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Curriculum, Pedagogy and Deep Learning

learningcultures learningCurriculum, pedagogy and deep learning are the essential ingredients in the pursuance of excellence and improvement in schools and colleges the length and breadth of the UK and beyond. The same initials link neatly and conveniently for us here at Learning Cultures to CPD, continuing professional development, the lifeblood that creates the outstanding practitioner, the motivated learner and the effective leader or manager.

I want to focus on curriculum, pedagogy and deep learning in this newsletter and consider how each school or college can create a sustainable and cost-effective programme of staff development or CPD that will ensure learning is seen as an imperative for the staff in the organisation as much as it is for the pupils taught there.

There are several reasons why this focus stands out for me. There is a crisis in the teaching profession; that is obvious. Funding is an issue but then it is ever thus. What seems to me the greater obstacle to effective professional learning is the shortage of available teachers and the haemorrhage of professionals not of retirement age who are leaving our profession. 

We need, as professionals, to create a culture where teachers feel valued, where they can share their learning, learn from each other and build a truly collaborative and self-sustaining system. The nature of teaching means that there is a wealth of talent that essentially remains in the classroom. Observation, team teaching, video and lesson study may allow for some to have the advantage of seeing good and outstanding teaching but for the majority they are on their own.

There is also the sceptre of accountability that drives many of the decisions particularly in relation to curriculum planning and creating the right content that will ensure success for the school and for pupils.  The recent messages from OFSTED are putting the spotlight on curriculum and the imperative to have the evidence that whatever is taught is to ensure skills and depth of understanding are at the heart of the decision making.

The Learning Cultures’ CPD offer creates the opportunity for teachers to cascade their learning, develop the skills that foster high quality professional dialogue, peer to peer conversations and highly effective formative assessment. Developing a deeper understanding of the power of coaching creates a culture of positivity where all staff seek to continually learn from their peers, from their pupils and from other sources to continuously enhance their own professional standing and those they teach.

I'm learning all the time, learn with me and my team and let's continue to build a world class self-sustaining profession.


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OFSTED, what is in the news, what's changed?

The revised OFSTED Handbook for Schools October 2017

OFSTED have amended their handbook for schools this autumn. There are relatively few amendments and the document largely covers the same ground but there are some significant changes. We have compared the August 2016 handbook with the new one and have produced a paper highlighting the main changes. A copy of this is on our website. View our paper highlighting the changes by clicking here.

Messages from the new Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman

Amanda Spielman in her latest transcript is very focused on the issue of the curriculum and how curriculum planning has to be rich and varied and not in any way specifically designed to ensure pupils at key stage 2 pass the tests and students at key stage 4 learn how to answer questions that ensure they achieve good grades at GCSE. There is little in her words that offer any solace to head teachers and governors struggling with the issue of accountability and the need to ensure learners make their expected level of progress.

She sings the praises of the changes to the curriculum that were introduced in 2014 and suggests there are three issues that are critical pinch points.

  • Making sure that there is breadth and depth in the key stage 2 curriculum that encompasses all subjects and not just the teaching of maths and English in preparation for the SATs especially in year 6
  • Creating a meaningful key stage 3 that is different from key stage 4 and ensures that pupils learn across a broad spectrum of subjects and develop a range of important skills. She also questions the decision of some schools to only have two years for key stage 3
  • Low achieving learners are well catered for and intervention ensures that they can make significant progress

How will these clear and unambiguous messages translate into what OFSTED inspectors want to see in relation to evidence that schools remain within the parameters of what is deemed to be good or outstanding practice? We have some thoughts on each of the three points, read on.

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Creating breadth and depth in the primary curriculum

The primary school curriculum is narrowing according to Amanda Spielman. This, she concurs, is because of the overt focus on performance tables. She also suggests that there is little shared thinking as to what the curriculum should look like in terms of design and for some primary school leaders’ curriculum development was way down on the priority list.

Our interpretation of her messages are:

  • there needs to be breadth and balance in the design of the primary curriculum
  • there needs to be clear consensus as to the depth to which pupils should be taught and which ideas should be linked together to the strengthen the learning
  • primary pupils need to master the basics in English and mathematics
  • we must define what we mean by the development of skills in the context of learning in the pursuance of the curriculum
  • we also need to be clearer as to what we mean by the terms progression, enrichment, questioning and repetition
  • have a better and shared theoretical understanding of curriculum and how it should be taught

I spent one day this week speaking at a conference in Wales about the management of change where I learnt a lot about the new Welsh curriculum. It is being planned for a staged roll-out over three years with deep rooted sector consultation and involvement. I wonder where we would be now if we as a profession were given that luxury. However, in the spirit of positivity, you could attend one of our Mastering the Primary Curriculum - Weaving skills and deep learning to foster a continuum of progression and achievement days and focus on how to develop the kind of evidence that shows without doubt that we do understand curriculum design, we can weave skills learning through the tapestry of learning from early years to year 6 and we do understand how pupils learn and progress. Oh yes and let’s not forget we can enrich the learning, use deep and rich questioning with aplomb and develop the pedagogy that delivers engaged pupils.

