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Curriculum and Coaching Conversations - ensuring collaboration, cohesion and a continuum of learning


Curriculum conversations

There is one subject that stands out as being debated and commented on at the moment and that is the curriculum. Amanda Spielman in her speech to the Schools North East summit echoed her previous theme that we need to start to have curriculum conversations about the three questions that emerge from the latest announcement on changes to the OFSTED handbook for next September.

  • What is it that schools want for their pupils? (Intent)
  • How well does teaching and assessment fulfil this intent? (Implementation)
  • What is the impact on results and the wider outcomes that children achieve? (Impact)

There is a clear emphasis on ensuring leaders and their managers are able to show through collaboration and professional dialogue that there is consistency and a flow to curriculum delivery across all year groups, subjects and key stages. One of the key factors in the debate about how the curriculum should be delivered is the emphasis on skills or knowledge acquisition or a mixture of both. Amanda Spielman and her team are clear that there is no suggestion that they favour any particular curriculum design. However, they are equally insistent that they want school leaders and curriculum planners to be unambiguous in their justification of why they have chosen a particular approach. Read my recent news post OFSTED, the curriculum and moving towards a change of emphasis which explains the three approaches that research suggests are being used in different schools. Knowledge led, knowledge engaged or skills led. 

Spielman uses the word conversation many times in her most recent speech,

“I’ve used the word ‘conversation’ a number of times in this speech.  The nature and impact of the conversations in an inspection are fundamental. As we shape the new framework, with your help, we really are thinking about how each inspection can be the most productive exchange between a school and its inspection team: how we can make it about substance, more than about numbers.” Amanda Spielman

I have seen many comments on Twitter, Facebook, TES and other places that are sceptical.  It is impossible to ignore the current accountability model that still focuses on data as the main indicator of a successful school. Until this changes, it is doubtful that schools will believe that OFSTED want to look at how the curriculum is delivered and not to the results it produces. She talks about the 'substance of education', by this I am assuming she means that we focus on designing deep and rich curriculum content, we create the right conditions for learning, use highly effective pedagogy and assess the impact of both on how well pupils progress. My experience of working with schools across the whole of England is that this is what we already do.  However, it is also true we cannot take our eye off the data ball. The two are sometimes difficult to juggle. 

The debate is refreshing, the academic research is welcome and the opportunity to reflect on what we do well and what we could change is too good to ignore. We should, as a highly talented and now chartered profession, be able to shape what should be the next phase of debate which is how can we find an accountability measure that is fair for all schools and is linked to the 'substance' of education.  The current quality control measure, a data capture of universal examination and test results, does not reflect the diverse nature of school cohorts or how we teach in order to meet those diverse needs. 

“I am firmly of the view that a focus on substance……will move inspection more towards being a conversation about what actually happens in schools.  Those who are bold and ambitious and run their schools with integrity will be rewarded….” Amanda Spielman

There is a momentum gathering and a new OFSTED handbook in the pipeline for September 2019.  We are, for the first time been give some notice of what is to come.  It is not to be ignored. However, the emphasis is much more on how individual leaders and their teams can justify their curriculum strategy, how it is delivered and why, linked to the impact it will have on their particular and unique pupil cohort. There is to be no prescribed curriculum model, no preferred approaches.

If you would like to be a part of the debate and begin to reflect on what you currently do well, what needs to change and how you can create the right conversations that will deliver a focused, consistent and cohesive curriculum join us at one of our well – researched courses that provide an in-depth focus on curriculum change and challenge.

The articles in this newsletter are all linked to the current debate, however, they are also about what is undoubtedly best practice. If your curriculum is linked to learning and pupil outcomes. If assessment is learner centred and challenging. If there is a continuum of learning for pupils as they journey through the key stages and across phases and transitions the inspectorate can come to call any time they like. You will have the evidence that your curriculum is for your pupils and they are achieving their full potential.

Let's embrace this opportunity to shape our own future.


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Transitions and transfers - avoiding the dip

Research suggests there is anything up to a 39% dip in performance of pupils from the end of year 6 to the end of year 7. There is a similar although less marked dip from key stage 1 to key stage 2. Turning this around has a dramatic impact on progression and achievement of pupils as they move through the year groups in both the primary and secondary phases. We have a team of experts here at Learning Cultures that have developed a range of highly effective strategies for avoiding the dip altogether.  Developing a collaborative strategy for transition is essential for success. It requires looking closely at academic as well as pastoral information. There needs to be opportunities for cross phase conversations and a dialogue that focuses on building on prior learning, similarities and difference in pedagogical approaches, strategies for learning and an understanding of how skills and knowledge will continue to be developed across the transition bridge.

