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Summer Newsletter - The spotlight is on the curriculum

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Planning for the future - a curriculum for impact and learning

"Be bold and courageous with your curriculum design and content" said Sean Harford, OFSTED's National Director of Education, in a recent presentation entitled 'Curriculum: intent, implementation and impact  where he outlines some of OFSTED's priorities for their new framework planned for September 2019. 

UmbrellasThe focus on the curriculum comes as the first wave of results of a consultation with over 40 schools across England have been published. The purpose of the research is,

  • Firstly, to influence wider thinking on the role and importance of the curriculum by developing a rigorous evidence base on the relative importance of the curriculum in terms of outcomes and to identify the links between the curriculum and increased social mobility.
  • Secondly, OFSTED want to have a research base to inform their policy as part of plans to introduce a new framework and handbook for schools from September 2019.  They are keen to understand the current impact of inspection policy and practice on the curriculum in schools; understand what drives the decision-making process in relation to curriculum design and development and to identify the characteristics of an outstanding curriculum that is linked to successful outcomes for pupils
  • Thirdly, to inform policy making in the DfE by testing the extent to which the curriculum at school and classroom level is influenced by national policy levers and other factors

I would like to use this newsletter to unpick some of the messages included in the recent speeches, presentations and announcements made by the DfE, OFSTED and other research organisations. They are clearly all working towards a consensus for a new approach to curriculum design, development and implementation and how we measure impact in relation to evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations. The curriculum introduced in 2014 in terms of content does not seem to be at issue here.  It is much more about how schools create a curriculum framework that clearly defines the objectives behind their specific curriculum design that are linked to national policy, translated into achievable strategies and processes and that identify the impact that their curriculum framework will have on pupils' outcomes. I have also written a news post outlining the main points that OFSTED are making.

There is a need for greater consultation, collaboration and a shared understanding of how to weave a curriculum that is seamless from early years to post 16 and beyond. It must build on prior learning; it must allow our pupils to make connections across their learning, become unconsciously competent in their use of a variety of skills and it must above all be meaningful to their lives and futures in the 21st century.

Quite a challenge, we have some great ideas and a lot of deep experience to draw on,

One more half term to plan and have something new and wonderful in place for the new academic year.

Happy planning, from Glynis

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 Techniques and strategies for planning a seamless curriculum

The curriculum is the blue print that explains how a school intends to ensure pupils will learn through the acquisition of knowledge and how they will deepen their understanding over time. However, it is essential that there is a carefully constructed structure that focuses on how pupils access the knowledge, develop a range of generic and subject specific skills and progress to achieve their individual potential.  In order to do this, there must be a collaborative and collective narrative that focuses on the needs of the pupils, the development of a cohesive continuum of learning and the construction of a taxonomy that allows teachers to assess how well their pupils are progressing across a range of contexts or subjects. 

This has been described by OFSTED in their working definition of the curriculum as intent, implementation and impact/achievement

So how does this translate into a strategy and clearly defined objectives that every teacher can use to plan their curriculum content? Here are some of the messages from our research into best practice and where we have created resources to support schools as they re-define their curriculum strategy.

  • Focus on creating a taxonomy that links to the learning outcomes that are generic to many subject specific programme of study, for example, explore and compare, find patterns, observe and identify
  • Map the skills that are included in the English and Maths programmes of study across all subjects, for instance, pupils can deepen their understanding by reading a range of non-fiction texts, explore how sentence structure can help them to make inference in history or explain and analyse what happens next in a science experiment
  • Create opportunities for cross curricular planning time where teachers can see where there may be opportunities to build on learning in a different subject such as the work of a great scientist could also be part of a history project looking at the social implications of an invention or discovery
  • Focus on ensuring a collective narrative that allows teachers to share a deeper understanding of pedagogy and the impact of teaching approaches to learning of different concepts in different subject areas
  • Use tutor time or specific assessment focus time to assess skills and learning outcomes across different contexts to see where pupils are deepening their knowledge, skills and understanding and where there are gaps or misconceptions, for instance where a pupil learns a concept in Maths such as accurate measurement and applies the skill in other contexts
  • Regularly review the learning focus of specific topics and share ideas as to how to support pupils to see the connections with different aspects of their learning, for instance, aligning the teaching of trigonometry to designing and building a structure in Design Technology or how the concept of enquiry is learnt and applied in different subject areas

Each specialist in all sectors of education know their subject and the content they need to impart. Creating a curriculum that builds on this expertise and deepens pupils' knowledge, skills and understanding is highly motivational. There is a collaborative dialogue that is its own professional development where teachers learn together. The outcomes for pupils are that they have the skills, confidence and competence to successfully navigate the external assessment regimes they are confronted with whether at key stage 1, 2 or 4.

 We have developed two training courses that offer a wealth of resources and ideas to support an innovative and highly practical way to develop a holistic and powerful curriculum for learning.

