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Introduction - developing a deep and rich curriculum is the key to a successful school

This new year will bring change to policy in education. However, I sincerely believe the curriculum will remain high on the agenda.  OFSTED's new handbook, now being used in schools has a lot to say about the curriculum and how schools must have the evidence that their curriculum intent is translated into positive outcomes for pupils linked to sequential and seamless learning and the use of highly effective classroom pedagogy.  The shift is a welcome one and hopefully the status quo in relation to the inspectorate and wider government policy will remain for the foreseeable future.

The change of emphasis to a much more subject specific learning platform provides the basis for opportunities to ensure pupils can deepen their learning, make connections across their learning and weave the skills through the curriculum to ensure they can access knowledge and construct deeper understanding. There is, however, a lot to do to ensure that all staff across year groups, departments and phases are working in synergy to build on prior learning, plan the learning so that pupils are moving seamlessly towards clearly defined end points and have the right tools for assessment that ensures pupils achieve and exceed their full potential.

At the start of this new year this newsletter focuses on the different elements that need to be explored in order to create a curriculum offer that will provide evidence that curriculum intent, rationale and ambition deliver powerful learning outcomes over time.

The changes are far reaching. In secondary schools there is an imperative to ensure that key stage three is clearly defined in terms of pupil outcomes. The choice between a two-year and a three-year key stage three will, OFSTED say, be yours. The fact that they have categorically said that key stage three is designed as a three year programme of study and GCSEs are designed as two year courses rather suggest that school leaders should all consider their options. In primary schools leaders need to focus on how to ensure heads of subject have the expertise to deliver deep subject knowledge and can ensure pupils learn and remember and can make connections across their learning sequentially. Have a look at some of the comments from recent OFSTED reports published this term that we have gathered together in this PDF.

The Curriculum Team at Learning Cultures have followed the developments and the research closely and have designed a range of curriculum courses to support schools to have the resources and expertise to develop their own programmes of continuing professional development that will create the right professional dialogue and collaborative planning for the curriculum journey. These are complemented by our suite of coaching courses that will support leaders to create the desired culture of shared professional learning.

This new year develop a coherent CPD strategy with Learning Cultures. 

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What does it mean to sequence the learning to create a seamless curriculum? 

The answer is to construct a curriculum that builds on prior learning and allows pupils to show that they are making progress within a well-defined rubric. The focus should also be on working towards clearly defined end points that provide the basis for highly interactive formative assessment. These three elements are fundamentally what need to be in place so that there is evidence that the planned curriculum delivers a high quality of education for all pupils whatever their starting point. A change in strategy is essential to make this happen, critically, this is essentially about the need to create opportunities for collaborative planning and on-going professional learning conversations.

Our own research suggests that there are few opportunities or time for teachers to plan together. Schemes of work are often designed in isolation and for a particular year or individual topic or subject. There is little opportunity for teachers to ascertain what has been taught and learnt in the previous phase or year. Subject teachers and their team leaders in both primary and secondary schools focus on knowledge acquisition and do not focus on the specific literacy and numeracy skills that allow pupils to access and make sense of that knowledge. Opportunities to see connections and concepts that transcend specific subject knowledge are often missed.

In order to create a sequential and seamless curriculum across a range of subjects there is an absolute need to create opportunities for staff to plan across year groups, to develop schemes of work that build on prior learning, explicitly define the skills being used and consider the conceptual learning that may enrich subject knowledge and allow for reflection and double loop learning.

We have created some highly interactive tools to support middle, phase and departmental leaders to create the strategy for collaborative planning and provide the framework for professional dialogue.  We focus on how to use time more efficiently. We look at the curriculum as a continuum and challenge teachers to see their subject differently and as a coherent part of a whole school rationale that creates profound evidence that curriculum intent is being translated into a deep, rich and interwoven curriculum offer. Join us and immerse yourself in our focus on the 'deep dive' into planning a content rich curriculum.

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Literacy and numeracy - why are they the building blocks that need to be applied across all learning? 

