The central principles underpinning our approach to the curriculum at Colyton are:
* Academic coherence
* Knowledge rich
* Stretch and challenge for all
* Partnership centred
* Empowering for an unpredictable future
1. Academic coherence comes from paying attention to the big ideas, concepts and themes that underpin each curriculum area; not just focusing on the details of content that have to be delivered. Mary Myatt (2018) has focused on the issue of building curriculum coherence as an essential prerequisite to avoiding a fragmented and piecemeal approach to difficult concepts. The principle of big ideas is important as it helps students to see, what Dylan Wiliam (2013) has termed, the connectedness of the whole curriculum. At a school level, this involves conversations with all colleagues about the curriculum map, for academic coherence is not just down to members of the SLT; all teachers are ‘curriculum makers’ (Lambert 2014) in that their pedagogical strategies vary so much. For example, they must consider the balance between breadth and depth; idea sequencing; factual and conceptual knowledge and the choice of texts. In other words, the school curriculum is imbued with a sense of meaning. All this comes before planning lessons and the gathering of resources to deliver the curriculum in classrooms.
2. As Christine Counsell, Director of Education at The Inspiration Trust has said, ‘Curriculum is all about power’, in the sense that decisions about what knowledge to teach is significant in shaping future attitudes, ideas and actions. However, not all knowledge is the same, for whilst substantive knowledge may be defined as established fact, disciplinary knowledge is more about what students learn about how the knowledge was established; its degree of certainty and how it continues to be revised by scholars. In other words, as Michael Young (2014) has pointed out, knowledge is powerful ‘if it predicts, if it explains, if it enables you to envisage alternatives’. Young suggests ‘powerful knowledge’ is specialised knowledge that takes students beyond their own experience, and in so doing, promotes their social mobility. Consequently, the traditional knowledge vs skills debate can be seen as a red herring as it is impossible to meaningfully develop one without the other. The acquisition of knowledge allows students to manipulate it; analyse, evaluate and extrapolate. Knowledge is not an end in itself; rather it is the means to an end, offering students the opportunity to argue, hypothesise and model. In this sense the Colyton curriculum is personalised, helping all to move from foundation to developing, and then on to security and excellence. It is perhaps important in this context to focus on the integrity of subject-specific subject knowledge as a means of providing clarity for students. The recent move to single sciences at Colyton is perhaps one example of this, with students in Year 7 now articulating discrete scientific concepts with confidence.
The Colyton curriculum is indeed a knowledge-rich curriculum. A curriculum that provides both breadth and depth. We agree with Tom Sherrington (2018) that we want, ‘children to have more than a general sense of a topic through vaguely remembered knowledge encounters….we want them to amass a body of declarative and procedural knowledge – not ad hoc but planned.’
3. The Colyton approach with its able disadvantaged students ensures that, what Michael Young (2015) has termed ‘the hidden cultural subsidy’ of the middle class, is mitigated thereby ensuring high achievement for all. One example of this is the way we help all students, but
particularly those with limited resources at home, to embed their knowledge. Regular retrieval practice is important because active retrieval aids later retention (Roediger et al 2011). Later questions re-engage students with content from previous units, thereby building in spaced retrieval. Hence our knowledge-rich curriculum embraces ideas from cognitive science about memory, forgetting and the power of retrieval practice. That is why at Colyton we consciously build in spaced retrieval practices; formative low-stakes testing and plenty of repeated practice for automaticity and fluency. The Learning Skills curriculum certainly has a role here as marginal gains can have a disproportionate impact, as evidenced by Mannion & Mercer (2016), especially again for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Hence our focus on meta-cognition (reflecting on learning); self-regulation (students taking ownership of the learning process) and oracy (developing effective spoken language skills).
The positive learning environment at Colyton reinforces the quality of our curriculum experience. Enhanced by material resources including well maintained grounds, buildings and equipment, coupled with human resources such as small class sizes, specialist subject teachers and extra-curricular facilities in sports and the arts, the Colyton student has every opportunity to thrive and succeed.
4. The Royal Society of Arts has put forward the idea of an ‘area based curriculum’ – one that enhances the educational experiences of children by creating rich connections with the communities around us. Hence we take our partnerships with local organisations and wider national institutions very seriously. Our intention is to develop a research-informed curriculum and a reflective professional community that takes nothing for granted. Working in partnership, for example with Exeter University, SSAT, the Chartered College of Teaching and local schools, we aim to become research generating and questioning of not just our school but the educational world beyond. We want everything about Colyton’s curriculum to be no less than world class.
5. In considering the key question, are our students ready for the world they are going into, it is important to reference the traditional curriculum argument, highlighted most recently by Martin Robinson (2018); to what extent is our approach to the curriculum utopian i.e. driven by what is right and good, or utilitarian and thereby driven by the needs of business and industry. In the best sense it is an amalgam of both strands with a clear focus on higher order thinking and problematising at its core.
