Re-define your Curriculum Emphasis – Focus on learning and deepening understanding

The current emphasis on how the curriculum is planned and delivered should be a welcome opportunity for all senior leaders in schools to focus on ensuring their curriculum is all about learning and deepening understanding across a range of different topics, themes or subjects.  Amanda Spielman OFSTED’s Chief Inspector  started the debate, her concern, that the curriculum is narrowed to accommodate the need to teach to the test in Years 2 and 6 and in year 11 if not 10 as well is, in some cases, well founded.

Alongside this criticism is an acknowledgement that OFSTED may, in the past, have focused too much on the data and not enough on how that data is arrived at.  I have a long-held belief that focusing on passing tests and examinations at the expense of deepening learning over time is counter-productive.  Creating opportunities for pupils to access deep and rich text, apply numeracy skills to help to consolidate understanding of a problem or how to write to explain bias, cause and effect or express an opinion help to deepen their competence, strengthen their understanding and give them the resilience they need to see questions in a test or examination from different perspectives and give them a much better chance of coming up with the right level of response.

John West-Burnham in a research paper suggests that shallow learning is all about memorisation and leads to compliance and dependence and contributes very little in the pursuit of deep learning.  Read the whole paper here.Planning the curriculum should focus on what outcomes we want for pupils in terms of their knowledge and the skills that they need in order to access and apply that knowledge in a range of cross-curricular, thematic and subject contexts. Each school is different and that is why there is an imperative to focus on intent in relation to curriculum design that defines the right approach for individual school contexts.  Implementing that stated curriculum must focus on high quality pedagogy, teaching  that delivers inspirational learning and uses assessment strategies that lead to high levels of progression.  A positive impact is where all pupils have deepened their knowledge, are developing the core skills that will help them continue to make connections across all their learning and are mastering the wider cognitive skills that will ensure successful outcomes when they are tested or examined.

A good starting point is to have a detailed pro-forma scheme of work that everyone uses as part of planning in all departments, across all year groups and where appropriate for topic or sequential learning.  The headings should be built to ensure a consistency of purpose that mirrors the vision for deep knowledge and the development of the skills that will allow that vision to be realised.  These could include:-

  • What is the sequence of learning?
  • What do pupils know already to build on their knowledge and understanding?
  • What are the literacy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that are to be developed/further developed?
  • What are the numeracy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that can be developed/further developed?
  • What other learning skills will support the learning linked to deepening knowledge, fostering progression and demonstrating mastery?
  • What are the expected outcomes from this topic/series of lessons/theme?

The skills must be those that are naturally occurring as a part of learning. They do not need to be shoe-horned into the learning.  Also, pupils need to be a part of the process, continually re-enforcing their role in how they deepen their own learning, articulating what they need to do to make progress and improve their own work.

Whatever you do, don’t start from scratch.  In our last news-post we provided a tool called L.E.A.R.N. It starts with what will you leave in.  Always focus on what you do well before thinking about what needs to be changed.

Join us at one of our highly successful training days looking at how to re-define your curriculum, not for OFSTED but to reflect on how to make sure your curriculum is all about learning, highly effective pedagogy and the best outcomes for all pupils.

Read our news post that focuses on the skills/knowledge agenda

Focus on formative assessment to ensure the curriculum and how it is assessed is seen as a seamless process.

What is a full and rounded education? Do schools have the answer for OFSTED?

In her speech to the NCAS (National Children and Adults Services) last week, Amanda Spielman asked the question,

“How are schools making sure that children get a full and rounded education?”

She said that OFSTED exists to shine a light where children and young people are not getting a good deal in their education or care.  With the proposed changes to the emphasis on inspection from next September it is essential for all those with responsibility for children and young people to shine their own spotlight on how the curriculum is designed and how effective the pedagogy is in ensuring all pupils deepen their knowledge and build their skills for learning.  We need to ask our own questions and focus on the answers that will ensure what we teach and how we teach has an impact on learning for all pupils.

