Aim: To maintain a Key Stage 4 curriculum that would allow the diverse student population to progress and succeed in both traditional examined and vocational courses.
Background: Results were rising year-on-year and students were engaged in their learning. However, changes in curriculum, driven by national initiatives, resulted in vocational courses being dropped or changed significantly, making them less suitable for students across the ability range.
Method: Year 1: Progress levels made by all students across Key Stage 4 were measured. A working group of staff volunteers was set up, incorporating teaching and support staff with varying degrees of experience but a genuine interest in the lost art of curriculum design. Recognising that very few would have had first-hand experience of designing a curriculum structure, this group moved from an opening session entitled “What is the main objective of any curriculum model?” to advanced curriculum design. Analysis of the current curriculum, together with interviews with staff, students and parents gave the team a real feel for what was required. They teamed up with Whole Education to look at curriculum design in more detail and make links with other schools on similar journeys.
Year 2: Team members made a number of visits to Whole Education partner schools. Different curriculum models were examined in depth, reports were written up and advantages and disadvantages were explained to the rest of the team. From this a list of key objectives emerged and the curriculum model started to take shape. The design process was completed with the team spending a long weekend at a hotel, piecing together a final proposal that was presented to the headteacher. The curriculum was subsequently costed, modelled and put to timetable.
Year 3: The curriculum was rolled out in September 2015. Students, staff and parents were all introduced to it in a structured way. It was well received, with all parties stating that they were happy with the offer and with the delivery methodology. The curriculum allows students choice and flexibility whilst ensuring depth of study.
Evidence: Staff and student questionnaires.
Impact: Whilst some of the concepts involved were fairly radical (mixing year groups on a course, extended periods of learning and the introduction of ‘foundation’ courses and one-year GCSEs), parents welcomed all changes with almost no resistance. Staff members across the experience range who had never before been involved in curriculum design were fully immersed within this project. This in itself was valuable CPD for all members of staff. The ‘foundation’ courses appeared to be a complete success. These fell into two categories: either a) non-exam courses which could lead to further more formal studies at a later stage, e.g. the Eco course for Year 9 Geographers or b) alternative accredited courses capable of standing alone, e.g. the Jamie Oliver Food course.
Reflections: It took time to evaluate what we already had in place, what research models were already in existence and to detail their strengths and weaknesses, particularly putting these in the context of our students. Finally a solution was tweaked and adjusted until the working team was happy to deliver this to the rest of the staff; ownership was complete. The support and assistance of Whole Education was instrumental in informing our offer; we learned from the relative strengths and weaknesses of models implemented in other schools. Experience to date has demonstrated that students are not picking up the ‘foundation’ courses in the numbers anticipated. This is down to parental pressure to pick exam-board accredited courses and a perception that ‘non-academic’ equates to ‘of little value’. Yet where students have picked these courses, they have been incredibly well received, and we are working on marketing these courses better for the next academic year.
Contact: Tony Ryan, Headteacher, firstname.lastname@example.org