We’ve thought long and hard about curriculum design at Strand. That is because our curriculum is the sum of everything we plan to teach and everything we intend children to learn. It is the means by which children begin to see the world in more complex ways and develop scholarly habits of learning. As the substance of education, curriculum is front and centre in our school.
Our aim is for the Strand curriculum to be the best it can possibly be. It needs to serve our learners now and in the future. With this in mind we’ve fully invested in its design. By carefully fashioning our own programme of learning, we’ve created something unique to Strand that enables our children to flourish.
We’ve embraced the current focus on curriculum and have embarked upon a development process that is ambitious in scope. In some instances – maths and phonics mainly – we’ve selected a published scheme because of the wealth of structured material provided. In most cases, however, we write and resource subject curricula ourselves, drawing on the expertise of professional associations and supplementary materials to guide and enhance our planning.
The benefit for our learners is a holistic learning experience that offers quality in all of its individual elements and in the way that those elements interact and work in unison. We get to build in the depth and complexity that we know our learners can engage with, and plan the connections within and between subjects which support them in achieving that challenge.
Setting our own programme of learning has allowed us to retain valuable school traditions such as the two residential visits which act as a focal point for geography units in Years 5 and 6. We’ve also capitalised on the wealth of learning to be found locally – the Thames, Kew Gardens and the rich history of the Chiswick and Brentford area.
Most importantly, as curriculum architects we can be both responsive and innovative. We know our learners better than anyone so we’re in a prime position to adjust what we offer in order to help them succeed. As an outward facing school, we value the flexibility to make improvements, the second we discover a better way.
We’ve built our curriculum around subject disciplines so our learners benefit from the expertise that is inherent in each of these domains. This serves as a valuable introduction to the conventions that children will encounter throughout their education.
English and maths are pivotal – they’re at the core.
The subjects with a large body of knowledge form our topic structure.
Areas that need particular expertise, like PE, are taught by specialists, not class teachers, and are timetabled to allow regular skills practice.
Young minds need time and space to engage with challenging ideas, so we organise our content subjects – science (red), history (white) and geography(grey) – into half/termly topics.
This means the substance of learning can be developed in depth before children move on to something new.
The blueprint for Strand’s curriculum is the National Curriculum. We’re certain we do justice to the detail it sets out. In making the content choices open to us, we’ve been guided by these key principles in framing what we intend children to learn.
Building blocks to wider learning
As a junior school, the importance of English and maths is a given - fluency unlocks the door to everything else. Besides functional skills, we want children to learn the art and wonder of reading, writing and numbers, hence the integral place of stories, creative writing and mathematical reasoning in what we offer.
Vocabulary, concepts and connections
A constant in our curriculum is vocabulary. Developing a rich lexicon of words supports thinking about big ideas and it is these ideas that organise and connect learning. Concepts and the relationships between them help children to build webs of knowledge that keep on growing.
Our approach is to widen horizons with content that goes beyond what children encounter in the every day. Where there are choices to be made, we’ve focused on content worthy of passing on – lessons of the past, achievements of the greats, influence on the world today – and the background detail that best illuminates challenging ideas.
Depth, breadth and balance
In line with the National Curriculum, we provide a full set of subjects and considerable depth of study within those subjects. The representation of diverse ideas, people, narratives and experiences provides a well-rounded education that offers something for everyone.
We pay close attention to sequencing our curriculum. This includes managing the order in which concepts and content are introduced so that learners can make sense of new ideas by connecting them to existing knowledge.
Ambitious end-points, in the form of ‘big questions’, anchor our topics. These questions inspire curiosity and help to unify ‘big ideas’ across a block of learning. Teaching makes explicit how each segment of knowing contributes to a bigger picture of understanding.
We plan for progress in each subject. By first defining what children should master before they leave us, we can then map the development of knowledge, concepts and skills accordingly. This is called a progression model. Click here to see an example.
A predicable part of learning is that over time forgetting happens. To counter that we’ve been guided by research which tells us how retrieval and quizzing can help learners to keep hold of what they learn.
Our curriculum is also structured in such a way as to support children in remembering more. We plan for key vocabulary, concepts and content to be revisited, not simply as repetition, but in new contexts, in different subjects, in subsequent academic years so that children gain a fuller, more nuanced understanding over time.
Realising our vision
Our vision - to take Strand learners beyond what is expected to discover what is truly possible - is a commitment we are determined to put into practice. In seeking to enact our vision, we’ve reflected on the nature of great education and its power to transform lives.
The responsibility to educate wisely is a weighty one so we made sure to consult the experts.
Within the wider discourse, we came across a compelling philosophy that really resonated: Trivium 21c.
Drawing on the principles it encapsulates, we’ve integrated its three part sequence into our own curriculum and teaching structure:
- foundational knowledge (grammar)
- deeper thinking, questioning and dialogue (dialectic)
- expressing and communicating learning (rhetoric)
For us, this approach is the bridge between passing on knowledge and our vision to get children thinking for themselves.
It provides a pathway that takes learners from novices to ‘experts’ so they can make learning their own and find their voice in the crowd.
Trivium 21c by Martin Robinson provides a fresh perspective on an educational model that dates back to Ancient Greece. He makes the case for a ‘progressive traditionalist’ approach that champions knowledge first before questioning and dialogue generate deeper thinking. As understanding grows so does the confidence and ability to communicate well… to join the ‘great conversation’.