We do not leave what children may or may not have the opportunity to learn to chance. We know that knowledge begets knowledge and the ability to make links, think critically and to be creative all stem from knowledge of a given area. If this knowledge is to be carefully built upon, year on year, we cannot leave it to whim or preference – it must be carefully curated. Therefore, we must be very clear about what it is that we want to ensure children know and can do, and we design our delivery of this to ensure that they not only experience
or come across it, but that they remember it. Our curriculum entitlement is for ALL of our children – we do not design a richer curriculum for some than others.
If the curriculum is defined as in our first principle, then as a progression model, assessment of this curriculum must inform us clearly about what it is that children have or haven’t learnt and, furthermore, it must both demand of us and support us to do something about what we know.
Formative assessment and responsive teaching are at the heart of effective teaching, so must be central to every lesson. Summative assessment must be as valid as possible, i.e. it must tell us what we think we think it does. Trying to give a child a number or level, for example, on their performance in geography over a term doesn’t tell us much about what that child does or doesn’t know (or can/can’t do). But, saying they have learnt the curriculum or not (and where any gaps may be) tells us what we might need to do and places the burden of ‘proof’ back where it should be: on the curriculum.
Again, a well-planned curriculum will allow this to happen as we decide what it is exactly that we must ensure children know and can do in order to progress and to build upon this knowledge. As the curriculum develops for EYFS to Y13, the subject leader must be the custodian of the curricular content and must have an understanding of how well children across the school are learning their subject.
Again, the “all” is very important here. We strive to maintain as much of this as possible for all children, removing barriers, rather than differentiating expectations.
When we think about adapting curriculum for the children we teach, we can get bogged down in “relevance”. Michael Young described powerful knowledge, however, as context-independent. It is knowledge that has been built up over centuries and which has been passed on and developed from generation to generation. It is our duty to share this knowledge with our children and not to allow their individual contexts to determine what they are entitled to. This means that children are not limited to the confines of their personal experience but that aspects of the world that might otherwise be unknown are opened up to them.
Or to put it another way, we don’t inadvertently trap children in the domain of their experience where their experience outside of school limits what we expose them to. This is the true scourge of ‘relevance’.
Of course, we must consider prior experience and context if we are to also to specify what we want to emphasise and ensure the curriculum is accessible to all our pupils, but it shouldn’t be a limit.
Powerful knowledge, like cultural capital, does not just mean ‘trips’ (although it certainly can include trips) but what literature, art, science, music and mathematics (and more) that we choose to expose our children to. This is the subject of debate in many subject communities and should be in ours, for time is limited.
We must never apologise for what we teach children as we are exposing them to the beauty of what we know about the world around them and inviting them to stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before them in story of mankind.
Each subsection here should take considerable unpicking on its own – particularly for school leaders. One thing that must be clear is that, as teachers, we must be mindful of the novice to expert journey, so we begin not with a hope that children will discover something, but with direct instruction which over significant time fades to independent application in a carefully structured and responsive teaching sequence. If there is room for discovery (and it is usually later than we think) it follows a significant level of understanding.
Point 1 – applies to individual lessons as well as units. Examples include breaking learning down into small steps, techniques such as “I do, we do, you do,” and providing scaffolds such as stem sentences. We must always know what you want children to be able to know/say/do by the end of the lesson or unit otherwise we are just planning activities, not learning. We should not be activity-led.
Point 2 – determine the frequency of retrieval practice and be explicit about when and how this takes place. Teacher subject knowledge is important – it is important this knowledge is specified and shared with colleagues (e.g. calculation policy in primary maths). Ensure that concepts are taught in the same way across the school – at secondary this can be harder. Subject leaders should look at examples of work across the year groups to check that knowledge is well-sequenced. How can teachers know (and check) what has gone before (what children should be secure with) and how what they are teaching contributes to the bigger curricular picture?
Point 3 – Fidelity to lesson design can be crucial (if using pre-written scheme which has planned for this e.g. Sounds-Write, PKC or Direct Instruction scripts). Plan and embed opportunities for retrieval practice. All staff in the classroom need to understand the prerequisite knowledge, core knowledge and where the learning leads to next.
Point 4 – Ensure that knowledge is clear and built into progression documents. Cross-curricular links are made and understood where they benefit and embed learning but not forced. This is also where teachers and subject leaders need to work together, not independently of each other. This ensures cohesion and that subject leaders are empowered and knowledgeable such that they can support teachers to explore and develop cross-curricular links.