Knowledge is high on the agenda when we talk about planning and delivering a rich and deep curriculum. Subject experts and subject leaders need to have a very good understanding of what it is that their pupils need to learn within the context of the subject specific National Curriculum programmes of study.  However, to focus wholly on this is to miss a fundamental piece of the curriculum design process. Pupils need a range of basic and metacognitive skills in order to access the knowledge. This is true at every stage from early years to post 16. The complexity and technical demand increases over time but the skills continue to be pivotal to the process of learning.

Developing pupils' literacy and numeracy skills within subject specific learning is essential. As a starting point subject leaders and their teams should ensure they have copies of the English and Maths programmes of study relevant to their particular key stage available when they are developing strategies for planning subject content. The content of these documents acknowledges that the teaching of English and Maths transcends the boundaries of every subject across the curriculum.

For instance, the English KS2 and KS3 programmes of study ask that pupils read books that are structured in different ways and that they read for a range of purposes and in terms of writing there is specific reference to developing the skills of information retrieval that are taught should be applied, for example, in reading history, geography and science textbooks, and in contexts where pupils are genuinely motivated to find out information, for example, reading information leaflets before a gallery or museum visit or reading a theatre programme or review. 

In relation to the Maths programme of study, there are references to measuring where the context could link to Design or to Art or to PE. Drawing 2D and 3D shapes also applies in many similar contexts. Identifying horizontal and vertical lines, perpendicular and parallel lines applies in developing an understanding of perspective, co-ordinates or design.  The interpretation of data is essential in Geography, history and RE. Scale is an essential skill for map reading. The possibilities are endless. Using the terminology from the English and Maths programmes of study helps to ensure that pupils can see the connections and understand how their conceptual learning in English and Maths is essential as part of contextual learning across the curriculum.

To ignore the valuable and rich vein that comes from creating opportunities for all pupils to become unconsciously competent in their use of a range of learning skills clearly documented in the programmes of study is wasted time and wasted opportunity. Why not join us and take away a wealth of resources and materials to help your teams create a tapestry curriculum.

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What is a 'deep dive' into subject specific teaching and learning?

'The deep dive' is what OFSTED are calling their scrutiny into subject specific curriculum delivery in schools across all the different education phases.  Subject leaders must have a good understanding of what this means in order to prepare their teams in readiness if OFSTED want to look in detail at the curriculum content and how it is delivered in specific subjects.  The focus is on how the curriculum intent is being implemented within subject specific learning and to what extent those delivering subject specific learning have the expertise, necessary training and support to succeed. The subject leader, other middle leaders and subject teams need to have answers to the following questions,

  • What is the evidence that the planned curriculum builds on prior learning and is designed to ensure progression towards clearly defined end points?
  • How do we share and evaluate classroom pedagogy as being positive in ensuring the curriculum is learnt and the skills for learning are being developed?
  • What schemes are we designing and following and is there a consistent whole school strategy that ensures professional learning conversations lead to positive outcomes?
  • How well can we articulate the strengths within the subject team and how do we fill gaps in expertise in order to continuously strengthen the team?
  • What strategies are used to identify gaps in learning and for positive intervention?
  • What is available for pupils who are struggling or who have missed aspects of subject specific learning?
  • How is assessment used to inform next steps in teaching and learning?
  • What is the evidence that there is a collaborative approach to assessing pupils' outputs such as work in their books, artwork, design work speaking and listening and physical activity?
  • What is planned in relation to ongoing professional development and support for the subject team?
  • How are new staff introduced to the curriculum philosophy and how are they supported to ensure they are part of the curriculum team?
  • What is in place to ensure that all teaching staff including support staff are given training to deepen their subject and assessment knowledge and understanding?
  • What is the evidence that subject specific learning is sequenced to ensure progression towards clearly defined end points?
  • What CPD is available for Heads of Department, Subject experts and Phase Leaders?
  • What opportunities are there for professional learning conversations to take place within the subject teams and across the wider curriculum?

There is nothing new in this list, in fact, it denotes that a high-quality education is very evident.  It is, however, important to ensure that the subject leader can answer these questions as part of an evaluation of their own leadership strengths and in order to demonstrate high quality teaching and learning is consistent across the whole department, phase or year group.

