Schemes of Work Lecture


In chapter 2, we discussed individual lesson plans; this chapter examines the broader construct of a scheme of work as a planning tool. Sometimes called the "course programme", "curriculum plan", "curriculum overview", or "course overview", the scheme of work is the level of planning which covers the entirety of the programme of study being undertaken (Duckworth et al, 2010, p. 18). The chapter has four main parts, each of which is accompanied with a pause for reflection on the content covered in that section. The first opens by defining the scheme of work in full, offering an outline of its distinctive features as a planning document. The second part of the chapter considers the content of a scheme of work, and makes suggestions for formatting and producing the document. The third section explores schemes of work in more detail, asking why there is a need for such a document. The fourth and final section of this chapter links schemes of work to wider learning processes, and places the scheme within other planning and curriculum documentation.

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter, we would like you:

  • To understand and be able to define what a scheme of work is
  • To be able to place schemes of work in relationship to curriculum documentation and lesson plans in planning for learning terms
  • To be able to compile a scheme of work
  • To be able to consider the relationship between planning at course and session level
  • To identify that relationships exist between learning and course planning

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Part 1: What is a scheme of work?

At its most straightforward, a scheme of work is a document which summarises the content of a course of instruction, and which divides the course content into manageable portions for logical and organised teaching and assessment. Syllabus documentation may not always be arranged into a sequence which provides well for incremental learning, for a journey through the course materials in a way which makes sense to the teacher and the learners alike; part of the function of the scheme of work is to provide this structure.

In addition, the scheme of work will integrate relevant study-related and contextual skills, such as opportunities to incorporate literacy and/or numeracy skills into subject-based learning, which may not be an overt part of the syllabus documentation. The scheme of work will also consider formative and summative assessment, and will build in appropriate time into the course design for related elements such as revision before final examination-based assessments. The scheme of work may also build in time for a plenary or other end-of-course reflective sessions, or else for the providing of feedback.

A scheme of work will also include opportunities for applying study skills to the subject content, as well as making brief note of the teaching and learning strategies being applied to deliver the content to the learners. A scheme of work is not necessarily a detailed document, though; the session-specific level of detail will be included in the individual lesson plan relevant to each particular session.

Any scheme of work will need to take into consideration external limiting factors. For most courses, these will include the length of time in weeks of the course, the number of sessions per week, the length of those sessions, and calendar-related aspects such as timings of vacation periods and of examination and other fixed assessment dates. The challenge to the teacher in writing a scheme of work is to meaningfully and logically break down the curriculum content into an ordered sequence which will satisfy the logistical parameters into which the teaching is being delivered while offering the best learning experience to those studying the course being offered.

Furthermore, a scheme of work would also take into account previous learning of those taking the course. This previous learning may be in the context of subject-specific knowledge at skills gained previously, in terms of general educational ability, or a combination of the two. The scheme of work should consider the positive development of learner skills and abilities within the course, so that learners are progressing in general educational and subject-specific terms across the length of the course of study.

It would be normal to write the scheme of work first, and then derive lesson plans from that scheme. As with lesson plans, the scheme of work not only evidences skills related to planning and preparation, but of organisational competence, as well of relating the subject-specific content to the wider learning objectives being addressed through the course of study. It may be considered good practice to file the scheme of work together with syllabus documentation, lesson plans and the paper-based resources relevant to those lessons together in a single file.

Though the overwhelming majority of schools-based subjects will be supported with official (curriculum-based or awarding body) documentation, there may be instances, particularly within non-formal education, where the course design and planning elements are at the sole discretion of the teacher. In such a circumstance, the scheme of work represents a crucial aspect of the course design process, as well as a key opportunity for the educator to display their creativity, agency, and their organisational and planning competencies.

There is an increasing trend for textbook publishers, as well as awarding bodies, to produce sample schemes of work to accompany their products. These may be informative, though are by no means compulsory to follow. Nevertheless, they will provide sample ways of subdividing course content into sequenced sessions. Another important source of information and support in devising and updating schemes of work between presentations of learning are your teaching colleagues. Teaching is a collegiate activity; mutual support between professionals is a key element of successful and engaged departments within schools. It may be that the scheme of work for an entire course, particularly a programme of study which extends over two or more academic years, such as a GCSE or A level qualification, may well be a departmental endeavour; either colleagues will collaborate in producing a single document, or the workload will be subdivided, with individuals being responsible for their teaching portion of the whole course.