There are many issues such as a large number of partner schools, a lack of co-operation from some schools and difficulties in terms of time and funds to meet and collaborate effectively.  There are strategies that can be adopted to mitigate some of these obstacles. Careful planning and a realisation that this is a priority in terms of creating a meaningful transition for learning will reap exceptional results.

Transition is an integral part of planning the curriculum. It is essential that each phase of learning builds on the last and pupils are not starting again. Creating a continuum of learning requires a deep understanding of the programmes of study at each key stage, a sound knowledge of the content and how it is taught and a focus on how competent pupils are in their use of the skills they need to access the core and wider curriculum.

Two of our most popular courses deal with this issue, the impact our knowledge and understanding of transition has had on many schools is outstanding. Join us as part of your curriculum planning journey and avoid the dip.

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Where do you stand, knowledge versus skills?

 OFSTED has worked with several schools to focus on how their curriculum is planned and implemented. The findings so far, they conclude, suggest three different approaches linked to skills and knowledge,

  • Knowledge – led approach -skills come from knowledge, “skills are the bi-product of knowledge”. Through the deepening of knowledge comes the ability to use associated skills. The characteristics of this approach are fewer topics that are taught in greater depth
  • Knowledge – engaged approach – “knowledge underpins the application of skills” This approach focuses on how the skills and the knowledge are integral, the pupil learns skills alongside knowledge acquisition. This involves planning which skills the pupil will use to access knowledge. Within this approach there is a greater emphasis on cross-curricular teaching, ensuring an understanding of how knowledge applies in a context
  • Skills – led approach – Skills have the higher priority in the planning process, knowledge is seen as a series of disconnected facts unless the pupil has the skills to place them in their context

The College of Teaching’s new magazine IMPACT focused in its 4th edition on the curriculum.  It is well worth a read.  The conclusion I draw from both the OFSTED report and the collection of essays within the IMPACT magazine is that skills have their place as an integral part of learning in the first as well as the second and third of the suggested approaches.  In one article, Designing a primary knowledge-rich curriculum which focuses on the knowledge-led approach, there is clearly an emphasis on rich and deep subject specific learning. However, the need for pupils to have access to materials and resources that are ‘text-rich’ is cited as essential.  In order to access rich text linked to knowledge acquisition requires the skill of comprehension, the ability to read and draw inference and the competence to sift and select the relevant information in order to demonstrate understanding.  The term skill was deftly left out of the observation of the need for rich text.  Reading is an essential skill and one that is essential to all learning.  My thoughts are that we need to ensure that we always identify the skills that are fundamental to deepening learning and to building a seamless continuum that ensures pupils become unconsciously competent in their ability to apply their knowledge across a wide range of contexts within the national and the wider curriculum.

Have a look at my news-post: Skills versus knowledge - Let's explore the conundrum using a haiku poem. It is meant to be a bit of fun but perhaps it does highlight my own thoughts. The debate is really all about the emphasis we place on knowledge and skills and having the conversation as to the preferred approaches is essential as part of planning for any changes to curriculum delivery.  We cannot ignore the need to develop the basic building blocks and skills of learning such as reading, counting and writing.  However, we also cannot forget that there is lot of knowledge content in all curriculum subjects as pupils prepare for GCSEs. Several of our courses explore this fascinating debate.

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Weaving a whole school assessment strategy as part of curriculum planning and delivery

Assessing the learning as part of delivering a curriculum that will have a positive impact on progression and achievement is fundamental.  How the curriculum is to be assessed needs to be part of the planning process. There needs to be a consistent and collaborative approach to what methods of assessment will ensure accurate outcomes that move pupils towards achieving their full potential.