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Key stage 3 – Creating a curriculum for progression and deep learning

The messages from Amanda Spielman suggest that schools need to focus on a three-year KS3 and ensure that it is not totally planned to focus on GCSE outcomes. So, how do we plan a curriculum for key stage 3 that builds on prior learning and creates learners who have the right skills to tackle the rigour of GCSEs and other curriculum innovations at key stage 4 and beyond; and that has depth, breadth and balance and gives pupils opportunities to really develop the skills they need to progress?

We have gathered some best practice examples that focus on curriculum and systems planning for a successful key stage 3.

  • Collaborate visibly with primary partners through joint lesson observation, the sharing of curriculum planning documentation and opportunities for the dovetailing of schemes of work that transcend the transition bridge and have the evidence that this is impacting on learning in year 7 and beyond
  • Have evidence that the key stage 3 curriculum is developed through a collaborative approach where teachers from different subjects can see where there are connections, similarities and overlaps in curriculum and skills content
  • Make sure every subject leader other than Maths and English shares with their teams copies of the Maths and English programmes of study at both key stage 2 and 3 so that they can see where literacy and numeracy skills being learnt in English and Maths are being used in the context of learning elsewhere
  • Focus on skills development so that pupils can articulate how they are learning as well as what they are learning. If pupils are resilient and articulate problem solvers by the time they reach year 10 they are in a far better place to tackle the rigour of GCSE study

We must have a robust and meaningful curriculum offer for key stage 3 that is a springboard for key stage 4 and beyond. This does not mean creating a five year key stage 4. What it does mean is creating a dynamic curriculum that develops pupils’ skills in deep learning including being creative, having the ability to enquire and find out for themselves, be independent and take risks with their learning, read widely and with profound understanding and write in a way that develops the skills of reasoning, inference and clarity. We need to use the rich and varied content of the new curriculum and exercise our right to be innovative, adventurous and dynamic in how we deliver it.

A good starting point is to join us for our training course:

How important is Key Stage 3 to your School - Have the evidence for OFSTED, plan a tapestry curriculum and ensure breadth and depth

Creating the right learning platform for a robust key stage 3 needs to start with transition from primary to secondary school. There is a well-researched average dip in performance of pupils from the end of year 6 to the end of year 7. You may also like to send a member of your transition or key stage 3 team to our event,

Crossing the Transition Bridge – Seamless learning from key stage 2 to 3

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Creating the right curriculum offer for lower attaining pupils

The third issue that Amanda Spielman highlights as a concern is the risk to social mobility if pupils miss out on opportunities to study subjects and gain knowledge that could be valuable in subsequent stages of education or in later life.  She says, restricting subject choice for low-attaining pupils disproportionately affects pupils from low income backgrounds.  Research suggests that some schools are creating a curriculum linked to GCSE qualifications that do not provide low attaining pupils with the breadth and balance that will support them to achieve later on in life.  Some school leaders have identified that Progress 8 has removed the flexibility for them to cater for the needs and interests of all their pupils. There is some consensus that the reduction in the vocational offer to schools has resticted choices for some pupils.  

There is good evidence that some pupils were successful following the vocational routes that are no longer available. However, Amanda Spielman states clearly that these qualifications did not have parity with GCSE and are therefore are not available as part of those qualifications that count in the league tables.  There is a range of vocational qualifications availabe that do count and do have parity.  Where these are taught well and incorporate the development of skills such as problem solving, enquiry, planning and team working they can provide the difference some pupils need to achieve their full potential and overcome disadvantage or a lower starting point. 

