Schemes of Work

Cut to the chase: what's in the Scheme of Work?Every teacher has a scheme of work, but it may exist only inside her head, and it may be incomplete. Just as the curriculum is the answer to the learner's question, "Why do we have to learn this?" the scheme of work is the answer to the teacher's question, "What am I going to do?"

Unfortunately the Scheme of Work has been devalued by its bureaucratisation and the belief of many teachers that it exists only to satisfy—in this obsessional climate of morbid distrust of professional discretion, and of pulling up plants to see if their roots are growing—managers' and inspectors' craving for "evidence" of adequate practice. It needs to be rescued from this fate.

It is the teacher's equivalent of the builder's plan and the engineer's blueprint. It is a working document. It is not immutable, just as building plans can be changed up to a point.

It is made to be messed with, to be annotated and scrawled all over. It is the most useful evaluation tool you can have, because given that most of us repeat courses year on year, reference to last year's well-worn Scheme (and the year before's) is the best guide to how to change things for this year (particularly if you are conscientious enough to enter in the findings from your evaluation exercises).

Lesson Plans and Schemes of Work

What's the difference? Simply one of scale: the Scheme sets out what you are planning for the whole twelve or thirty weeks of the course on a session-by-session basis, while the session plan is finer-grained and looks at what you are going to do within each lecture or seminar or workshop. (Some people even put in timings, minute-by-minute, in the session plan. Inspectors might like that, but I find it too constraining because it cannot allow for contingencies and opportunities.)

Severe Practicalities

I have included a template for a Scheme to download, but it is not a document to use on the computer, after you have written the original version. Leave lots of white space, keep it in your course file and take it to every session, and annotate it by hand, in the teaching room, before you leave after the session. It's the best way I know to keep track of it all.

... and a confession

I'm an opportunist. For reasons to do with my early experience of teaching I rarely if ever manage to stick to my Scheme. As I am free to do in my discipline (but others working in more serial areas may not be), I can pick up on points because the students seem to be interested at that moment, rather than because the schedule requires it. Paradoxically, this makes the written Scheme more important than ever: my notes on how far I have slipped behind what I should have been doing in Week 4, but that I have already addressed most of the material for Week 9, are crucial to some semblance of organisation.

(When I originally wrote this...) This semester it so happened that I was down to teach three modules with a vast overlap of content on learning theories: one for a professional PGCE, one for a Master's course in Education populated by experienced school-teachers, and one for an academic (i.e. not a professional) undergraduate programme in Educational Studies. The notes on my Schemes were my principal means of keeping track of what I had done with each one.

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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