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Skills - the essential building blocks that weave a seamless tapestry of learning

No one can argue that reading, writing, communication and Mathematics are essential in all learning and not just in Maths and English. However, there is still a paradigm across many of the schools we work with that suggests that it is the subject that takes precedent over the skills and they are not an explicit part of the learning in subjects other than Maths and English.  Pupils need to make connections between what they learn in their Maths and English lessons and how they can transfer these skills into how they access knowledge in other subject areas.  What we don't want to do is to make every lesson an English or Maths lesson.  It is, therefore, essential to understand how these building blocks for learning help pupils to demonstrate their grasp of a deepening understanding of the subject being studied.  For instance, supporting pupils to comprehend a piece of non-fiction text in the context of learning about the Great Fire of London may have words that pupils have not seen before or the language is beyond a pupil's reading age. 

Each teacher needs to establish a carefully crafted curriculum map that recognises where pupils are using the skills they are learning in other subjects and elsewhere in the wider curriculum so that pupils see the reasons why they need to learn the skills.  Where pupils know how to use the right inference in the words they use to define continuity and change, cause and consequence or draw comparisons they will demonstrate higher level skills and show strong progression.  Where pupils have to make the right shape for the roof of a bird table they need to know that the strength comes from the apex which is an equilateral triangle, knowing this helps the pupil to understand the reasons for learning trigonometry in a Maths lesson. Learning percentages is part of Maths, contour lines essential to good map reading represent percentages of a slope. (It is also helpful for the Maths teacher to know where they are learning Maths concepts in the context of learning elsewhere).

Creating opportunities for teachers to share how they are teaching their subject or a topic and the skills that are integral to that learning is critical to good curriculum planning.  Focusing on how pupils are learning as well as what they are learning is fundamental to the process of how they use their skills to access learning. Teachers need to have the opportunity to collaborate as to how this can be communicated to learners through a deeper understanding of how important listening, reading, enquiring, note-taking, calculating, measuring and analysis, to name but a few of the many skills that knit the curriculum together, create the whole learner.

Co-ordinating the embedding of a skills focused curriculum needs careful orchestration, we have used our considerable expertise and experience in this arena to design some highly praised training programmes to support this essential aspect of curriculum planning.  The content is practical and original and will provide those with responsibility for embedding literacy and numeracy across the curriculum with all the tools they need.

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Planning for differentiation - a collaborative approach to closing the gap and stretching the higher achiever

Part of the process of developing a curriculum that meets the needs of all the pupils it serves is ensuring that it is differentiated for those who need more support, those who need to be stretched and challenged to achieve more and for those who are coasting. The programmes of study for each of the subjects from key stage 1 to 3 provide a wealth of opportunity to differentiate the learning and provide teachers with the material with which to focus on how to create the right learning experiences for a wide ability range within any cohort. The mastery model suggests that teachers plan the learning to ensure all pupils have access to the same high-level content as the topic is introduced.  Teachers can then focus on who needs further support, who needs to deepen their learning and who needs to have something more that will challenge and extend their learning. 

However, the key to planning a truly differentiated curriculum is to focus on what is expected of pupils as they deepen their knowledge and understanding as a starting point.  If we focus on the outcomes we expect from the range within the taxonomy being used. This could be based on Bloom's original or Krathwohl and Anderson's newer version which has the inclusion of the ability to remember before being able to describe and the need to be creative with or synthesise what has been learnt and evaluated. The taxonomy provides a framework for defining success for individuals and groups of pupils. It also provides an opportunity to focus on how pupils perform across a range of subjects and disciplines. For instance, in English where the learning is scaffolded and structured a pupil may master the techniques of complex sentences.  In History, where the same need for the use of complex sentences is paramount to demonstrating that the pupil knows and understand the subject matter being taught the pupil needs to see the connections between their learning in English and how it translates to History.  Developing a structured assessment strategy that is the same across all subjects and that focuses on learning outcomes as well as subject specific outcomes allows pupils to be able to see the connections and as a result their learning across all subjects becomes deeper.

Carefully mapping the generic learning outcomes and those that are subject specific allows the teacher to see clearly where along the taxonomy pupils are naturally aspiring and how best to support, encourage, stretch or challenge them in a specific lesson or series of lessons.  Taking this a stage further, where teachers have access to information about the competence individual and groups of pupils demonstrate in the achievement of similar learning outcome and the literacy or numeracy skill being used in a range of contexts the teacher has an even greater and deeper understanding of how to build on their core learning.

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A collaborative approach to formative assessment

OFSTED are quite clear that they want to see evidence that pupils are learning and making progress. They say that this is not necessarily evident from simply checking that books are marked by the teacher on a regular basis. Formative assessment is by far the best way to assess pupils' ongoing achievements and to create a dialogue that will support a deeper understanding of what pupils know, need to know and when they are ready to take on greater challenge. This can be achieved through teacher/pupil interaction, the effective use of support staff and opportunities for pupils to self-assess and work with their peers to assess each other. See our news post: Formative Assessment, teacher autonomy, pupil involvement and positive collaboration

"When educators assess children's learning, their intention is to find out, make sense of what pupils discover and use what has been learnt to facilitate ongoing learning.  In this way, assessment becomes part of the day to day process of teaching and learning. It is an integral rather than separate activity in the curriculum development process." (Drummond, 2003)

However, the assessment process needs to have another dimension in this collaborative approach to curriculum planning and delivery.  The application of a skill or the ability to use knowledge gained in one context to deepen understanding in a different content is an important dimension in assessing that pupils have remembered and understood what they are learning.  For instance, pupils learn how to construct graphs in Maths, there are a great many opportunities for pupils to put this skill into practice in other subjects across the curriculum.