Use our L.E.A.R.N. proforma to start the conversation in teams, from your SLT to teachers and their support staff.

  • Leave in – What is currently working well and does not need changing?
  • Explore possibilities- How can we build on our current strengths?
  • Amend and adapt – What works well but may need adapting or amending?
  • Replace- What do we need to change and how?
  • New innovations- What will be completely new and different?

Focus on the questions below as a starting point.  The coaching message firmly stated in the LEARN strategy outlined above is; start with what currently works well and build from there.

  • What are the mechanisms for collaborative planning of curriculum content across subjects, phases, year groups and key stages?
  • How do teachers ensure they are building on prior learning from year to year and key stage to key stage?
  • Where is the emphasis placed between the acquisition of knowledge and the development of the skills that pupils need in order to learn?
  • What is in place to ensure that assessment is consistent, accurate and provides opportunities for pupils to continuously improve the quality of their learning?
  • What strategies are in place to ensure that literacy and numeracy skills are applied in context across all learning thus ensuring pupils become unconsciously competent in their use of these skills?
  • To what extent are pupils involved in their own learning journey and are given opportunities to reflect on how they can improve their work and deepen their knowledge?

Everyone across the school or a partnership of schools needs to be working together to build a cohesive and collaborative curriculum that is pupil centred and delivers deep and rich learning content.  Where this happens the data that describes successful final outcomes will emerge without the need for pernicious intervention in year 6 or in year 11.  Highly focused CPD is key to creating this outcome.  We have designed a suite of training linked to the main and most pressing issues that will support schools to re-define their curriculum and how it is delivered.

There are many more relevant programmes and courses. Go to our website to find out more.

 

 

Coaching and Curriculum Cohesion – Create a culture where excellence is cascaded across the whole school

To create a culture where excellence and high-quality learning is cascaded across the whole school is best achieved through coaching.  Using coaching to ensure there is curriculum cohesion across all phases and stages will ensure all staff exceed and surpass expectations. Coaching encourages the use of positive and deep questioning that will enhance professional learning and challenge pupils. Coaching inspires innovation, helps individuals to embrace change and creates opportunities for the sharing and cascading of good and outstanding practice.

Amanda Spielman’s latest communication, her letter to the public accounts committee’s request for information confirms her intention to pursue a new category for the forthcoming changes to the OFSTED Inspection Framework ‘Quality of Education’ which will include curriculum intent, depth and breadth alongside the quality of teaching, the quality of pupils’ work and the resulting outcomes. The diagram below is my interpretation of the main components that need to be in place in order that schools know how their vision is translated into powerful learning over time.

Creating a culture that ensures all of the components above are carefully planned and implemented requires highly effective communication. Leading a Coaching School. Talented teams need to work together to manage change, create new approaches and build on what they currently do well.  Coaching from the Middle – How to influence change, build outstanding teams and lead innovation.

All teachers need to have a range of pedagogies and strategies for learning and assessment that will support pupils to build on their prior learning, deepen that learning and be ready to embrace challenge through the acquisition of knowledge and the use of associated skills. Coaching Towards Outstanding Teaching and Learning.  Pupils need to be an integral part of this and learner voice can be highly effective as part of an overall strategy. Coaching in the Classroom with Pupils.  Using coaching as the CPD vehicle to achieving the above is highly effective.

CPD is an essential component in creating a culture where staff accept positive change and work together to achieve the stated vision for excellence and improvement. What emerges from this particular cycle of change is exciting and should create a curriculum that is fit for purpose for the school, its pupils and the local and wider community within which it draws its cohort. However, the CPD and associated training must be relevant, sustainable and have an impact on learning and achievement for all.  Coaching is non-judgemental and non-directive, provides individuals with the opportunity to find their own solutions and learn how professional dialogue leads to successful outcomes for the school, teams and individual staff and pupils. It is the sharing and cascading of the learning both as part of an actual coaching training programme and how that is then cascaded to others to enhance its efficacy that makes the coaching training we offer so powerful.