That said, to some extent a scheme of work is a personal document, as it will inevitably reflect the approach and teaching style of the individual educator. In addition, those new to teaching may find more experienced colleagues' schemes of work somewhat less detailed, as there is a tendency to internalise aspects of one's teaching and planning style over time (Capel, Yeask, and Younie, 2016). A good rule of thumb is to consider an ideal reader of the scheme of work: someone who is intelligent enough to follow the planning, but who is not a subject specialist. Does the scheme of work make sense to such a person? A good scheme of work should operate on several levels at the same time: as a guide to the teacher to the sequence of lessons for a particular course; as an expression to the teacher and others of confidence in understanding and interpreting the curriculum from which the scheme of work has been derived; and as a commitment to the aims and objectives contained within the scheme of work and the relevant curriculum documentation (Musingafi et al, 2015).


Think back to your school experiences. Did you ever see a scheme of work when you were a pupil? If not, would having access to one have helped in making sense of what you were being taught? If yes, then was there a sense in which the teaching was organised and under control?

Search online for schemes of work in your subject and level of teaching. What commonalities and differences can you see in the schemes that you find?

Part 2: What must a scheme of work include?

Much like lesson plans, as discussed in the previous chapter, many institutions will have a standard scheme of work template which they expect their teaching staff to use. There is much sense in adopting such standardised formats, not least because their familiarity makes them straightforward to complete when compared to bespoke offerings. Common templates will be widely understood within the institution, and their use will also make updating previous schemes of work straightforward, as well as referring to them for comparison purposes or when covering a lesson. In the latter situation, brief reference to the scheme of work allows a teacher to become quickly acquainted with the point in the course which the learners have reached, and for the teacher to be able to work with their level and breadth of topic understanding to date.

Though institutional documentation will doubtless vary from one school setting to another, the following provides a breakdown of the kinds of information and the level of detail it would be commonplace to expect in a scheme of work. Of the list below, sections 1 and 2 might be in a general information section on the first page of the scheme of work, with sections 3 to 9 inclusive being presented in a session-by-session table format for ease of reference. The final point - section 10 - might be incorporated into a footer rather than being a part of the main document.

1. General course information

This opening section would contain items such as the title of the course, the level (and/or the awarding body if the course is certificated). This section might also usefully include the length of the course in weeks, the teaching location, the length of each class, plus any pertinent knowledge about the class being taught. This might include the number and names of support workers or classroom assistants, and any pre-requisites for course attendance for learners.

2. Aims, objectives, learning outcomes

Course-wide aims and objectives can be usefully summarised and/or referenced back to the syllabus guidance documentation. Where aims and objectives refer to specific elements of the course, then this can be noted too, so that it is clear which objective is being addressed in which sessions, for example.

3. Course content

The course content should be broken down into individual sessions. It is sensible to identify the sessions, either by week number, date of teaching or session number. It may be useful to indicate in the breakdown weeks which are non-teaching, for school holidays and similar breaks in tuition (such as for school trips). It is useful to make reference here back to the syllabus documentation, so that it is clear where the scheme of work links to the course requirements.

4. Learner activity

If the course content section itemises what the learners are being exposed to, and now it related to the wider syllabus, then this section indicates what the learners are doing activity-wise to demonstrate their engagement with that learning.

5. Teaching and learning methods

Though the bulk of the detail will be in the itemised running order element of the lesson plan, an indication of the principal teaching and learning method/s being used in each session is useful. This is in part so that the scheme of work informs lesson plan writing, and so that the teacher, when compiling the scheme of work, can both vary the approaches being taken to the topic area under investigation in that week, and can also work to provide diverse and non-repetitive experiences for the learners.

6. Assessment methods

As with teaching and learning above, though the detail is in the lesson plan, a word or two on the key assessment tools being used in each session is useful at the scheme of work level of planning. Where there is an end-of-course assessment being worked towards, there should be an element of logical and progressive working towards those summative assessments evident from the scheme of work. This may include, for example, revision or preparatory sessions in the run-up to final assessments, examinations, or the hand-in date of key coursework.

7. Homework/set texts

Where key reading is associated with a particular session's work, or where homework is set either in preparation for or as a subsequent activity to a develop the learning from a particular lesson, this should be indicated.

