IPC reimagined

The International Primary Curriculum at 20

As the IPC celebrates its 20th anniversary, Gregory Biggs, describes how this popular curriculum used in over 1,000 schools has now been reviewed using the research findings of the 20 years since it was launched.

7 foundations for a contemporary international curriculum

IPC Curriculum

At the outset, the IPC had the simple aim of ‘Improving Learning’ and was considered ground breaking. So much has happened since 2000 and in 2018 we began to reflect on how well the original design of the IPC had stood up to more recent educational thinking, and the findings of more recent research. The review process that has now taken place (which also included the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC)), not only confirmed the IPC’s sound fundamentals, but also enabled us to lay down seven foundations for the future development of international curriculum.

Foundation One: Personal, International and Subject Learning Goals.

We were pleased that recent research continued to recognise one of the IPC’s key strengths and endorsed the way that IPC learners are encouraged to interlink their learning across broad themes. The work of Buonomano (2011) and Blakemore (2018) reaffirmed that by connecting their learning across different subject areas, learners are more likely to be able to retrieve key information. Going further, we recognised the need to consider the ‘epistemic qualities’ of learners (Claxton, 2012, p. 6), which influence their response to challenging circumstances, both now and in the interconnected world of the future. Drawing these research strands together led us to our first foundation of our design: it had to be learner-focused, drawing together Personal, International and Subject Learning Goals.

IPC Learning Goalds

Foundation 2: Progressive pedagogies

We next set about about identifying appropriate Progressive Pedagogies with which to bring the curriculum to life in a school context and which became our second foundation. The pedagogical review was influenced by:

  • Research into brain-based learning and the findings that when we learn, neurons in our brain become more strongly connected (Jenson, 2008). Neuronal connections become further strengthened when learning is contextually relevant and therefore learner engagement is a critical mechanism for developing connections in the brain (Spreng et al, 2014). Also, through reflection, learners are able to transfer information and knowledge from our working memory into our long-term memory and be able to retrieve them again.
  • Constructivist theory in learning and teaching, seeking to encourage learner interactions with the physical and social environment, inspired by the early work of Piaget (1964) and mindful to avoid learning via the ‘Banking Concept’ as identified by Frere (1993).
  • Experiential and active learning, through reflecting on Kolb’s (1984, 2015) Experiential Learning Theory and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975, 2014) concept of the Flow State.
  • Metacognition and the use of metacognitive strategies for learning having positive effects on performance (Marulis et al, 2016). We considered not just the benefits of metacognition or ‘thinking about thinking’ (Hofer, 2004, p. 44) in learning but also the concept of epistemic metacognition (Kuhn and Dean, 2004) or ‘knowing about knowing’ for learners.
Foundation 3: A Process that facilitates learning for all

IPC Process

The research of progressive pedagogies enabled us to develop a Process to Facilitate Learning as our third foundation for the design of an international curriculum. Here, we identified the merits of brain-based learning, constructivism, experiential and active learning, and metacognition to help us design a process through which teachers could work with learners to improve their learning.

Foundation 4: Global competence

Our fourth foundation for the design of an international curriculum is inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals and the desire to instil Global Competence (Boix-Mansilla and Jackson) among learners as a shift from solely focusing on International Mindedness.

Foundation 5: Learner reflection

The fifth foundation was inspired by Hattie’s (2017) meta-analysis of influences related to student achievement, which demonstrates learning is improved when students have an awareness of what and how they are learning. Learner Reflection on whether learning is related to Knowledge, Skills or Understanding has also been identified to improve student performance by Marulis et al. (2016).

Foundation 6: Connected Learning
Learning connections for the IPC and IMYC within units of learning

Research has informed us that the brain learns by forming connections between neurons related to a particular concept or idea (Jenson, 2008; Laster, 2009; Spreng et al, 2014), often referred to as the ‘chunking’ of information. Research also suggests that the brain learns ‘associatively’, always looking for patterns and links to previous learning. Organising learning in thematic units should therefore help children to see how subjects are both independent and interdependent, and enable them to see connections between their learning; transfer skills through and across different subjects; and talk about a theme from different viewpoints. (A historian, artist, geographer etc). We defined this as the sixth foundation for the international curriculum: ‘Connected Learning’.

Foundation 7: Assessment for improving learning

Finally, numerous studies since 2021 have demonstrated the use of formative assessment in classrooms enhances the achievements of learners (Black and Wiliam, 2012). The final foundation of the design of the international curriculum, Assessment for Improving Learning, therefore presents learners, teachers and leaders with a programme in which formative assessment takes place regularly to allow for instructional adaptations, revised goal setting, feedback or even curriculum compacting.

Next step

Establishing the  ‘7 foundations’ has enabled us to proceed through a cycle of review to ensure the design of every part of the International Curriculum is academically grounded in the latest research findings for ‘Improving Learning’. The detailed review is now under way.


Gregory Biggs is the Director of Fieldwork Education, publishers of the International Primary Curriculum

All images kindly provided by Fieldwork Education


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