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How can lesson observation be a two way process that ensures high quality pedagogy and positive learning outcomes?

 Last summer OFSTED published some interesting research to support them in validating the consistency of their judgements from lesson observations.  They called it a triangulation: Inspecting Education Quality.  They focused on the what they wanted to see from lesson observation, from work book scrutiny and what they wanted to hear in conversations with leaders, teachers, support staff and pupils that demonstrated a commitment to delivering curriculum intent.

The ensuing publication Inspecting Education Quality: Lesson Observation Report provides some useful information to support senior leaders and middle and subject leaders to review their strategy for how lessons are observed and judged as part of performance management and professional development. The report came up with 18 indicators that OFSTED inspectors wanted to use to validate their own judgements of the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. Whatever their purpose for OFSTED they are a valuable set of indicators to use to benchmark what all line managers should be looking for in relation to positive learning outcomes that emerge as a result of high quality pedagogy and classroom management.  OFSTED's indicators are purely focusing on the teaching, we have taken each of their indicators and added a second column which focuses on the pupil outcomes that might emerge from the best practice that is described. You can find a copy here.

The work book scrutiny document does not go into so much detail but provides an insight into what OFSTED are looking for from the work that pupils produce.  It is however, an important aspect of lesson observation and should not be underestimated.  It is the third element of the triangulation that interests us especially in the light of our continuing belief that coaching will provide the answers to developing a consistent and cohesive seamless curriculum.  Professional dialogue that ensures all staff are an integral part of defining the vision, implementing the rationale and ambition and having a commitment to high quality outcomes for all pupils are all achieved through coaching. When lesson observation is seen as a two-way process where the teacher is encouraged to reflect on his or her strengths, focus on how they can build on their successes and learn from their mistakes it becomes a positive part of continuing professional learning.  Creating opportunities for professional conversations within the boundaries of the classroom where the observer is not seen as an imposition but as a positive contributor to the learning process for the teacher there is genuine continuous improvement.

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What can school leaders and their teams do to measure the quality of education across all learning?

Here at Learning Cultures we have looked very closely at the phrase quality assurance in relation to what it means within an educational context. Accountability is still, inevitably, linked to data especially at the end of key stage 2 and 4. The results are the ultimate test that pupils have achieved a sound understanding of the knowledge they have been taught and can demonstrate the skills that they have gained as part of accessing that knowledge.  Quality assurance, where it is embedded within in a school or college, provides a much more holistic view of what it is that has led to the data outcomes and provides an opportunity to scrutinise pedagogy and classroom management, pupil output and outcomes over time and review the impact of the pastoral process. The principles we have focused on in developing our own model of quality assurance processes are listed below.

  • A clearly defined policy for quality assurance as part of the structure of strategic management
  • A mechanism for defining and communicating the vision for the organisation including how the curriculum intent is integral to the vision and ambition for the organisation
  • Processes for the design and approval of the curriculum in terms of content, sequencing over time and intended learning outcomes
  • Clearly defined standards for classroom pedagogy, behaviour and pastoral care and the management of and assessment of learning
  • The management of information and data to ensure that analysis and use of data informs progress, intervention and challenge
  • A strategy for assessing staff development needs linked to achieving the school vision and the needs of individuals and teams within the organisation
  • A mechanism for sharing success within and outside the organisation

Deciding to create a school culture where every individual within the school is striving for excellence that is embodied within the vision and is modelled by senior leaders defines high quality education. Our Quality Management course sets out the principles and maps out a strategy for success. It is an essential piece in the jigsaw that needs to be completed as part of an ongoing process of continuous improvement.

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How do staff who teach in year 3 or year 7 use prior learning as a starting point for their planning?

It always amazes us that the transition courses we run most often start with a tacit admission that there is little or no reference to prior learning when pupils move from one key stage to the next. This is particularly true when pupils move from primary to secondary school. Although the same lack of communication is evident from key stage 1 to 2 and to some extent into key stage 1.