8. Resources

Where key, specific or perhaps even unusual resources are being employed in a particular session, note these on the scheme of work. This acts as an aide-memoire, as well as a note to others that there is a special resource requirement for this session. Similarly, if there is to be a change of location for a learning-related reason for a session, then this might be noted as a resource element to be considered ahead of time.

9. Contextual learning opportunities

Where there are session connections to wider learning prospects, then these should be noted. Again, this provides a handy summary of the diversity of opportunities available in the scheme of work, and it also indicates how carefully the course has been planned. Examples might be references to literacy, numeracy and/or ICT skills in the subject or in the assessment; references to British values being debated or exemplified; or references to a particular study or intellectual skill being developed, to name a few.

10. Date of last revision

A minor point, though a useful one. While core content may not change much over several years in a given teaching area at a particular level, curriculum guidelines and awarding body protocols are subject to frequent change. It is perhaps useful to indicate in the document itself when it was last updated. If key changes have been incorporated into a scheme of work, such as a change of final assessment method, then a short note on this is appropriate. This gives a clear signal to others that not only the scheme of work has been responsibly updated, but that there is a sense of document control at work. Such small additions can give much confidence.

The level of detail for each element may be mandated by the learning provider; in this case, is it wise to follow the institutional guidelines on detail. Where there is latitude given on detail, it may be wise, particularly for those relatively new to education, to err on the side of caution and make the scheme of work as detailed as they can. The detail will feed directly into lesson planning, so this is not extra effort so much as bringing work forwards slightly in time. A detailed and comprehensive scheme of work will give confidence, and it will also support that same confidence in an individual's ability in others, including line managers (Hertfordshire Grid for Learning, 2016).


Is there anything else that you would add to this list? If so, what is it and why?

Do you have access to institutional scheme of work templates? If so, do they make sense to you? What would you alter about them to make them better if you could?

Which sections would you find straightforward to complete? Which sections would be harder? Why is this?

Part 3: Why do we use schemes of work?

One reason why we use schemes of work is that they organise learning more effectively than syllabus content alone might indicate. Subject areas, or elements of wider topic areas, may not fall neatly into a single lesson-length. Some topics may require input over several individual lessons. Links between topics may need to be considered, as do the ways in which learning may need to be stepped up from foundational principles towards more-involved or detailed knowledge and understanding.

A factor which is important to consider is that a scheme of work offers the teacher some latitude in the ways in which topic areas within a course may be sequenced and addressed. Five teachers may have the same job: to teach a particular course. But each teacher may devise schemes of work which are different from each other. The scheme of work allows a teacher to tailor the content specified by the syllabus to their strengths as educators, and perhaps also to the particular class groups being taught. A teacher is not merely a deliverer of educational content; it is within the role of the teacher to mould, shape, select and sequence the learning which they are providing, and the scheme of work provides a means of doing this. Sometimes it can feel as though the teacher is a middle man between awarding body or curriculum documentation and the learner, but this is not the case. Teaching is a productive and creative activity, and the scheme of work represents one of the ways in which the teacher can articulate their agency.

Of course, we are providing a meaningful learning experience for students. One prime consideration when sequencing content in a scheme of work is the ways in which that the order in which the subject and its tuition is arranged will make best sense to the learner. In order to do this, is it appropriate to think in terms of what makes sense to a group of learners who may not have any prior knowledge whatsoever of the course content.

A useful gift to learners at the beginning of any course is access to a copy of the scheme of work. This does not need to be the whole document; often a simple week-by-week breakdown of the topic areas under investigation is sufficient. However, this gives learners a roadmap to what they are to cover from the outset of the course, and can be referred back to later in the course so that learners might appreciate the distance that they have travelled in the subject area during this particular course. A student version of the scheme of work could be a paper handout, or else might be stored electronically for learner access; it can then be displayed at the outset of lessons as a way of recapping what has gone before, and what that particular day's input is going to address, as well as how these link together.

Though there may be a focus in the scheme of work, and in learners' minds also, of the subject-specific content of the course, there is a balance to be drawn between subject skills and knowledge, and the embedding of other skills. The highlighting of functional skills opportunities (literacy, communication, numeracy, computer and wider ICT-relevant competencies) is important, as are study skills. A well-conceived scheme of work will be able to provoke learners to address a variety of relevant wider learning -related approaches, as well as the intellectual skills which might support them, at an appropriate level and complexity of engagement.