Have a look at our Coaching in Education section on our website that has something for all staff.  Join us at one of our curriculum courses to look in great depth at how to ensure readiness for the changes:

or ask us about our INSET packages where we can help you to plan your CPD and curriculum strategies for intent, implementation and impact.

Curriculum Breadth and Balance at Key Stage 3 – Planning for impact and successful outcomes

Schools need to look carefully at their curriculum plan for Key Stage 3. The report from OFSTED Key Stage 3: the wasted years? was written some time ago now but it has been mentioned recently by OFSTED and the message is clear, since its publication there is not enough evidence of significant change or improvement in how this important key stage is planned and delivered.

The questions below address some of the criticisms that are evident in recent reports and speeches about how schools are planning their Key Stage 3 offer.

  • What is the evidence that there is sufficient breadth and balance across three years?
  • How effectively does the teaching prepare pupils for Key Stage 4 study?
  • How much emphasis is placed on the teaching of literacy and numeracy in subjects other than Maths and English?
  • How well do pupils build on their prior learning from Key Stage 2?
  • How is Year 9 planned to continue to offer a wide range of subjects but prepare pupils well for Year 10 and beyond?

OFSTED’s annual report published in December comments that some of the above are not in evidence and the criticism echoes the theme that Amanda Spielman has talked about in several of her recent speeches.

“I cannot reiterate it enough: exam performance and league tables should be a reflection of what children have learned. Tests exist in service of the curriculum. Curriculum should be designed to give children the best pathway to the future, not to make the school look good.”

Amanda Spielman speaking to the Church of England Foundation for Education Leadership.

Choosing to have a two-year Key Stage 3 is not in itself considered unacceptable. However, if this is the status quo in your school it is important to ensure that the reasons for this decision are clearly defined and are not simply to give pupils an extra year to study for GCSEs.

Below are some examples of what is considered to be good practice:

Here at Learning Cultures we have a great deal of expertise and experience of working with schools to develop highly effective strategies for both transition and Key Stage 3 planning.  Join us at one of our highly praised training courses to reflect and learn with an expert.

We have a new course for the summer term focusing on Careers Education and Information, Advice and Guidance which reflects changes to the statutory requirements schools now must work with,

Coordinating Careers Education and meeting the new Statutory requirements for CEIAG

A primary focus – How well does your curriculum stand up to what inspectors are looking for?

Create an outstanding primary curriculum and have the evidence for OFSTED.

OFSTED are questioning the quality of curriculum content in their latest announcements and speeches, especially those of Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector.  This is whilst the Government still insist on inflicting upon us yet more testing.  The EYFS baseline test may be in place by next year unless heed is taken of those who are fiercely contesting it.  Times-table tests for year 4 and SATs at KS1 and KS2 remain. The balance between accountability on the one hand and ensuring the curriculum has breadth and is challenging is sometimes difficult to achieve as many primary headteachers are quick to point out.

Curriculum is high on the OFSTED agenda. They are planning a new framework and handbook for September 2019, not very far away in school calendar terms and this, they say, will include a review of the curriculum and how it is delivered. OFSTED are saying that the way in which we can “unlock the potential for all” is not wholly dependent on testing.  They are focusing on how the nature of assessment and actual achievement are linked through a supportive curriculum.  Whilst there is no official guidance from OFSTED they are carefully saying,

know your curriculum – what are the reasons behind its design

know how the curriculum is being delivered across all year groups

know what impact your curriculum is having on pupils’ knowledge and understanding

have evidence that pupils build on prior learning as they progress at points of transition and across year groups

Amanda Spielman (2017) wants leaders to take a “whole school strategic approach to the spiritual, cultural and moral development of pupils to make the world a better place”. School leaders, she says, should be thinking less about preparing pupils for exams and more about the “body of knowledge” young people will gain during their time at school.

Here at Learning Cultures we are following these developments, attending forums that will keep us completely up to date and reviewing the research that is cited as relevant to current policy and quality assertions.