Research suggests that formative assessment involving the pupil in their own reflection and decision making about how they can improve is highly successful. Formative assessment is a pedagogy that should be an integral part of classroom practice. Pupil participation and focused teacher interaction should lead to deeper understanding, and an opportunity to correct mistakes and change misconceptions. Formative assessment should foster the confidence to take risks and work things out.  It should form the basis of forward planning, define the curriculum content and ensure pupils can articulate how they are learning as well as what they are learning. In order for this to happen there needs to be a clearly defined policy that becomes a consistent and whole school strategy where all subjects, phases and year groups are consistent in their approach. In order to ensure this happens there are a number of actions schools can adopt,

  • Ensure the CPD strategy includes training in formative assessment strategies
  • Use opportunities to share expertise across year groups, phases, key stages and subjects
  • Access training that covers both the theory and practice of assessment that is relevant to those with different roles from senior leaders to Governors and parents
  • Reduce the burden of summative assessment and focus on assessing the deepening of knowledge and understanding of curriculum content in both the core and foundation subjects
  • Ensure the data that is collected as a result of assessment allows teachers and support staff to define the gaps in pupils’ knowledge or where they need to be challenged and stretched
  • Create a culture that ensures there is meaningful communication about assessment, how it is undertaken, its accuracy and the results that inform planning and intervention across all learning
  • Focus on how pupils learn and how they develop learning skills as part of accessing a deep, rich and broad curriculum
  • Review the school’s marking policy and testing strategies, focus on their efficacy for pupils learning and the devastating impact too much marking has on teacher well-being
  • Celebrate learning, effort and achievement in the classroom and build the confidence of pupils to take risks with their learning, tackle the unfamiliar and challenge themselves
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies and decouple pupils’ test and exam results from assessment in the classroom

Assessment is where conversations are essential, conversations with pupils, conversations between pupils and their peers, conversations between teachers within their own area of expertise and across the curriculum, conversations with support staff and conversations with parents.  These conversations will deepen with the use of highly effective coaching strategies for everyone from leaders to teachers, support staff and pupils.

We have two courses looking specifically at assessment,

  • Formative Assessment across the Primary Curriculum- Planning, questioning and collaborating for learning
  • Formative Assessment across the Secondary Curriculum – Planning, questioning and collaborating for learning

Start with the relevant course above and then create a coaching culture choosing the right coaching course for different members of staff including leaders, managers, teachers, support staff and pupils. Have a look at the Coaching in Education section on our website.

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How to ensure the curriculum delivers positive learning outcomes for lower and higher achiever

All pupils should have access to a curriculum that supports them to achieve their full potential. It should challenge those who show promise who are perhaps not working to their full capacity, it should stretch those pupils are consistently achieving above and beyond expectation and it should take account of those who need extra help or who are falling behind. Deciding who fits into which category can be a minefield and is often inaccurate.  Pupils may have what has become known as a 'spiky profile', they are good at some subjects but not at others, they are clearly bright but cannot sit still, they are simply lazy or they have a disability such as dyslexia that has not been diagnosed.

Planning a deep, rich and broad curriculum offer should include all pupils. There are several approaches that schools typically adopt, these include:

  • setting using data from previous year groups or key stages
  • mixed ability classes where differentiation is the key strategy to ensuring all pupils are learning and progressing
  • a mastery model where all pupils have the same starting point and the differentiation is a part of how well pupils access the knowledge, deepen their knowledge or need more help
  • pupils who are under-achieving are taught in separate small groups with support staff
  • vertical groupings where pupils from all ages learn independently with their age specific peers or with others who are not

Whatever the strategy the imperative is to ensure that learning takes place and pupils do not feel out of their depth or bored and not challenged. Conversations about the best approaches and opportunities to review the research are essential to the planning process.  Questions such as, 'How do we identify the higher achiever?' 'How do we make sure our current strategy is not creating a situation where the lower achiever is lost in a paradigm where a lack of learning success means they can never catch up?' 'How can we make sure there are mechanisms for collaboration to review how some higher or lower achieving learners perform better or worst in certain subjects or situations?' 'How do we communicate to all staff that every pupil has potential and we must find a way of tapping that potential?'

We have undertaken some recent research into barriers to learning and how this can affect the lower and the higher achiever.  We have incorporated some of the findings into several of our courses, join us to learn how to stretch and challenge learners at all ends of the achievement spectrum.