One perhaps useful way of conceiving the best sequencing and approaching this at the time of writing a scheme of work is to consider the scheme as addressing the "what" questions related to topic-by-topic learning. What do the learners need to know first? What shall we do to encourage that learning? What methods will I use? What learning styles and domains will be best stimulated here? Following on from this, the lesson plan allows the teacher to ask the more detailed "how" questions related to these areas.

Though a scheme of work is an outline of an entire course, that does not mean that it is meant to be wholly prescriptive and inflexible in terms of its operation. A scheme of work is a living document, and session order for example, can be altered mid-presentation if a revised version better fits with the learning styles prevalent with a particular class, or if unmissable new opportunities become available. Flexibility, and openness to the positive benefits of opportunity, are both useful attributes in the educator. It may be prudent to build sufficient leeway into the course at the scheme of work level to be able to incorporate moving sessions around, or substituting one topic due to be taught later in the course presentation for another, if circumstances make this a better option for the learners.

Similarly, it may be that different groups at the same level of study require different schemes of work. A scheme does not have to be a one-document-fits-all classes piece of planning. The proactive and attentive educator will shape the presentation of the learning to the learners, and this can be done at the whole-module level of planning through the production of bespoke schemes of work. Such changes might be comparatively small, such as in altering the number of sessions dealing with particular topics, or they might be larger in scale, involving significant resequencing or altering the overall approach taken; a clear appreciation of the relative competencies and needs of each group early in the presentation of the course can be very useful in this regard.

In addition, a scheme of work should be seen primarily as a support for learning. The breakdown of topics into lessons does not mean that the scheme cannot be amended if all of a lesson's aims and objectives are not met; it is the role of the teacher to adjust and re-plan accordingly. This is another reason why it is useful not to pack subject content too tightly into the scheme. Allow space for learner reflection, and for the pupils' pace of engagement with the content. More recently, the term "scheme of work" has been challenged by the alternative "scheme of learning" (Didau, 2012). This rewording puts the emphasis on those who are undertaking the learning, and less on the work to be done. Thinking of the scheme of work in respect to the learner is valuable, as it rightly situates the student at the centre of the planning activity.


How important it is to be able to demonstrate competence in planning and preparation at the course level?

Who benefits from such advance work?

What might happen if you tried to teach a subject without a scheme of work? What might the consequences be for learners, for yourself, and for the wider department?

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Part 4: How does a scheme of work fit into a wider learning process?

As has been noted above, the scheme of work is derived from curriculum or syllabus documentation, and interprets it for the allied purposes of teaching and learning. A significant aspect of the function of the scheme of work is to organise and analyse the syllabus content, subdividing it into manageable chunks for session-by-session tuition. Lesson plans may then be written, taking this breakdown of session content into consideration.

The UK education standards inspectorate, Ofsted, has noted the link between poor planning and poorer educational experiences received by learners; this impacts not only on student satisfaction, but on attainment, and on engagement with education at subject and at whole-school levels (Ofsted, 2014). Among the specific issues observed by Ofsted are: overly-complicated planning which constricts creativity in teaching and learning; learning objectives which are focused on task completion rather than on genuine learning, or on understanding of the underlying principles being studied; illogical schemes of work; and schemes of work which do not advance students' learning, devoting too much time to student coursework completion within class time rather than the teacher using this contact time to have a direct positive effect on learners' educational experiences (Ofsted, 2014).

In assessing educational provision as being effective, the following planning-related commonalities have been noted by Ofsted: coherent schemes of work that build effectively on learners' baseline knowledge and skills; schemes of work that reflect the teacher's responsibility for their students' learning; schemes of work that allow for differentiation and for learners to have their individualised learning monitored; consistency in schemes of work and other planning-related activities across departments and the wider institution (Ofsted, 2014).

As with planning at the level of the individual lesson, the scheme of work should provoke feedback, not least from the teacher themselves, which should have a positive impact on future versions of teaching-related planning. The scheme of work is open to revision, not merely from presentation to presentation, but within and during the course also. Many reassessments will perhaps be relatively minor in nature, making shifts in emphasis or reallocating time to topic areas requiring more input than others, for example. Some, though, may need more substantial revision - these kinds of changes might be triggered by a change in teaching personnel, the use of different classrooms with different resources available, and updates to curriculum paperwork. The bulk of these will occur between presentations, and will usually be subject to a long lead time in respect of notice to make updates. As with individual lesson plans, though, reflection might be usefully recorded on the plan, or kept with it, when circumstances provoke a reappraisal of the planning done to date. It may also be useful to keep a record alongside the scheme of the elements which are particularly successful, so that they might be analysed and their distinctive positive features emulated in other planning.