The nature of our training supports leaders, managers, teachers and support staff to take ownership of how the curriculum is planned and delivered.  We focus on what is meant by outstanding pedagogy and how to cascade good practice. We believe that the curriculum should be a tapestry of knowledge and skills that weaves engaging learning opportunities from early years to year 6 and beyond.  This is the time to think deeply about designing a powerful knowledge rich curriculum that is truly relevant to the needs of your particular context specifically in relation to how pupils learn and what engages them in becoming truly competent in mastering the concepts and using them in innumerable contexts.

Join us at our updated primary curriculum event,

Designing the Primary Curriculum – Ensuring depth and breadth and a continuum of learning

You may also be interested in our event that looks specifically how to embed literacy and numeracy as part of learning across all subjects and the wider curriculum,

Mastery and Deeper Learning in Literacy and Numeracy across the Primary Curriculum

Be Outstanding this New Year – Six resolutions for your school and staff

In December I wrote five news items linked to policy, the latest research and what is in the spotlight for OFSTED and a sixth that focuses on coaching and what we know helps to create and sustain outstanding learning and teaching.

Curriculum is in the spotlight and the focus on mastery or deep and rich learning continues to occupy the minds of policy makers and OFSTED.  Closing the achievement gap especially for ‘disadvantaged’ learners is the subject of a new Government paper. Formative assessment is fundamental to positive outcomes for pupils across all sectors and creating a consistent whole school strategy that delivers positive learning is paramount. Transition is a key issue and remains a concern for many as pupils continue to dip in performance especially as they move from primary to secondary school.  Key Stage 3 is still seen by OFSTED as ‘wasted’ and needs to be a focus for review.

Make your New Year’s resolution to use coaching to create a culture that celebrates, shares and cascades good and outstanding practice and where learning is at the heart of everything.  The philosophy and practices involved in the development of coaching skills for all staff is proven to be the best way to manage change successfully.  Read the blog posts that are linked directly to the issues that have been aired over December and then focus on how creating a coaching culture in your school or group of schools will be a positive catalyst for continuous excellence and improvement.

Read the news posts on our website or dip into them altogether here,

Wishing you a very happy New Year from all of us at Learning Cultures.

Closing the Gap – Social Mobility at the heart of education policy

Social mobility at the heart of education policy – no community left behind

In December we saw the publication from the DfE of  Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential – a plan for improving social mobility through education.

The Dfe have four key ambitions to close the gap on disadvantage,

  • Closing the ‘word gap’ in early years, focusing on the development of key early language and literacy skills for pupils who are disadvantaged or not achieving their full potential
  • Closing the attainment gap in schools while continuing to raise standards for all, a focus on intervention where it is now most needed
  • High quality post 16 education choices for all young people, a focus on the ‘technical education system’ being a part of the drive to raise standards
  • Everyone achieving their full potential in rewarding careers, improving the provision of careers advice through effective Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG)

This is a very early stage document with laudable intentions. It will, however, take a long time to become a reality.  There is a promise of substantial sums of money to support some of the suggestions. There is also planned research to ascertain the extent of the problems that exist and where they exist.

One of the observations included in the report is that often the best way to make a difference is to have a look at where schools and partnerships across the country have developed strategies that are creating significant change and are closing the gap.  So, in the spirit of trying to find solutions that can be put into practice now, I have had a trawl around to find examples of good practice.  The themes are fairly uniform across a wide range of research and are what one might expect.  You can download a list of the research papers I have used here.