We deal with this important aspect of curriculum planning and ensuring all pupils achieve their full potential in two of our current training courses,

  • Weaving a 21st century curriculum - building a continuum of learning from year 7 to year 11
  •  Delivering a Vocational Learning Pathway that Counts

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Mental Health and well-being and the impact on learning

A recent report has been published relating to the disturbing issue of the mental health and well-being of young people. Children and young people’s mental health—the role of education: Government Response to the First Joint Report of the Education and Health Committees of Session 2016 –17. Several of the recommendations will need careful consideration by schools especially in relation to the need to ensure that teachers, managers and Teaching Assistants have the skills to implement some of the recommendations. The ones that seem to be the most pertinent are,

  • Recommendation 3 – Make PSHE a compulsory part of the curriculum
  • Recommendation 5 – More must be done to ensure that mental health and well-being are given appropriate prominence in inspections
  • Recommendation 6 – Schools must be conscious of the stress and anxiety that they are placing on pupils and ensure that sufficient time is allowed for activities which develop life-long skills for well-being
  • Recommendation 7 - Mental health training should be part of initial teacher training and should be the right of practicing teachers as part of their continuing professional development

There are other recommendations and a lot more to read. We are well aware of the issues raised here and have responded with our own training course linked to developing the well-being and mindfulness of pupils.

Psychological well-being - Promoting emotional health, mindfulness and wellbeing to optimise learning and achievement

We also have two very popular courses that focus on the theory of Growth Mindset that can have a very positive effect on deep learning and provide pupils with an opportunity to look at their own perception or their ability to learn and achieve.

  • Coaching and the development of a positive mindset for A level students
  • Mindset Matters to Unlock Learning - Creating self-belief and a culture of positivity in the classroom

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Pedagogy and deep learning

There is much discussion about the focus on deep learning and mastery but what exactly does it mean? The term mastery has been removed from some of the official documentation and replaced with the phrase ‘deep and rich’ learning. Whatever we choose to call it what we are talking about is the need to ensure that pupils don’t simply learn the basic facts through shallow learning that is lost as soon as it is learnt. The ultimate test for the teacher is to be able to assess whether the learning can be applied in a range of situations and across different subject matter.

In early years and KS1 it is likely that mastery is learning the basics so that the building blocks are there for a deepening of understanding and an opportunity to develop and use higher order thinking skills later on as the pupil moves into KS2 and beyond. However, even early on it is important that pupils know that there may be more than one way to find the answer or work through a problem.

Here is a list of approaches that might provide evidence that mastery is an integral part of your classroom practice.

  • Fostering deep and rich learning in the classroom
  • Have high expectations of everyone
  • Build on the knowledge learners already have
  • Encourage reasoning rather than simply asking for an answer
  • Use a rich mixture of practical resources, images and pictures
  • Consider how much time pupils are given to use practical resources and abstract concepts in their learning
  • Use deep and rich questioning and give prompts that will aid understanding
  • Find where the concepts that are taught in Maths and English are being used to foster understanding in other subjects
  • Deal carefully with misconceptions and offer time for pupils to find an alternative solution
  • Foster the use of rich language, deep dialogue and learning conversations
  • Create opportunities for pupils to find different methods to draw a conclusion or solve a problem
  • Be an active listener and explicitly teach listening. It is a skill that really can aid deep learning
  • Encourage pupils to articulate their thinking and to share their ideas with others
  • Insist on the precise use of subject terms and vocabulary in all subject and topic areas
  • Make sure pupils have the opportunity to make connections across different aspects of their learning
    Engage with the pupils and make them an integral part of the teaching process
  • Allow pupils to make mistakes as part of their learning
  • Use Teaching Assistants as much as possible to support the stretch and challenge of pupils
  • Work closely with other teachers to share ideas and build a bank of best practice
  • Encourage pupils to assess their own work and discuss what they have achieved and still need to work on
  • Create the dialogue where pupils can articulate how they are learning as well as what they are learning

Join us at one of our curriculum training courses.  They are both thoroughly researched to include content that takes account of the latest research and inspection accountability issues

  • Mastery and deep learning in literacy and numeracy across the primary curriculum
  • Weaving a 21st century curriculum - building a continuum of learning from year 7 to year 11

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Accelerating the learning for the high achieving and more able learners

The higher achiever and how we ensure they are stretched and challenged is in the spotlight at the moment. OFSTED are taking particular notice of how well the most able are challenged to ensure they are not coasting or deepening their understanding. In their latest handbook the emphasis has not changed. What they want to see is:-

“Inspectors will consider whether the most able pupils are receiving the support they need to reach their full potential. For example, inspectors will consider whether pupils who had the highest attainment at the end of key stage 2 in English and mathematics achieve the top grades at GCSE in these subjects by the age of 16 and whether enough current pupils are on track to do so.” OFSTED October 2017

It is important that we focus on deepening learner understanding and creating profound opportunities for pupils to develop their reasoning and analytical skills in pursuit of learning a subject or a range of concepts. Best practice suggests that where schools have a clear policy and carefully communicated strategy for, firstly, indentifying who is deemed to be in this category and, secondly, how to create a consistent pedagogy across all learning that ensures that the planning of lessons involves very clear differentiation and a pathway for those who have been indentified as high achievers.

