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“Every child will have an opportunity to find the thing that they love about learning”: How one school is reshaping its curriculum vision

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Date published 27 March 2024

Last updated 27 March 2024

How can schools develop a curriculum that reflects the whole child? That is the question Stevie Devlin, Interim Vice Principal at Bursted Wood Primary School in Bexleyheath, is asking.

Stevie began the Curriculum for Senior Leaders programme with Ambition Institute in June 2023. Since then, the school has been reshaping its approach to curriculum to better represent the pupil voice and use it as a platform for success that serves the needs and talents of every child.

“Our achievement for year six pupils was really good, so we knew that they were in a good place ready for secondary school,” Stevie says. But the school wanted to know how well the curriculum was serving pupils on a deeper level. “Are these children able to make friends? Are they able to engage in conversations with their peers?” he wondered.

The programme inspired Stevie and the senior leadership team to think more widely about the purpose of education, and it led to some realisations.

“It's not about results as an outcome, it's about social justice development, intrinsic value and the different ways to build character and prepare pupils for the workplace, and how our curriculum reflects that.”

“We've been able to come up with a really strong curriculum vision now, in addition to doing research and work with other schools on the programme around our curriculum development and teaching approaches,” Stevie says. A key part of that journey has been actively reviewing and developing the school’s curriculum to grant pupils a bigger voice and a greater stake in their futures.

A boy and girl reading

Developing a good curriculum offer into an ambitious one

Bursted Wood Primary is a three-form-entry academy which takes pupils from outer London and Kent, with a mix of backgrounds and experiences. Like most schools, the aftermath of the Covid pandemic was one of the factors that forced the school’s senior leaders to rethink their approach to curriculum.

It was clear that a new set of challenges was arising. “We found that children’s communication and language, interaction with others, and routines and resilience were areas that we needed to build up again. All of those things are really important to embed as a whole-school approach across the curriculum,” Stevie says.

Around the same time, the school had an Ofsted inspection. “We felt that our curriculum offer was quite strong already. Results-wise, we are high performing,” Stevie explains. “However, Ofsted saw that our curriculum was good but needed a bit more development with some subjects.”

This encouraged the school’s senior leadership team to focus on developing the whole child through a varied curriculum. “We wanted to make sure that we had an exceptional curriculum to offer the pupils outside of core subjects, valuing every subject.”

As they began to think about what this exceptional curriculum offer would look like, Stevie, who was Assistant Headteacher at the time with responsibility for teaching and learning, attended a free webinar on the Curriculum for Senior Leaders programme run by Ambition.

“I went to the webinar thinking that it might just affirm that what we were doing was right, but I came back and said to our headteacher, ‘there's a lot more scope for us to improve this offer than I felt previously’.”

After the webinar, Stevie enrolled on the 18-month programme. It has already given him and the senior leadership team the confidence to move towards an evidence-informed strategic approach to curriculum design and implementation, rather than making decisions based on individual preferences.

“It's such a comprehensive programme,” Stevie says, “that we're able to dig into the specifics of why we are making these decisions on design and delivery. We are really thinking about making it work for our children and our community and feeling more power to be able to do that.”

“Previously,” Stevie says, “we were taking things from the national curriculum and working through it.” However, the school was keen to continue developing an ambitious approach across its curriculum. Now, their motivation was to ask: “What are we putting in place as a whole curriculum offer so that all children can feel a sense of success and achievement?”

Boy playing the drums

Building the whole child: curriculum that supports resilient, active learners

This research-led professional development has given Stevie and the school the framework to inspire and implement their vision. “We read about how Emily Style [academic and educator] said curriculum should be a window and a mirror, which I've used in our curriculum intent statement. We want our children to see themselves in the curriculum, but also to be able to see other points of view in it.”

“One of the things we're working on is helping our pupils become more active learners and developing those skills of resilience, oracy and problem-solving.”

An approach the school is taking to enhance pupil engagement with the curriculum is by considering “how we make those lessons more interactive rather than just following a set formula of pedagogical teaching about how we deliver lessons.”

One example is getting pupils to act out rather than simply write about topics they are studying. “You can see that they've understood something in different ways and that it is embedding in long-term memory better. We've just had some staff meetings where we've reflected on what the learning looks like across the curriculum now and we can see that pupils are making stronger links. They are remembering more of their prior learning and they're able to talk about the learning in a clearer way.”

As well as the core skills that pupils need to prepare them for secondary education, the senior leadership team looked at their PSHE curriculum to see where they could empower and engage pupils further.

“We've got pupil leadership for the year six pupils to support with break times, initiating games and supporting with some of the younger children to do drawing, reading or football at lunchtimes.”

The school has also implemented an eco-warrior group and is in the process of implementing a pupil parliament where “children can vote for the things that they think are important for them in school.”

A boy and girl playing football

A curriculum for success in every subject

The leadership team at Bursted Wood know that curriculum development is an ongoing process. Now that the school has a wider curriculum vision in place, staff are turning their attention to developing each subject – and they have made a strong start already.

The school recently made changes to the art curriculum to make sure that progression is clearer and that it focuses on the required skills and knowledge for each stage. Feedback from pupils and teachers shows that “those subjects that have undergone more immediate changes this academic year have been mentioned as subjects that pupils are really enjoying.”

So how does Stevie see the curriculum developing further?

“When we've got this embedded, I’d like to walk into a room and be able to tell from the philosophy and the approach that it's a history lesson compared to a science lesson. I’d like to see that the children are engaged differently, that it's not just the same classroom, the same type of learning, just different content.”

Rethinking their curriculum doesn’t just have benefits in better representing the whole child. It reflects a whole-school approach to nurturing more engaged, active and high-achieving learners.

“Our end goal is that the offer we have in place is as strong for our whole curriculum as it is for high achievement in maths and English,” Stevie says. “If our children find a real interest in history, then they have an opportunity to excel and to find the next step. Equally, if they don't, our goal is that they're still given quality education in that area so that they're able to carry it on in secondary school.”

Above all, the school’s aim is that “every child will have an opportunity to find the thing that they love about learning, and to a high level.”

Could your school benefit from rethinking its curriculum approach? Find out more on the Curriculum for Senior Leaders programme page.

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