At Colyton our intention is that the curriculum prepares our students for their next steps into higher education and the workplace. For example our focus on STEAM in the curriculum and in the co-curricular provides students with the knowledge and skills to progress into areas of engineering, medicine and science. The publication, ‘Engineering UK – The State of Engineering’ published in 2017 placed an emphasis on developing skills found in science, mathematics and computer science. The Royal Society argues that, “Science is at the heart of modern life and essential to understanding the world. Along with Mathematics and computing, it equips young people to prosper in today’s rapidly changing, knowledge-focused economies’. Our curriculum is constructed to promote appropriate STEAM subjects and to ensure that as many students as is fitting continue with these subject until A level. In 2018, 34% of students in Year 13 took A Level Physics; 25% of girls in the Year 13 sat A level Physics and 39.39% of boys took Physics. Compared with national figures for state co-educational schools of 1.8% for girls and 10% for boys and even if you compare with independent single sex schools Colyton figures are impressive as those centres equate to 7.9% of girls and 19.1% of boys. Colyton is certainly preparing students for future jobs and the school sis certainly living up to the ideal stated by the Wellcome Trust which continues to want, “more students to study more science for longer”.
Our belief is that our curriculum should be about widening and developing our knowledge and skills in life. The Co-curricular programme is extensive; it aims to provide challenge and opportunity for exploration and for the application of knowledge. STEAM co-curricular activities are core to this ideal. Active participation in Mathematics and Science Olympiads, Vex Robotics competitions, BEBRAS Computational Thinking Challenge, Engineering Club and the F1 in Schools competition are all fantastic examples of applying curriculum knowledge in a ‘real world’ context. In addition, drop down days provide time for complex issues and skills to be learnt and applied in a problem solving context. The ‘STEAM’ Days will be constructed in partnership with local and national industries providing students with opportunities to learn from experts in their fields. In STEAM week 2018/19, it is planned that businesses such as Dyson, The RAF and individuals such as Professor Steve Simpson will work with students and teachers. As Sir Richard Livingstone stated; “‘The test of successful education is not the amount of knowledge that students take away from school, but their appetite to know and their capacity to learn’.
In addition to the importance of STEAM subjects we must recognise the need to develop a curriculum that is rich with the study of international languages. In a post-Brexit UK the need to avoid a culture of isolationism and nationalism is very important. The study of languages is shunned by many schools due to a perception of subject difficulty and assumed irrelevance to the post school student. However, we know that effective communication and cultural intelligence are valuable assets to anyone in society and the students at Colyton Grammar School are eager to embrace the challenge of acquiring language proficiency. Consequently, we insist that our students fully embrace the English Baccalaureate either taking French, German or Spanish to GCSE level and then to offer these subjects to enrich our post -16 provision. Indeed it is our intention to further enhance the suite of languages through the offer of GCSE Latin and GCSE Mandarin. We aim to become the centre of language provision in the South West building on our links with the Goethe Institut and developing new links via international partnerships both in Europe and in China. To develop a love of languages it is vital that a positive learning environment is created where students feel safe to learn from their mistakes. Also, it is an area of the curriculum that will benefit from the pedagogical focus on retrieval practice, interleaving and spaced practice.
6. We aim to ensure that our students leave as people who are intellectually and emotionally prepared for higher education and the world of work. The academic curriculum provides one side of this aim but we also strive to support the development of the physical and mental wellbeing of bot students and staff.
We have developed a Well- Being strategy in partnership with Early Help for Mental Health. Our aim is to equip students with the skills and strategies needed to deal with the normal and not so normal ups and downs of life. As Sir Anthony Seldon argues; “The aim of education should be to help bring up young people, with all their various aptitudes developed, to set them on the road to discovering their unique contribution to life, and to live harmoniously in their own skin and with other people”.
The Well-Being strategy takes the form of direct instruction through the PSHE programme. As part of the Wellbeing content students are taught lessons about resilience and mental health. The focus of the lessons is providing practical strategies that students can use to deal with challenges, to recognise how to maintain good mental health and how to recognise signs that
factors are negatively impacting their mental health. The programme in each year group develops prior learning and are contextualised for the relevant Key Stage.
In addition to this element we have worked in partnership with EH4MH to deliver the Living Life to the full programme. This programme is aimed at encouraging students to recognise negative thoughts and worries before they have an impact on day to day activities and provides strategies that students can use to address challenges they may face. The programme, which consists of a sequence of eight lessons, is based upon CBT techniques. We have found that this programme is most effectively delivered to students by their peers who are able to apply relevant contexts to the content that makes it relatable.
Wellbeing cannot be taught in isolation and the whole school community must remain truthful and consistent to the values that underline good mental health. Consequently, we begin and end each day with wellbeing and character development at the core of our curriculum.
For the last five minutes of the day the whole school participates in reflection time. Our Mental Health Ambassadors devise a programme of activities for the week that are designed to stop staff and students from thinking about work and to give them time to focus on the positive aspects of their day. This allows students to leave lessons feeling calm and positive and as we know, “Brilliant things happen in calm minds”.
We are actively promoting the practice of mindfulness to our students. Definitions of mindfulness and examples of how to become mindful have been introduced by tutors. One morning of each week is dedicated to practising mindfulness and may involve participating in a guided meditation, focussing on breathing or colouring.
In conclusion, our curriculum and our pedagogical approach creates an academic school, an inspiring and enjoyable place of learning and scholarship. It is a school that supports its students to develop resilience and the skills to meet the challenges of life. It is a school that allows our students to recognise their future pathways and goals and supports their progression to their next steps; to become the future leaders who will have the courage and integrity to uphold moral values, serve and inspire others and be leaders in their families, communities and internationally.