How best to teach: knowledge-led or skills-led lessons?

Joe Kirby's blog

“Let truth and falsehood grapple:

who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644


Knowledge lessons prioritise memory, instruction and practice;

Skills lessons prioritise engagement, collaboration and reflection.

Last week I (and others, here and here) argued that a debate on skills and knowledge is worth having in education. I see a knowledge-led curriculum with mastery assessment and effective instruction as a frontier that has the potential to tackle the long tail of underachievement, particularly in challenging English schools with disadvantaged pupils.


The question of how best to teach is hotly contested. There are distinctive and fundamental differences in pedagogy between those who advocate a knowledge-led approach and those who advocate a skills-led approach.

The purpose of the skills-led approach is to prioritise and develop transferable skills like collaboration and empathy. The content studied is…

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