The main points that emerge are:-

  • Early years intervention can make a significant difference to the life chances of learners especially in supporting the development of explicit literacy instruction and the setting of clearly defined, consistent teaching objectives.  One to one support is also highlighted as is the use of phonics based programmes for struggling readers
  • Making effective use of data can have a profound impact on identifying and addressing under-performance and will help schools to understand the reasons why.  This is especially true when learners are able to use information about themselves to self-evaluate. Data is also seen to be useful for tracking progress or the lack of it and as an essential part of effective formative assessment strategies
  • Raising aspiration is a recurring theme.  How do we ensure that learners believe in themselves and are prepared to have faith in their own ability? The use of ‘Growth Mindset’ theory and other similar interventions are making a significant difference in some schools and across school partnerships or MATs
  • Engaging with parents and raising parental aspirations about their offspring can have an impact on the extent to which learners will see their potential beyond that of the ambition of previous generations.  There are some interesting approaches being applied across the country
  • Developing learners’ social and emotional competences through strategies that raise self-esteem, develop communication and social skills and nurture deep and profound thinking around some of the important local, national and international issues pertinent to the 21st century are proven to have an impact
  • Ensuring there are focused strategies so that pupils do not fall behind at times of transition where there is a well-documented dip in performance for many learners especially between years two and three and years six and seven
  • Where there is strong, visionary leadership that focuses on zero tolerance and a determined and consistent whole school approach change happens
  • Poor literacy skills continue across a raft of research to be at the heart of low achievement, this is especially highlighted in science and the STEM subjects but is a problem across all learning
  • Developing the meta-cognitive (‘learning to learn’) skills of learners is an essential element for success.  Where learners understand how they learn, listen well, think with clarity, have good comprehension and recall skills and can communicate and learn through co-operation with their peers learning and improvement takes place
  • Creating a common language and a consistent strategy to issues around discipline makes a difference
  • The use of technology especially interactive whiteboards and other whole school technology interventions is also seen to improve learning for all

None of the above say anything new or different.  Successive governments have highlighted the fact that there is a persistent group of disadvantaged learners who do not achieve as well as their peers.  The reasons are also well-documented and to some extent obvious.  There are, however, some amazing examples of good and outstanding practice that are making a difference.  We do need to learn and apply these strategies to ensure every school across the country supports every learner to achieve and exceed their full potential.

Learning Cultures are working with several successful schools who have begun to make big strides in this area.  Our own programmes focus on how to cascade and share good and outstanding practice and we can support schools, MATs and alliances who want to develop highly effective strategies that will ‘close the gap’.

Some of our courses also address one or more of the themes above and will go into much greater detail than we can here.  I have put together a comprehensive list on a PDF that you can download here.

Primary to Secondary Transition – Create a seamless curriculum, positive partnerships and powerful progression

Research suggests that pupil performance as a result of primary to secondary transition can dip by as much as 39%.  There are many reasons why this might be so, some are unavoidable as pupils move from the relatively calm and comfortable primary classroom to the less pupil centred secondary school.  There are, however, many things a secondary school can do to turn this dip around.

OFSTED remain critical of the lack of communication they detect at times of primary to secondary transition.  The new primary curriculum is now well embedded and the content is considerably more in-depth than previously. For instance, in Maths pupils are now learning in year 4 what they used to learn in year 6.  The perception from the inspectorate and other stakeholder bodies is that secondary teachers are not aware of the standards and quality of work that is being produced particularly by pupils in years 5 and 6.  Secondary schools need a strategy through cross phase primary to secondary transition partnerships that ensure higher levels of interaction through such interventions as the sharing of schemes of work, an opportunity to dovetail programmes of study and time to observe and reflect on learning.

Secondary teachers should look closely at the SATs tests to see what the pupils they will be teaching are expected to be able to achieve in the last term of year 6.  The scores from these tests will determine the accountability measures by which secondary schools will be judged over the five years until the next testing regime of GCSE.  The data is new and the method by which the data is gathered and collated is new.  Many secondary headteachers say that there is a lack of granularity in the new data which makes it difficult to make judgements on prior achievement. Many see the new data used as part of primary to secondary transition as a barrier to successful academic transition.

Relying on the quantitative data at times of primary to secondary transition is a mistake if it is not backed up by qualitative data and information.  This can only come from clearly defined communication strategies that allow for schools across the bridge to collaborate and share what pupils have learnt, how the learning has been assessed and what the gaps are in individual pupil’s learning by the end of year 6.  This requires an investment by both phases such as, creating teacher time to share, moderate and observe, cross – phase CPD and an opportunity to build co-written schemes of work that deliver seamless learning from KS2 to 3.

