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Principled approaches to curriculum in a time of rapid change

new-blog-header-1Caroline BarlowCaroline Barlow, SSAT Head of Innovation, writes…

The impact on schools’ curriculum structure of qualification reform and performance measures, combined with the current and impending budget cuts are causing school leaders to answer some critical questions.

It is near impossible under current conditions to do everything we would want or even need for our students.

However, with clear vision and careful reflection it is still possible to make sure that the choices we make keep the ship sailing in our chosen direction, no matter how choppy the waters.

It has never been more important to know our core principles and to keep them at the forefront of what we do in schools.

There are genuine questions around the choices faced by schools and the impact of those choices on different groups of students. Consideration is being given to restrictions in the curriculum offer, greater ‘guidance’ given to students who previously have had freedom to follow their interests, courses, curriculum time potentially reduced or teachers contact time increased.

It has never been more important to know our core principles and to keep them at the forefront of what we do in schools

Despite this, SSAT schools are sharing innovative and creative solutions rooted in principles that address these key questions. Among many of the possible solutions being explored, the core principles of Redesigning Schooling set out by Dylan Wiliam can be seen in:

  • thoughtful approaches to coherence and integration in models for KS4 which also give more time for ‘fat maths’ and literacy
  • enrichment, rigour and relevance through some models of vertical learning in Y7 and 8 or creative approaches to Y9
  • an acceptance that greater focus and subject expertise in fewer GCSEs might still provide the high-quality outcomes that allow students to progress.

Redesigning Schooling in Action (RSiA) case studies – available to SSAT members in the Exchange – provide a view into this practice.

Huntington School’s approach to a mastery curriculum show a 5-7 year approach to subject depth and expertise.

Canons High School’s highly personalised and vertical three-year KS4 has had stunning outcomes and they are now developing no-levels approaches to KS3 based on SOLO taxomony.

Equally, Essa Academy’s highly-personalised innovative curriculum offers choices from year 8-year 11.

Canons High School’s highly personalised and vertical three-year KS4 has had stunning outcomes and they are now developing no-levels approaches to KS3 based on SOLO taxomony

All meet the requirements for the new performance measures, are effective and efficient in delivery, and yet offer highly personalised, enriching and innovative curricula delivering the school’s vision to the huge benefit of their students.

There is a potential danger that the drive for performance measures at KS4/5 leads to KS3 becoming a forgotten landscape, instead of valuable rich training ground for the future success.

Redesigning Schooling principles echo Tim Oates’s advice to deliver ‘fewer things in greater depth’ as KS3 opens up the potential to develop literacy, numeracy and digital pedagogy alongside invaluable opportunities for student leadership and broader skills.

There is a potential danger that the drive for performance measures at KS4/5 leads to KS3 becoming a forgotten landscape, instead of valuable rich training ground for the future success

SSAT networking events have seen schools describing their developing links with KS2 to build on the new curriculum; creativity in developing models of mastery and depth learning in a world without levels and approaches that enhance knowledge and understanding in maths and technical English across all subjects.

Schools are committed to find ways to deliver the new ‘robust’ expectations without losing what is valued.

RSiA case studies highlight St Mary’s Catholic College in Blackpool whose approach to immersive ‘Dynamic Days’ deepens knowledge and understanding within enriching experiences.

Bohunt School’s innovative approach to CLIL learning shows students developing an immersive knowledge of Mandarin alongside excellence in their ‘traditional’ schooling.

The Weald School’s approaches to student leadership include peer tutoring that develops students’ confidence, trust and leadership in securing excellent outcomes in the core subjects.

Bohunt School’s innovative approach to CLIL learning shows students developing an immersive knowledge of Mandarin alongside excellence in their ‘traditional’ schooling

Shenley Brook End School developed an embedded skills-based approach long before ‘no levels’ that underpins all key stages and provides a language for academic and personal growth.

All of these case studies are packed full with interesting practice that allows the expectations and demands of the new programmes of study to be met while enhancing the important knowledge and skills that students will need for KS4, KS5 and beyond.

These schools are showing that by prioritising values and ethos, a language and framework for excellence is clear to all, paving the way for success academically and personally. Moreover, it is unique to their context and their students.

Read all RSiA case studies in the Exchange.

These schools are showing that by prioritising values and ethos, a language and framework for excellence is clear to all

However, it is the wider context of students that is raising questions. When considering, as Dylan Wiliam puts it, ‘the lived daily experience’ of schools, there is a need to balance our ethos and unique culture with the external requirements.

While expected to demonstrate their ‘British values’ and ‘character’, schools are increasingly fighting on the front line of social deprivation and austerity in its widest context.

Concerns about student’s mental health abound amidst a future of increased competition in education and employment, raised standards and tougher examination pressure.

SSAT schools passionately feel a responsibility for the whole child, not just their performance outcomes. Those working most effectively on this demonstrate the reality that this is a shared responsibility.

Concerns about student’s mental health abound amidst a future of increased competition in education and employment

Along with a priority on ethos and relationships, schools in every region are giving examples of their partnership work with other agencies and stakeholders, utilising trained staff and providing opportunity for all students to develop essential self-esteem, employability and interview skills.

The RSiA case study by Devonport High School for Boys’ outlines their entrepreneurial experiences for students, which equip them to operate successfully in any environment.

Ormiston Venture’s comprehensive approach to school leadership ensures students hold a belief and expectation that their view counts and they can make a difference – consequently they have huge impact across their school and community.

The popularity of the recent Mind the Gap conference shows how highly SSAT schools rate this area of work but its application requires deliberate thought and support balanced against other pressures.

We cannot do this on our own. We have focused recent networking conversations on the evidence from the RSiA case studies and the current issues surrounding curriculum but the core principles of Redesigning Schooling are much broader. Increasingly they are the starting point for informed strategic improvement planning as schools resist singular, reactive policy-driven responses.

Those that are committed to principled approaches, working collaboratively with others, are finding a voice to share their experiences and solutions. SSAT is collating those voices and providing a conduit for professional collaboration.

Increasingly they [Redesigning Schooling core principles] are the starting point for informed strategic improvement planning as schools resist singular, reactive policy-driven responses

There are no silver bullets and context is everything but together, over 100,000 teachers in over 2,000 SSAT member have the potential to make a difference.

I do not believe it is naive to suggest that – despite the choppy waters – there is a way through our current storm to a profession of excellence that has all the autonomy, integrity and respect we crave.

Over 100,000 teachers in over 2,000 SSAT member schools have the potential to make a difference

The Vision2040 group’s imagined paradigm for the next 25 years in education is achievable and we are seeing it emerge – what will your role be?


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