Empowering Your Staff to Build a Curriculum That Matters
Stemming the flow of talented young people out of Warrington was driver for a major reappraisal and redesign of the entire curriculum at Bruche Primary School, says Chris Jones
We wanted our children to be ‘bothered’ and to be interested in where they live.
We wanted them to develop the abilities and character they need to succeed in the jobs market in our area. Ultimately, we wanted the skills we teach our children to stay in Warrington and not shift to London, Liverpool or Manchester. We wanted to build Warrington as a city.
In order for the curriculum to have the desired impact on pupils it needed to be carefully sequenced, broad, coherent – and, most importantly, authentic. Being authentic to the area your school serves is crucial because it has to be something your whole school community will buy into.
That led to the development of a three stranded curriculum that aims to promote resilience, career pathways and an appreciation of the community in which the children live.
1. Involve staff in planning
Making sure that, from the start, teachers were involved in the planning of knowledge and skills across the school was vital.
We didn’t want our staff to feel that curriculum development and sequencing was something imposed upon them by senior leadership; we wanted it to be created by them.
We used consultants as well to support our staff on subject knowledge, planning and assessment but, fundamentally, it was driven by our staff.
We used a backwards model to construct the curriculum, which meant we started off with what we wanted the enduring learning to be.
This was led by the subject leaders, with input from staff across the MAT. For example, all the history leads got together to plan a topic which was then checked several times to make sure that the narrative was correct.
Then, as a training opportunity, we asked the subject leads to take the topic back to their own schools and deliver it to their staff.
2. Creating a coherent curriculum
Giving teachers a holistic view helped us to create a broad and coherent curriculum. The mentality used to be that if you taught in Year 2, you just needed to be very familiar with the Year 2 curriculum.
But it was important to us that a Year 2 teacher knew what children have learned in Year 1 and also what they were going to learn in Year 3 and beyond. This would help them to understand where the children came from and what they needed to know to access the next year’s work.
The holistic view was developed in a range of ways. One was to encourage teachers to get in the habit of sharing their schemes of work and teaching approaches at staff insets and meetings.
At every Tuesday afternoon meeting there is a set agenda, including an opportunity to get feedback and to reflect upon a lesson. We quickly run through the narrative of history, for example; what we’ve done that term and how each class contributes to that.
It’s a case of constantly drip-feeding to staff what learning comes before and after learning in their year group.
The majority of our teachers are also subject leaders who work together in ‘quality teams’. For example, the humanities team will consist of subject leads for geography, history and RE. They support each other in monitoring and assessing work, often spotting similar issues emerging in different subjects.
Subject leaders visit classes regularly to speak to children and monitor their learning, checking that what is being delivered in that classroom is exactly what is on their curriculum plan.
3. Ensuring consistent delivery
If we are going to spend 18 months developing a curriculum that we’ve shed blood, sweat and tears over, then we can’t have a situation where staff are deviating from the plan. There are lots of conversations between the subject leaders and teachers about ensuring the narrative stays on that straight line.
We ask our colleagues to check that the children are focused on key concepts, knowledge and skills through regular retrieval exercises. This can be done through a questionnaire or a quick whiteboard test.
If we are teaching a topic over six weeks we’ll retrieve week one’s learning at the end of week two and so on. By the time we get to week six we will retrieve learning from weeks one through to five.
By the time we get to weeks three and four there should be less emphasis on retrieving knowledge from week one because the key concepts should have stuck with the children.
4.Researching and refining our methods
Research plays a vital role in giving our teachers the chance to reflect on and revise their delivery of the curriculum.
For example, I asked our English subject leader to investigate research-backed approaches to the teaching of reading after he told me the guided reading sessions for small groups were preventing some children from reading at a greater depth. The subject leader took ownership and came back with a whole class shared reading approach recommended by the Education Endowment Foundation.
We knew that the adoption of this different approach would be a big change, but the evidence suggested that it would have an impact on progress, so we rolled it out across the whole school.
The curriculum may now be fully bedded in but that doesn’t mean the development and refinement work stops. We’ve budgeted for an artist in residence, who visits the school every Friday to work with a different class.
This allows each teacher with subject leader responsibility to leave their class for the whole day once a term to carry out monitoring visits across the school, while still getting time to observe and work with the art specialist, supporting and improving their own professional development in art.
What we learnt
- Empowering staff to take the lead, researching and recommending alternative research-based approaches, will help to deliver a high-quality curriculum true to your aims.
- Development doesn’t stop at the point of delivery. Give subject leads time away from teaching so that they can monitor curriculum delivery in other classrooms and spot any issues and success stories.
- Regular retrieval exercises will help to track the children’s grasp of key curriculum concepts – and ensure that teachers aren’t going ‘off-piste’.
- Avoiding subject and year group silos will help to deliver a coherent curriculum. Giving a Year 2 teacher an understanding of Year 1 and Year 3 curricula supports joined up thinking.
- Clearly setting out what learning you want the children to achieve as a result of a new curriculum was a great starting point.
- Involving staff from the beginning of the process increases the chances of success because they will be invested in the process. Imposing a new curriculum from above rarely works as effectively.
Chris Jones is executive headteacher of Bruche Primary School in Warrington, part of Warrington Primary Academy Trust.