Secondary schools need answers to questions such as “what does good progress look like from year 6 to year 9?” “What do the scaled scores at KS2 mean in relation to progress at KS3?” “How do we build on prior learning in a positive way so that pupils see that they are involved in deepening and extending their learning?”

We have designed as a result of in-depth sector led research a powerful training course Crossing the Bridge – Seamless Transition from KS2 to 3 that focuses on these issues and will provide solutions and resources to support highly successful evidence based strategies at times of primary to secondary transition that deliver answers, motivated pupils and a high chance of successful outcomes for pupils at the end of KS4. You may also like to have a look at a recent blog post, The Spotlight is on KS3 which highlights the issues that OFSTED see as still lacking in secondary school planning for KS3.

The Spotlight Continues to Fall on Key Stage 3

This post has some serious messages for all those involved in planning the KS3 curriculum. A senior representative from OFSTED spoke at a Westminster Forum last week. His message, more than two years after the publication of the report, Key Stage 3: the wasted years?, little has changed. His key concerns were:

  • Key Stage 3 is not seen as a priority so there is still evidence of split classes and non-specialist teachers teaching core subjects
  • Insufficient breadth and balance especially where KS3 is being reduced to two years rather than 3
  • Although there are improvements in literacy provision there is still poor provision to ensure pupils can use numeracy unconsciously as part of learning across the curriculum
  • Careers education is poorly served within KS3
  • There is still insufficient focus on the building of prior learning from primary to secondary school so that secondary teachers understand what has been taught and to what depth

It was emphasised that OFSTED have no preference on the size of KS3 ie. two years or three years.  However, if the decision is a two-year KS3 they are looking for schools to justify with some clarity the impact this will have on learning, knowledge, skills, progression and continuity.  Essentially, he stated, the KS3 curriculum is designed as a 3-year programme and GCSEs are designed to cover a two-year span. I think you can draw your own conclusions on their preference.

There are some questions that curriculum planners and those involved in school improvement need to answer in their quest for a KS3 that will deliver high levels of pupil progress and prepare pupils well for KS4 and beyond.

  • How committed are senior leaders in the school to ensuring KS3 has the priority OFSTED have given it?
  • How do we create evidence that the curriculum builds on prior learning from the primary phase?
  • If we choose a two-year KS3, how do we justify the decision in relation to impact on breadth and balance that ensures pupils have sufficient time to deepen their knowledge and understanding and develop a range of skills ready for KS4 and beyond?
  • What can be done to reduce the number of split classes and the use of non-specialist teachers used to teach in KS3?
  • How do we make sure that there is not a narrowing of the curriculum for lower attaining learners and that higher achieving learners are achieving their full potential?
  • How do we shape the curriculum at KS3 so that pupils develop a range of essential skills, especially literacy and numeracy and have a rich tapestry of learning linked to the content of the KS3 programmes of study so that KS3 is not seen as an extension of simply preparing for GCSE?

Since the publication of the wasted years report we have deeply researched this area of curriculum development and have delivered with stunning feedback our training course, How important is Key Stage 3 to your School?  We have resources, tools, research papers and ideas to support you in answering the questions above.

If your main consideration in planning for this curriculum stage is transition from KS2 to 3 join us for our extremely popular and well received training course,

Crossing the Transition Bridge – seamless learning from KS2 to 3.

Effective transition from Year 6 to Year 7

Effective transition from Year 6 to Year 7 – It’s all about continuity, sharing and challenging.

Creating a continuum of learning that builds on prior knowledge and skills, creates independent and enthusiastic learners and ensures every child can progress and achieve their full potential is what anyone who is in the education profession would agree with. So why is it that we still have a well-researched and continuing dip in performance of anything up to 39% for pupils at the end of year 7. Read more