be used by a school to ensure its longevity and crucially, get value for money.
See the scheme as a map
A good scheme of work sequences the units to learn across all year groups, ensuring progression within each year and in the whole school journey. Sometimes we can get stuck writing an individual lesson, or a termly unit, without seeing the bigger picture. I’ve found one of the key benefits of a scheme is that it allows me to see where my class needs to be at the end of the year as well as what they’ll be doing in the year above. This overarching view means you’ll be able to add more context if you’re adding on some of your own planning.
Don’t be afraid to use it flexibly
I’ve been running Scheme Support since 2017, and in that time I’ve spoken to a lot of educational publishers. Despite some teachers’ fears to the contrary, not one of them has ever insisted their product be used as some sort of script or an immovable object that must be taught in that specific way (although there are some schemes that are more prescriptive than others).
Rather, we need to see schemes of work as flexible. We know how many interruptions there are in the average school term; some lessons won’t get tough and will have to be caught up later; some classes come with greater or lesser prior knowledge for the topic you’re teaching; some topics are just unavoidably difficult and take longer to teach. To use a scheme you’ve bought-in successfully, it needs to be seen as something that is as always adaptable. Thats, in my experience, what they're designed for and they're there.
Be open to the scheme teaching you
I’ve always thought that as primary teachers we need to be more reflective about what we don’t know and where our subject weaknesses are. To be frank, you just won’t be great at teaching the 12 or so subjects we need to teach as primary practitioners to the level that does the class justice. My teacher training (perhaps like yours) had a big emphasis on maths and writing, and with this I enjoy teaching history and geography the most. So my strengths lie in those four subjects but to the detriment of everything else. Hence, I’ve taught some woeful PE lessons in my time and the Spanish lessons I’ve had to teach without decent resources were just embarrassing!
So for those subjects that I’m not as confident at, I’ve lent on using a scheme more. That’s because the majority of schemes can act as subject CPD. Not only will they have lesson plans and progression maps, but they’ll explain the core knowledge you need to know as a teacher before going into the lesson. Many providers also offer their own ongoing CPD sessions (virtual and in person).
The main takeaway from this is that a scheme of work is there to help you, not to interfere with your teaching. We’ve written in the past about the importance of staff buy-in, but ultimately it’s down to the individual teachers to see that implementing a scheme can actually improve their own teaching and workload.