Prelude to our curriculum Intent, Implementation and impact
The National Curriculum is a mastery curriculum: That is, one whereby pupils have goals (attainment targets) to meet by the end of a key stage.
Pupils should repeat the content as many times as possible across the key stage and gradually deepen their understanding. ‘Mastery’ is, therefore, not a style of teaching or a standard to meet. It is a concept of gradual deepening of understanding. The aim is not to ‘achieve’ learning in a lesson as if it is a final destination. Instead, pupils should have multiple opportunities to return to content, over time, in order to gain a growing developmental understanding.
This is based on the understanding that learning happens over time, not in a single lesson, and that lessons are just part of the process of learning in which pupils’ understanding is nudged forward towards ‘end of key stage’ goals.
As a result:
- Learning won’t be ‘achieved’ in a lesson: Understanding will be ‘advanced’.
- Lessons may have multiple objectives.
- Objectives will be repeated multiple times so that pupils understand.
- Not all aspects of the curriculum will be ‘taught’ but pupils will, nevertheless, learn all they need to learn
Every curriculum area has three essential elements.
Threshold concepts are the ‘big ideas’ that shape pupils’ thinking within each subject. The same threshold concepts will be explored in every year group and pupils will gradually increase their understanding of them. The implication here is that exploring concepts will never be complete; pupils will continue to explore them for as long as they continue to study the subject. Each subject begins with an overview of the essential characteristics pupils should develop and these form the basis for threshold concepts. An example of one of the threshold concepts in history is ‘evidence tells us about the past’. This, of course, cannot be taught in isolation: it would be abstract and meaningless to pupils. The concept must be explored within a breadth of different contexts so that it has tangibility and meaning.
Breadth of Contexts
Concepts need knowledge to make sense. Contexts give pupils subject specific knowledge with which to think about concepts. For example, pupils will use the context of the Great Fire of London to explore the concept ‘evidence tells us about the past’. They will be shown extracts from Samuel Pepys diary and will explore how an historical account gives us the knowledge of the cause and spread of the fire. The more knowledge pupils have, the better their understanding of the concepts becomes. Another benefit of knowledge is that it helps reading comprehension. A pupil with greater knowledge of the world will infer more from a text than a pupil with little knowledge, no matter how good his or her decoding skills may be.
Whilst it is only possible to explore a concept within a context, this also causes a problem for pupils: their understanding is context bound. Pupils find it difficult to transfer the concept to another situation. By providing a breadth of contexts, pupils begin to transfer the concept. They do this by comparing the new context knowledge to previously learned knowledge, the bridge being the concept. For example: if a pupil explore the concept ‘evidence tells us about the past’ through the context of the Graet Fire of London, they learn that a vital piece of evidence is that Samuel Pepys kept a diary. They then later explore the same concept in the context of The Ancient Egyptians, in which they learn that Rosetta Stone gives us evidence of the meaning of hieroglyphics.
Each subject has a suggested breadth of study which exceeds the requirements of the English National Curriculum. We also have additional breadth of study to help pupils develop cultural capital.
Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping them to engender an appreciation of human and creative achievement.
Milestones for progress
Because the threshold concepts are repeated in each year group, it is important that pupils progress in their understanding of them. Our curriculum sets out this progress in the form of three ‘Milestones’. Each Milestone contains a range of descriptors, which give more detail to be discovered within the concept. Over a two years period, pupils will become more and more familiar with these details by exploring them in a breadth of contexts. These descriptors are used as guide for teachers and are not exhaustive. They are repeated in as many different context as possible for consolidation and do not get ticked off as achieved if taught once or twice.
Our Curriculum Intent, Implementation and Impact
The breadth of our curriculum is designed with two goals in mind:
- To provide a rich ‘cultural capital’: This is the background knowledge of the world pupils need to infer meaning from what they read. It includes vocabulary which, in turn, helps pupils to express themselves in a sophisticated, mature way.
- To provide a coherent, structured, academic curriculum that leads to sustained mastery for all and a greater depth of understanding for those who are capable. This is underpinned by the four drivers our academic curriculum sets out:
- A clear list of the breadth of topics that will be covered;
- The ‘threshold concepts’ pupils should understand;
- Criteria for progression within the threshold concepts;
- Criteria for depth of understanding.
The diagram above show model of our curriculum structure:
- The curriculum breadth for each year group ensures each teacher has clarity as to what to cover. As well as providing the key knowledge within subjects, it also provides for pupils’ growing cultural capital.
- The threshold concepts are the key disciplinary aspects of each subject. They are chosen to build conceptual understanding within subjects and are repeated many times in each topic.
- Milestones define the standards for threshold concepts.
- Depth: we expect pupils in Year 1 of the milestone to develop Basic (B) understanding of the concepts and an Advancing (A) or Deep (D) understanding in Year 2 of the milestone. Phase one (Years 1, 3 and 5) in a Milestone is the knowledge building phase that provides the fundamental foundations for later application. Learning at this stage must not be rushed and will involve a high degree of repetition so that knowledge enters pupils’ long-term memory. If all of the core knowledge is acquired quickly, teachers create extended knowledge.
Nothing is learned unless it stays in pupil’s long-term memories. This does not happen, and cannot be assessed, in the short term.
Assessment, therefore answers two main questions:
- How well are pupils coping with the curriculum content?
- How well are they retaining previously taught content?
Our curriculum design is based on evidence from cognitive science; three main principles underpin it:
- Learning is most effective with spaced repetition.
- Interleaving helps pupils to discriminate between topics and aid long-term retention.
- Retrieval of previously learned content is frequent and regular, which increases both storage and retrieval strength.
In addition to the three principles, we also understand that learning is invisible in the short-term and that sustained mastery takes time.
Some of our content is subject specific, whilst other content is combined in a cross-curricular approach. Continuous provision, in the form of daily routines, replaces the teaching of some aspects of the curriculum and, in other cases, provides retrieval practises for previously learned content.
The impact of our curriculum is that by the end of each Milestone, the vast majority of pupils have sustained mastery of the content, that is, they remember it all and are fluent in it; Some pupils have a greater depth of understanding. We track carefully to ensure pupils are on track to reach the expectations of our curriculum.
Milestone descriptors are returned to, over and over, so as to help pupils explore the concepts.
Progression within each Milestone may be thought of as three stages, however, the movement from basic to deep takes two years. This means that the Milestone should be seen as having two phases:
- Phase 1- (Years 1,3 and 5) knowledge building (basic)
- Phase 2- (Years 2,4 and 6) application and depth (advancing and deep)
This is based on the principle that learning has only happened when processes and facts (knowledge) are in a pupil’s long-term memory. This takes time and repetition. The first phase of a Milestone is designed for establishing the fundamental foundations into long-term memory and that tasks and activities support this aim. The nature of tasks needs to change in the second phase of the Milestone so that pupils have appropriate challenge.
Progression towards greater depth: an example how a pupil may progress through the Milestones over a two year period using science.
Name producers, predators and prey in a food chain.
Identify patterns in the flow of energy in a food chain.
Suggest reasons why a growth in sparrow hawks might lead to a reduction in songbirds and too many insects, snails and slugs in gardens.
Describe producers, predators and prey as herbivores, carnivores or omnivores.
Demonstrate how food chains always begin with sunlight.
How are predators affected by changes in the natural environment? (generalise)
Describe energy flow in a food chain.
Explain how water is essential in a food chain.
Draw a food chain involving a mouse.