There needs to be evidence that there is effective collaboration where teachers, line managers and where appropriate support staff share their practice and build a deeper understanding of some of the approaches and techniques that move learners out of their comfort zone and give them the confidence and motivation to want to challenge themselves.  

Ensuring those who teach the most able have coaching skills can be an advantage.  High level questioning, the ability to influence and a deep understanding of how to create the right conditions for learners to use high order thinking skills all come with a grounding in coaching.  Growth Mindset theory can also play its part here.  There is strong evidence that some learners who are used to being successful are reluctant to accept the challenges that might mean they do not continue to be at the top of their game. 

We have a new training course that looks in depth at this fascinating aspect of teaching and learning and offers some expert guidance and ideas on how to have the evidence that this particular group of learners are not left to coast. We have also included here the courses we offer related to Growth Mindset, they are so popular and offer a fascinating insight into the power of the positive.  Book both and take advantage of our second delegate rate.

Accelerating the learning for higher achieving and more able learners - stretch and challenge for progression

  • Coaching and the development of a positive mindset for A level students
  •  Mindset Matters to Unlock Learning - Creating self-belief and a culture of positivity in the classroom

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Creating a self-sustaining coaching culture to support highly effective CPD

We have had a very busy first half term this autumn working with several schools and groups of schools who want to use coaching as the conduit for achieving their school improvement plan and ensuring the staff from within know their role in contributing to the vision. One of the biggest issues for any organisation is how to communicate the vision so that everyone hears the same message.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” George Bernard Shaw

Success comes when coaching is carefully woven into the school improvement plan so that there is a focus on effective communication where:-

- everyone understands the whole school, college or partnership vision
- each individual member of staff identifies their role in achieving the vision
- there is a mechanism for each individual member of staff to clearly define what their development needs are in relation to achieving the vision
- those needs are agreed and met through staff development and coaching

Coaching becomes the conduit for professional conversations that break down barriers and allows all staff to feel that they are trusted, valued and are given the right resources and skills to deliver excellence and improvement across their department, in their team, year group or in the classroom.

The opportunity to build on previous successes, share what works well and feel confident with innovation and risk taking all come as a coaching culture develops. Individuals feel motivated and have a strong sense of belonging. The focus is on the positive and what works well and a belief that over time individuals will improve and grow in their role.
There has never been a better time to choose a coaching model for developing a highly efficacious CPD strategy. Coaching is a self-sustaining and cost-effective way to ensure all staff are an integral part of school improvement. The initial investment in training gives those who attend the materials, presentations and resources to cascade their learning to others and the sharing of good and outstanding practice drives the improvement process.

We have a whole range of coaching courses available or we can work with a school or college to plan a strategy that starts with training for the senior leadership team followed by further training for coaching ambassadors and the whole school staff over time.

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The Coaching School here in Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Last year we moved to larger premises where we have our own suite of training rooms.  Our venue has already proved very popular with teams of senior leaders who want to be away from school to plan their strategy.  One primary school came from North London in July.  Their first day with us was to work with one of our coaches to support them in developing a strategy for embedding coaching across the school. 

The second day they worked together to create their school improvement plan.  On both days we made sure they had an abundance of excellent refreshments and freshly prepared food for lunch on both days.  They were also able to use some of their time to see the beautiful market town of Bridgnorth and stay in a Shropshire village not too far away.  We have also hosted several of our training courses in Bridgnorth for schools in the Midlands and in some cases further afield.  

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Some more books for the coaching shelf recommended to me by the coaching team at Learning Cultures. We are always building our knowledge base, even more so now we can use our own lovely spaces in Bridgnorth.

  • Learning from coaching: How do I work with an instructional coach to grow as a teacher? By Nina Morel
  • The Art of School Leadership By Thomas R Hoerr
  • The Coaching Relationship in Practice By Geoff Pelham
  • Every Teacher Matters: Inspiring Well-being through Mindfulness By Kathryn Lovewell
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful lessons in personal change By Stephen R Covey

I have just finished reading a lovely book called the Unseen by Roy Jacobson. Very different and affecting.

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 OFSTED have published a revised Handbook for Schools. The changes are small and the document largely covers the same ground but there are some significant changes. We have compared the August 2016 handbook with the new one and have produced a paper highlighting the main changes.

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