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Let’s talk about intent.

The word intent has a clear meaning: purpose. So why is this word so difficult to interpret in a way that is meaningful for schools? Let’s talk specifically about the intent statements that have appeared since the Ofsted 2019 Framework for School Inspections resulting in subject leaders being asked for a paragraph that says … what exactly? The question of “Who am I writing this for?” is asked and is an interesting question in its need to be asked. The purpose, or intent, of this post is to start a conversation about intent in terms of the curriculum, what an intent statement is and what having an intent statement does – I’ll start by stating that a quality live intent statement has way more power than a paragraph filed away should someone ever ask to see it.

“Our intention creates our reality”

Dr Wayne Dyer

An intent statement is a living pledge, a commentary about what is to be achieved. This is more than a list of what will be taught, it is a statement of what will have been learnt as a result of what has been taught. Writing such a commentary exposes a vulnerability for those who write it, the creation of something else to be held accountable against in a less than supportive manner and, given the seemingly inflexible expectations on what is required from the curriculum, leaves many at a loss at to the point of the exercise. This is a sad but very real reflection of where the thinking for some of us in the profession has got to. Is it pie in the sky thinking for me to suggest that yes, an intent statement is something to be held accountable to, but in a way that is positive? No – it is not pie in the sky thinking and yes, it you can be held to account to an intent statement in a positive way.

“A good intention clothes itself with sudden power”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

An intent statement needs to be a real, honest statement of purpose: what will be achieved, in this case, by participating in a subject at school. What is the purpose of including that subject on the curriculum? What unique contribution does it gift to the student who studies it? If you take a moment to reflect on this, what thoughts come into your head? As teachers we teach the subjects that we have an affinity for, but can we articulate what that affinity is and is it important to be able to do so? Yes, it is important but can we do it? We all need to reflect on what value is to be gained from the subject we teach as the reason we have for teaching it because it is this value that becomes our intent. We all harbour that intent but not all of us realise that we do, and not all of harbour the same intent, even when we teach the same subject. Being able to articulate our intent doesn’t make us accountable to that intent, it simply puts forward a view, your view, on the reason for inclusion of your subject on the curriculum. Only when we make the implicit explicit do we open it up to scrutiny and that is a good thing; we need to have our understanding challenged if we are to better understand it ourselves. Effective subjects have a clear intent, devised by and owned by all teachers in the subject team. It reflects a shared understanding of what is to be gained by the study of this subject that is too important to be left to chance, hence its inclusion on the curriculum. It will be open to constant scrutiny, used to drive and evaluate the curriculum in place to realise that intent. And the intent will be shared with the students so that they too can buy in to the intent and understand what they have to gain from the subject.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”


So, what does an intent statement look like? A good place to start is to refer to the 2014 national curriculum. Each programme of study starts with a “purpose of study” statement that sets out the subject’s stall. This statement is a paragraph of intent and can be used as a given or as a basis for a conversation. In the absence of anything they provide a start, in the presence of something they provide an opportunity for reflection. They only exist for subjects with a programme of study in the national curriculum, but the same structure can be used for any subject or other activity included in your local curriculum. Having an intent statement provides a framework for the curriculum that follows but unless that framework is utilised, we risk falling victim to the proverb “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Likewise, in the words of Picasso, “What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” These serve as a reminder that even with best of intentions, they won’t deliver themselves nor necessarily what you want. An intent is nothing on its own. In my next post, let’s talk about implementation.

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