A journey to principled curriculum design – Vyners School

Don’t go back and punish the students with loads of extra work and loads of tests; we will simply lose more students if the cure is worse than the disease. Neill Cahill, Assistant Headteacher at Vyners School writes, detailing the journey to a principled curriculum design.

The journey to creating a truly transformative curriculum at Vyners School began with three things: reshaping staff PD, keeping the focus on the main thing (Teaching and Learning), and re-developing curriculum with subject leaders.

As a school, we are in a state of “restless satisfaction”. We have a holistic and well thought through approach to our curriculum and so incremental improvement is what was needed. Our PD programme changed to become something less top down and more practitioner led.

We encourage our staff to become experts in their field, through teach meets, teaching tips, TLC (T&L Community), annual conference, workshops, no admin curriculum meetings, leadership at all levels, micro inquiries, and implementing evidence-based practice. We also tailor PD through giving staff a choice of programmes to attend (and lead) across the year. We are an outward looking school networking and sharing with other schools through system leadership.

A broad and balanced curriculum is underpinned by the tenets of excellent teaching and learning. We stripped back a lot of unnecessary reporting and administration to allow teachers to focus on the main thing. We did not overload teachers with lots of new initiatives, instead allowing often a single focus for an academic year (or “Golden Thread”); previous examples have been oracy, questioning and word power. Our current teaching and learning model is excEPTional teaching (Explain, Practice, Test). All too often in teaching a faddish focus is promoted for a while but never given time to embed. We have a constant cycle of planning, implementing, reviewing, and embedding to ensure a culture develops.

Our middle leaders are the key to a transformative curriculum. We worked with subject leaders to determine their intent. Questions were asked to determine the core principles and key skills of being a scholar of their subject, for example: what would a geographer, a scientist or a linguist need to know by the end of their school career to be successful at university in that particular field? Core subjects were asked to think about the most crucial knowledge and skills in their KS3 curriculum as if they were an options subject and students would drop it after Year 8. The answers to these big questions helped inform the intent.

Mapping out assessments and planning for meaningful feedback opportunities rather than planning for data drops enabled a greater focus on the nature of assessment itself. The school has embraced alternatives to endless red penning such as Google Mote (verbal feedback), low stakes tests (through a range of physical and virtual platforms), whole class feedback, Pre-ACT in pencil and Re-ACT in green pen by students.

The ‘Learning Journey’, initially created here at Vyners and then shared nationally with schools, is a map through the seven-year student experience at the school. Students understand the expectation of them as a Vyners student goes beyond mere engagement in the classroom curriculum. In addition to this, Subject Leaders worked to build in a Supercurriculum to complement what was done in class and in home learning/lesson ready. The aims of the Supercurriculum are to increase students’ cultural capital, help them make wise choices with their free time, and to support parents in helping their children improve outside of the classroom.

As we move forward in navigating the recovery from the pandemic, our work on a truly great curriculum offer will stand us in good stead. Rather than knee jerk responses such as Saturday schools, extended school days or holiday catch-up – which signal a race to the bottom in terms of teachers’ pay and conditions – we will be playing the long game, trusting in teachers to identify, adapt and teach excellent lessons.

Don’t go back and punish the students with loads of extra work and loads of tests; we will simply lose more students if the cure is worse than the disease. Re-enliven learning and address the right gaps. Having a principled curriculum in place will serve as a foundation not just for recovery but for future success.

Quality assuring curriculum provision – a workshop for senior and middle leaders

Leaders at all levels need to be confident in articulating the rationale behind the choices that have been made and their judgements about the quality of provision. Designed for both middle leaders and senior leaders, the online workshop is with Alex Galvin and Colin Logan on Tuesday 25 January.

Book now

Curriculum and Assessment Toolkit – Designed to support you

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