When considering the curriculum, it is worthwhile to ensure that the scheme of work is a best fit to the syllabus with respect to the aims and objectives being specified. Teaching methods should ally with the course aims and objectives, and learners should be stimulated in meaningful ways using discovery and enquiry-related methods rather than a rote learning which is passive - learning should be engaging and active from the learner perspective (Kyriacou, 2009).

There is perhaps a temptation to consider devising and compiling a scheme of work as a subject and topic-oriented exercise, but it is just as important to think about how the subject will be delivered, and not to focus exclusively on the content and sequencing of each lesson within the broader planning document (Haynes, 2007). There is value also in considering the contexts in which learning takes place. The same subject at the same level may be being taught, but would it be appropriate to plan inn precisely the same way for an evening class of adult learners as for a daytime class of Year 11 students? Are there other contexts to consider which may have an influence on the way that you plan: such considerations might include class composition, school-wide contexts, locally-available resources, the industrial and business networks in the area, and the geographic locality. How might consideration of such factors impact differently on the ways in which planning ahead might make the subject matter of the course more relevant and engaging to different learners who are studying in specific contents?

A prepared teacher is one who has planned in advance; the scheme of work offers the opportunity to engage constructively with the aims and objectives as wee as the content specifics of the programme to be studied. Compiling a scheme of work is not a simple nor a quick task, but considered and detailed engagement with planning at the course-wide level will pay dividends, not only in the scheme of work as evidence in itself of organised and proactive approaches to teaching, but in the classroom when the sessions derived from the broader planning are being delivered.


Think of situations outside teaching where you have planned well in advance, and where that preparation has paid off in the end. Now think of times when you have rushed into something, or gone into a situation ill-prepared. What were the differences in outcome between the two situations, and how did you feel about your preparedness (or lack of it)?

In what ways would a teacher's good preparation and planning give you confidence, if you were one of their students? And what about if you were a colleague? Or a line manager? Or an inspector of schools? How might you feel about someone whose planning was inadequate?


The scheme of work is a central planning tool, and the key mechanism by which a teacher organises and prepares for teaching and learning at the whole-course level. The scheme of work also demonstrates and evidences to oneself and others a thorough understanding of the syllabus aims and objectives, and from that, the approaches to teaching and learning which will be adopted throughout the delivery. A well-conceived scheme of work also allows for articulation of a teacher's style as an educator, and the varied and creative ways in which they engage learners, through appropriate and distinctive teaching, and through a careful consideration of the interplay between pedagogic theory and classroom interaction.


Now we have reached the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • To understand and be able to define what a scheme of work is
  • To be able to place schemes of work in relationship to curriculum documentation and lesson plans in planning for learning terms
  • To be able to compile a scheme of work
  • To be able to consider the relationship between planning at course and session level
  • To identify that relationships exist between learning and course planning

Reference List

Capel, S., Leask, M. and Younie, S. (eds.) (2016) Learning to teach in the secondary school: a companion to school experience. 7th edn. Abingdon: Routledge.

Didau, D. (2012) The best laid schemes of work & learning. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2016).

Duckworth, V., Wood, J., Bostock, J. and Dickinson, J.N. (2010) Successful teaching practice in the lifelong learning sector (achieving Qtls). Exeter: Learning Matters.

Haynes, A. (2007) 100 ideas for lesson planning. London: Continuum International Publishing.

Hertfordshire Grid for Learning (2016) Schemes of work. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2016).

Kyriacou, C. (2009) Effective teaching in schools: theory and practice. 3rd edn. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

Musingafi, M.C.C., Mhute, I., Zebron, S. and Kaseke, K.E. (2015) 'Planning to teach: interrogating the link among the curricula, the syllabi, schemes and lesson plans in the teaching process', Journal of Education and Practice, 6(9), pp. 54-60.

Ofsted (2014) Teaching, learning and assessment in further education and skills: what works and why. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2016).

Petty, G. (2009) Teaching today: a practical guide. 4th edn. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

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