  • Accelerating the Learning for Higher Achieving and More Able Learners
  • Managing the Pupil Premium - Creating successful outcomes and having the evidence of impact for stakeholders
  • Mindset Matters to Unlock Learning - Creating self-belief and a culture of positivity in the classroom
  • Psychological well-being - Promoting emotional health, mindfulness and wellbeing to optimise learning and achievement
  • Coaching in the Classroom with Pupils - creating the pedagogy that delivers deep learning, fosters resilience and creates reflective and independent learners
  • Lesson Study - Enhancing learning through professional collaboration and enquiry

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Why literacy and numeracy are the key drivers in developing a learning curriculum

Reading, writing, speaking and listening are the ways we communicate.  Without them we cannot learn. It is, therefore, essential that it is these skills that form the cornerstone of curriculum planning. There needs to be a sound understanding of how these skills are taught in the early stages of learning and how pupils build on these skills as they move through year groups and key stages. There should be a clearly defined continuum of learning so that all teachers are able to assess how pupils are becoming competent in their use of literacy skills in English lessons where they are developing the skills and in other subject or topic learning where they are using the skills to access knowledge and are learning how to make sense of that knowledge. It is, perhaps, easier to do this in the primary phase where the same teacher may be teaching a history topic that requires the use of good sentence structure and paragraph formation. In the secondary school it is not so easy where different subject teachers have no real understanding of how the skills their pupils are using to access knowledge are taught as concepts in English.

We need to also focus on numeracy and how numeracy skills are an integral part of learning across many other subjects or themes. In the same way it is important that pupils gain the basic skills of counting, calculating and measuring but it is equally important that they know how to apply these skills across other topics or subjects. 

There needs to be opportunities for dialogue around this subject. Where there are cross-curricular or cross-phase conversations about how literacy and numeracy skills are taught and how they are applied in learning in different contexts it is much more likely that teachers will make explicit reference to how the skills taught in English and Maths are applied in the context of learning elsewhere.  Pupils begin to make connections and are more likely to know which skill they need to use to tackle a specific problem or find the answer to a given question. 

Developing a robust, deep and rich curriculum must ensure literacy and numeracy have a high profile and that all teachers have a good understanding of where these skills are integral to the teaching of other topics or subjects. We have developed some outstanding practice exploring this key area of curriculum planning, below is a list of some good practice examples,

  • Create curriculum maps that define where numeracy and literacy skills are integral to the learning in subjects other than Maths and English
  • Use CPD time in twilights or staff meetings so that staff from across different phases and subjects can focus on how they teach certain concepts in the context of subject or topic learning
  • Arrange for subject teachers to observe how Maths or English is taught in a different subject or year group
  • Make sure that all staff have access to the Maths and English programmes of study from their own key stage and the one before so that they can see where the concepts being taught in Maths and English can be applied in their own subject or area of work
  • Give teachers an opportunity to use lesson study to observe how deepening pupils' literacy and numeracy skills can impact on learning
  • Create a uniform scheme of work proforma for all subjects that highlights the core skills of literacy and numeracy pupils will use in order to access the subject knowledge
  • Provide time for team teaching where an English or a Maths teacher works with say a Science specialist to identify and teach the numeracy element of the subject matter

Above are some of the wealth of outstanding practice that forms the basis of our training programmes linked to this vital area of curriculum planning.

  • Mastery and Deeper Learning in Literacy and Numeracy across the Primary Curriculum
  • Embedding Literacy and Numeracy in subject specific contexts across the secondary curriculum- Policy into Practice
  • Literacy is the Language of Learning - Enhancing the role of the Literacy Co-ordinator
  • Making Number Count Across the Curriculum -Enhancing the role of the Numeracy Co-ordinator

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Thinking and learning skills, metacognition and knitting learning together

If we put learning at the heart of every goal we set and through professional coaching conversations we focus on how our pupils learn, how we learn and how our colleagues learn we will build a culture that celebrates what works well, identifies what needs to change and allows us to reflect on the impact our teaching has on how well pupils deepen their knowledge and make progress.

Identifying the pedagogies that we use in the classroom is important. The craft of teaching is a gift. However, if we don’t look carefully to how successfully our teaching fosters learning it is difficult to assess for progression, plan next steps and focus on how we can stretch and challenge pupils to achieve more.  Planning a curriculum that is a continuum of learning and that can be delivered effectively and consistently across all subjects, phases and key stages must be anchored to a deep understanding of how pupils learn and how the pedagogy that is used to foster deep learning has an impact for the pupil and for the class as a whole. 