Point 5 – Formative assessment techniques are used to ensure that misconceptions are addressed swiftly. Any assessment must tell us what we need to know and lead to action. If it doesn’t, something isn’t working! This could be the assessment itself or the practice around the assessment. Children are rehearsed in routines that allow them to use their knowledge and discuss it through the lesson sequence. Consider how we might use our knowledge organisers to support this. Plan for likely misconceptions, considering examples (common and abstract) and non-examples. Children need opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways. Teachers (and children!) understand the purpose of their assessments, both formative and summative. Leaders (and other stakeholders e.g. governors/parents) understand what they can and cannot infer from summative data.
Point 6 – All staff (including support staff) involved in educating children must be included in training in order that staff teams grow together in building robust, collective practice that is coherent for children and allows staff to develop. CPD should be carefully planned (linking to Development Plans) and revisited regularly, and implementation monitored, sustained and embedded. This develops a school culture as a community of learners where training is specific and targeted, creating an ethos in school where staff feel able to ask for support and can receive this support positively. Trust-wide training is crucial to attend so that expertise be developed, and staff supported beyond individual schools.
Reading instruction is the most well-researched area of teaching, with an extensive evidence base. The evidence base, however, has not been widely shared across the profession, although this is changing. As we are committed to being evidence-informed in our practice as a Trust, we must ensure that anyone involved in the teaching of reading has the knowledge, skills and resources to teach in the ways that, collectively we have decided are our ‘best bets’ to ensure that all children leave us as fluent, able readers with positive attitudes towards reading.
This is at secondary and primary. Knowledge of this is scant at secondary where we can be ‘stuck’ in how to help pupils who are struggling with the code or in decoding tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary.
We know this to be true so we must make every effort to maximise the potential we have as a group of schools. We hold high expectations for ourselves as well as the children. This is based on the premise that we can all improve our practice, not because we are not good enough, but because we can all be better. There is much more potential for us to do this as a large body than in individual schools.
This can pose particular challenge for our primary colleagues, in that they teach such a broad curriculum that it is almost impossible to have expertise in all subjects, so we must ensure that all staff have access to what they need to know in order to deliver the best possible lessons for all areas they are required to teach.
We reject the pervasive notion that we either value the whole child or their academic achievement or that one is more important than the other. They are inextricably linked and, as schools, our mandate is to educate the children we serve.
If our children are unable to access the curriculum at secondary school or beyond, they are set up for significant future struggle and it is imperative that we recognise our role here. It is not just Year 6 or Year 11 where outcomes become important, if, as we say, we have a clear progression model for the curriculum, we need to ensure that each stage acts as preparation for the next. As well as staff understanding previous learning, we need to know what they will have to be able to know and do as they move forward; this includes the ‘learning behaviours’ they will need to access the rigorous academic curriculum they deserve.
We accept that everyone believes they have “high expectations” but that individuals describe these expectations differently.
If ‘high expectations” means different things to different people, then really it means nothing at all. Therefore, we need to codify and set out, in detail, what these are and what they look like in our schools.
For example, if we say we want children to walk around the school in a sensible manner, what does ‘sensible’ look like? If it looks different for different members of staff, then neither staff nor children will be clear about what is expected – this leads to uncertainty and, often, upset (especially for our most vulnerable children who need clear boundaries most).
It can be tempting to lower expectations to what might be easiest for children to meet but, by having the highest expectations (not just “good enough for them”), we demonstrate to children that we believe in them and what they can achieve. When tired, stressed or busy it is easy to walk past minor infringements of our expectations. But we promote what we permit – ignoring low-level disruptive behaviour or infringements in our uniform is guaranteed to see standards decline. This is of course even more so the case if it is Senior Leaders.
The culture of candour that we often talk about in our schools can help us to challenge each other to keep expectations high.
Being part of the Advantage Schools family is a really special place to work.
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If you are a school that would like to discuss joining our trust, please contact our CEO, Stuart Lock, [email protected] for an informal, confidential conversation.
If you are a school or organisation that would like to discuss working in partnership with us, please contact our CEO, Stuart Lock, [email protected] or our Director of Education, Sallie Stanton, [email protected]