We have some great ideas, strategies and resources to support teachers and support staff to create a dynamic approach to formative assessment.

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Points of transition - how do we build on prior learning and avoid a dip in performance and learning?

Transition continues to be a weakness in the process of developing a continuum of learning that is unbroken from early years to key stage 4 and beyond.  There is a well-researched dip in performance of pupils as they move from one key stage to the next.  OFSTED have recently concluded that despite transition being an integral part of their report Key Stage 3: the wasted years? there is still insufficient collaboration across the transition bridge between key stage 2 and 3.  This is also, although to a lesser degree, an issue between key stage 1 and 2 and, 3 and 4 and into post 16 education.  It is essential to know what has gone before in terms of learning both subject knowledge and skills development in order that curriculum continues to serve the pupils it is written for.  For pupils to simply repeat their learning is not likely to lead to high levels of progression, deeper understanding or be in any way motivational for the pupils involved.

The pastoral process is often well developed in most schools but creating a cohesive seamless curriculum and making sure that the data is detailed and examines the nuances of pupils learning and achievement is less evident.  Our continued research and deep expertise in the process of transition means we continue to offer highly praised and powerful training courses for those involved in transition.

Collaboration across the key stages is essential and requires commitment from both sides of the bridge.  One key obstacle of shared curriculum planning especially between key stage 2 and 3 is where there are a large number of primary partner schools. There are ways to overcome some of the barriers and build a robust platform for learning in key stage 3. Just think, research suggests that there is an average dip of anything up to 39% in performance of pupils at the end of year 7.  Making some changes could have a significant impact on learning and achievement and reduce or eradicate this dip altogether. We have a wealth of best practice examples built into our highly successful transition events.

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Creating a collaborative dialogue where there is effective communication about curriculum design and intent, implementation and impact for pupils

Some questions to consider in light of the current spotlight on how the curriculum is delivered as part of a cohesive whole school commitment to excellence and improvement for all pupils.

  • Are you clear as to the aims of your curriculum framework and does every member of staff understand how the curriculum is designed to ensure impact in relation to progression and achievement for all pupils in every year group and key stage?
  • Does your curriculum design ensure pupils build on their knowledge and understanding at each stage and achieve and/or exceed expected progress year on year and across the key stages?
  • Are all staff included in the planning process?
  • Are the skills taught in Maths and English mapped to ensure that pupils can apply their skills in other contexts or subjects?
  • Does your CPD strategy ensure all staff share the pedagogical approaches they use to achieve maximum progress and learning outcomes for all pupils?

If you can answer a definitive yes to all these questions, congratulations, otherwise preparing for change in 2019 is essential. Many of the courses we offer provide practical strategies for how to build a seamless curriculum. Creating a coaching culture will help to embed and deliver a cohesive, collaborative and sustainable culture that fosters ongoing professional dialogue that will provide the ingredients for success.  Collaboration, sharing pedagogy and cascading good and outstanding practice is at the heart of the training that we offer.  Give your leaders, managers, teachers and support staff the resources, tools and knowledge that will build for your school a self-sustaining and powerful CPD strategy that continues to deliver measurable impact long after the training. Why not have a look at our Coaching in Education section and our Teaching and Learning section and start planning your journey towards excellence.

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Resources

Some books trying to unravel the curriculum conundrum

  • The Curriculum - Gallimaufry to coherence by Mary Myatt (I had to look up the word gallimaufry, it means: a confused jumble or medley of things)
  • The National Curriculum and the Teachers' Standards a reference text with a foreword by Dylan Wiliam
  • The Primary Curriculum by Patricia Driscoll and Andrew Lambirth
  • Curriculum Leadership: strategies for development and implementation by Allan A Glatthorn and Floyd Boschee
  • The Confident Teacher - Developing successful habits of mind, body and pedagogy by Alex Quigley

Keeping up to date with the coaching shelf

  • The Coaching Habit: Say less, ask more and change the way you manage forever by Bungay Stanier Michael
  • Coaching in Professional Contexts by Christian van Nieuerburgh

I am reading Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada - I went to Berlin just before Christmas and this was a Christmas present, not my usual choice of book but it is revealing, perceptive and quite haunting. 

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Policy

  • Andrea Scheleicher of the OECD has written a report How to Build a 21st Century School System drawing on international evidence of 'beacons of excellence'
  • The DfE has published its consultation on T Level Implementation
  • There are plans to ring fence £50 million to help increase the number of school places for pupils with SEN
  • OFSTED are continuing to consult on its plans to reform their handbook and framework for schools from September 2019
  • Amanda Spielman has given a speech at the Pre School Learning Alliance conference and emphasises the importance of early years education

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