Focusing on learning as part of the planning process can be highly beneficial but does require opportunities for teachers to share in deep professional conversations about the efficacy of their classroom strategies.  A good starting point is to focus on the following questions

  • How does the content of the curriculum link with what learners are interested in?
  • How do we explicitly help pupils to learn concepts that will support them to deepen their knowledge?
  • How do we create opportunities for pupils to make connections with what they have learnt elsewhere?
  • How do we promote the use of higher-level thinking skills that deepen learning?
  • How much opportunity is there for pupils to share their ideas and work well in groups?
  • How meaningful is what is being planned and taught to learners’ own experiences and existing knowledge?
  • How can we create the right strategies that ensure all curriculum content is building on prior learning?
  • How do we create opportunities for pupils to talk about their learning and be able to say how they are learning as well as what they are learning?
  • How much time do we give to making sure that pupils understand what they hear and comprehend what they read?

Make sure that with every plan and every decision made, whatever it is about, there is a link to learning. There is some serious research that suggests it makes an outstanding difference! 

Designing a CPD strategy that will enhance what works well and support all staff to be a part of positive change

The secret of success is positive collaboration, deep learning conversations and giving every member of staff an opportunity to share in the vision for how the curriculum is designed and delivered. There are several strands running through this newsletter all linked to what will create a cohesive curriculum built on learning, the deepening of knowledge and acquisition of the skills that allow pupils to access that knowledge.  The most powerful way to ensure that this happens is to put coaching at the heart of ongoing continuing professional development.  Learning how to coach has proven benefits for leaders who learn a range of influencing skills that empower others to change and grow in their role.  Middle leaders have a pivotal role in disseminating the vision and creating the strategy that will allow teams to deliver that vision. Coaching enhances their leadership skills and helps them to ensure their teams have the relevant information and resources to see it through.  Teachers and support staff need time and opportunities to share their practice learn from each other and deepen their skills and knowledge in relation to how well their teaching strategies and planning for learning impact on progression, improvement and achievement. 

Coaching is a powerful pedagogy, all those involved in change will benefit from the use of a range of coaching skills in helping them to embrace new ideas as well as focusing on what they already do well and how they can build from there.  Everything that has been written about changes to the how schools plan, implement and assess their curriculum offer can be overlaid onto a coaching model. Coaching is about positive conversations, it is about using highly effective questioning and listening skills to empower others to find their own solutions. It is non-judgemental non-directive and leads everyone involved towards solutions focused outcomes that are part of a culture of success. There has never been a better time to embrace coaching and reflect on your curriculum, what is working well and what you might change to enhance its quality, efficacy and opportunities for learner success.

Start a coaching journey by having a look at our Coaching in Education section on our website.

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  •  If you haven't already, make sure you join the Chartered College of Teaching. I am very impressed with their journal IMPACT especially edition 4 which focuses on curriculum matters. They also have access to a wide range of research material. We now have Chartered Status and this is our 'institute' so please make sure you become a member.
  • John Whitmore has a new edition of his book about coaching which has been updated and expanded. It is called Coaching for Performance - The principles and practice of coaching and leadership
  • The Coaching Habit - Say less, ask more and change the way you lead forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. The title says quite a lot and the book has some good tips.
  • Curriculum Development by Bill Boyce and Marie Charles, one of few reasonably up to date books about curriculum design
  • I have mentioned this before but if you missed it, it is worth a read The Curriculum - Gallimaufry to coherence by Mary Myatt. Gallimaufry - a confused jumble or medley of things!!
  • Knowledge and the Curriculum - a series of essays from the Policy Exchange that shape thinking about skills and knowledge

I am reading The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers.  It is a true story about the changes to the West Yorkshire landscape as industrialisation takes over. A group of men are making counterfeit coins and attempting to destroy the economy whilst helping the poor.  It is interesting albeit challenging especially the bits written in a quant badly spelt English.

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  • Action on exclusion - The Education Secretary confirmed that he is considering plans to ensure that schools are accountable for excluded pupils
  • Exam performance. A range of provisional data for this year’s exams including performance in Progress 8, the EBacc and English and maths has been published by DfE
  • Personal guidance. The Careers and Enterprise Company announced the first wave of recipients to receive funding under a scheme launched in May to support and share best practice in personal careers guidance in schools and colleges with a further bidding round open until the end of November
  • ASCL have announced that they are creating a new commission to look at the way to recognise achievement for young people achieving below a Grade 5 GCSE in English
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company and Tate and Nottingham University have published a survey linked to the impact of the arts on young people
  • A major new scheme has been launched looking into how to support young people who are leaving care
  • Certainly not much policy for schools especially primary schools. We will keep posting new policy as it emerges

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