There is a well-researched and continuing average dip in performance of pupils of up to 40% when pupils move from key stage 2 to 3.  Whatever the dip just imagine if it could be changed into an increase in performance. Building on prior learning is a key indicator in the current focus on curriculum depth and breadth, clear evidence of a sequencing of learning and a defined continuum that leads to well-focused end points.

We have gathered evidence of good practice over several years now and have a profound understanding of what can be achieved as part of a well-orchestrated transition strategy.  Those involved in transition on either side of the bridge need to build highly effective and collaborative teams, share schemes of work and focus on progression and a highly structured programme that ensures there is seamless learning across the transition bridge.  We run two superb courses that will provide the tools and resources to make this happen,

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How do leaders ensure motivational dialogue and professional conversations are part of curriculum planning and delivery?

Dialogue and professional learning conversations must become a part of the culture of the school if the evidence that the school vision is linked to curriculum intent is highly visible. This is clearly drawn in OFSTED's research from last summer. The third element in their triangulation was professional dialogue and a mechanism that ensured there are opportunities for teachers and their subject leaders to work together to implement a curriculum that is deep in knowledge, sequences the learning and ensures pupils have the skills they need for life.  

This requires senior leaders to assess their current meeting structures. They need to focus on how well they share the vision, delegate the responsibility and empower their teams to work  together to plan exceptional learning within subjects and across the curriculum. Every meeting needs to focus on learning and how the curriculum delivery mirrors its intent.  Build a collaborative focus to lesson observation and ensure that professional development and appraisal are focused on ensuring a deep understanding of how the curriculum intent becomes practical learning in the classroom. Use our coaching programmes to start your journey towards collaborative and motivational coaching. Start with our outsanding leadership programmes.

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What is the most effective model for developing a coaching culture across the whole school or college?

Coaching is, we believe, the only way to ensure you have the evidence that there is cohesion and collaboration to ensure there is no mismatch between the planned and delivered curriculum. Translating curriculum intent, rationale and ambition into a narrative that individual leaders, managers, teachers and pupils can articulate is a fundamental part of how schools will be judged by inspectors.  The imperative to create a culture where individuals and teams can share good practice, reflect on their successes, define how to overcome barriers and have the confidence to take risks with their learning is a fundamental part of the focus on curriculum and quality in education.

Our coaching programmes and courses are built on well-respected sector led research. They provide individuals with the tools and techniques they need to become highly competent and effective coaches. Leaders need to learn how to coach in order to empower others to deliver the vision with confidence and with high levels of skill and expertise.  Middle leaders, whether those who have subject or curriculum responsibility, are pastoral leaders or lead on other aspects of school life will benefit from developing a range of coaching skills that will help them manage highly successful teams and work together to achieve the school intent and vision.  Coaching for teachers provides a powerful opportunity to share outstanding pedagogy, celebrate good practice and focus on what else needs to happen to ensure positive ongoing and continuous professional development.  Pupils can also become coaches and learn how to be reflective, resilient and accept challenge in order to enhance their learning capacity.

Coaching is the answer to building a highly collaborative culture where motivational dialogue leads to outstanding teaching and learning.

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Resources

Some new books for the coaching shelf

  • Outstanding Coaching in Schools: a step by step coaching manual for teachers by Tony Swainston
  • Teaching your Ducklings to Fly: A guide for accomplished professionals on coaching beginners
  • Sport pedagogy: An introduction for teaching and coaching - we are asked many times about the similarities and differences of sports coaching and coaching generally.  This book might help by Kathleen Armour
  • The Coach's Survival Guide by Kim Morgan  - not necessarily education but there is some valuable advice in here
  • OFSTED have produced the results of some research into the quality of ITT provision and developing NQTs in schools. Building Great Teachers? Initial teacher education curriculum research. There are some valuable indicators that all those in the development of teachers' skills could use to reflect on their current provision or support.

I am reading the Overstory by Richard Powers.  This is a rich and powerful book, well-written and very provocative in its soul-searching of the current issues relating to climate change and the destruction of our natural resources especially ancient trees in North America

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Policy

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