Championing a new curriculum through a school cluster

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Primary schools in Barry have been working together since 2016 to prepare for curriculum development. Commitment, regular meetings, clear communication and shared knowledge and experiences have made the group a success. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation and planning and preparation.


Context

Since June 2016, all primary schools in the Barry cluster in the Vale of Glamorgan have been working together to prepare for curriculum development.  Romilly Primary School and Cadoxton Primary school, both situated in Barry, have facilitated this collaboration. 

Stage 1:  Evaluating the current curriculum within wider self-evaluation arrangements

Each school in the cluster has nominated a ‘Donaldson champion’.  This is not a paid post attracting additional salary, nor are the champions all members of their schools’ senior leadership team.  However, the teachers who have taken on the role in each school have the commitment, drive and enthusiasm to move the project forward and influence others.  The representatives from each school meet every month throughout the school year.  From the outset, headteachers agreed to resource the project properly.  This has ensured that staff, governors and other stakeholders understood the value and high status of the group’s work.  It means that the group meet at an appropriate venue away from the members’ schools, and dedicated a full half day to each agenda without being disturbed. 

Group meetings always have a clear agenda and an intended output, although there is always enough flexibility built in to discuss issues that individuals raise from the work schools carry out in between meetings.  Meetings have a positive, working ethos, like a workshop, and generate lots of ideas.  The structure of sessions is flexible and has changed over time, responding to where schools are on their curriculum development journey, or the way in which different people want to work.  For example, the group started by developing specific areas of interest within the curriculum, such as cultural awareness, outdoor learning and creative development.  However, members found that this was not working as well as they had hoped, so decided to change direction and work specifically with the four purposes outlined in Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015).  Each meeting enables considerable discussion and debate, and members raise important questions, such as:

  • What is a big question and how prescriptive is it?
  • How do we ensure that the experiences we provide pupils help them to learn more effectively?
  • Is it enough that a pupil takes part in an experience or do we expect them to respond to that experience or prove they have learnt something from it?

Members leave each meeting with a clear idea of what they intend to do in their school before the next meeting.  This always includes feedback to school staff, followed by tasks to complete.  Tasks might, for example, be to carry out a piece of action research in the classroom in a particular area of learning and experience, to create and trial some resources, or to implement a new teaching approach. 

Stage 2:  Planning and preparing for change

Back in their schools, Donaldson champions deliver sessions to teachers, learning support assistants, pupils and governors.  To ensure consistency of message and understanding, schools have shared approaches and resources.  For example, all schools in the cluster considered what the four purposes meant to them in one of the areas of learning and experience.  One primary school led the way by using the outline of a gingerbread person to illustrate their thoughts about health and wellbeing.  Teachers, support staff and pupils thought about the sort of activities their pupils should experience as part of health and wellbeing and considered how they contributed to developing the four purposes.  They included activities like running a mile, taking part in a residential visit to an outdoor pursuits centre and cooking a healthy meal.  Other schools took these ideas and adapted them to suit their own contexts and the needs of their staff and pupils.

Another interim task for schools involved thinking about the four purposes more critically and considering how a pupil might develop all four as they move through school.  The staff of each school considered which of the purposes they felt was strongest in their school and they tried to explain why.  Then they tried to illustrate illustrated what, for example, a healthy, confident individual would look like in their school each year group from nursery to Year 6.

As a result of the work that has taken place so far, some schools have reviewed and amended their medium term planning to reflect the changes made.  In addition, all schools have signed up to The Barry Pledge.  This is a series of experiences, linked to each of the four purposes outlined in Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015), that all schools involved have agreed that their pupils need as they move through their school career.  It means that any pupil who attends a school in Barry will receive the same opportunities.  The schools consulted with pupils to create this list of experiences.  For example, to encourage pupils to become healthy, confident individuals, all pupils will take part in a variety of outdoor learning experiences, including putting up a tent and camping outside, flying a kite, and star gazing.  They are considering creating an application for mobile phones that will enable pupils to collect e-badges to recognise their achievements. 

Many strengths have emerged from the extensive and mature collaboration between the schools in the cluster.  The high level of trust that headteachers have put in the individuals involved in the group has helped to develop the leadership skills and confidence of those teachers.  They feel empowered to make decisions on behalf of their schools, and motivated to sustain the partnerships that have been created.  It has been important that the designated person from the pioneer school has provided strong leadership at meetings.  This ensures that the group has clear direction, remains on task, and makes progress.  However, representatives from other schools have now grown in confidence and are beginning to take on leadership responsibilities within the group, including planning agendas, leading sessions and co-ordinating approaches between schools. 

Despite its successes, the group is realistic enough to identify that there remain a few barriers.  Each school has to encourage the involvement of sceptics amongst the staff, who are reluctant or slow to respond to change.  Members’ approach to this has been, in the main, to remind colleagues that the new curriculum is about doing the very best for the pupils in their classrooms and preparing them for the world in which they will live.  Members also acknowledge that it is sometimes challenging to ensure that agendas remain stimulating to ensure the continued success of the project.  However, they believe that the following elements of their work have enabled it to succeed so far and sustain it into the future:

  • appointing a dedicated, nominated Donaldson Champion in each school
  • regular meetings at the same time and same venue every month, so that schools and individuals commit to it and plan around it
  • clear direction and agendas so that all members know what they are going to do at meetings and what is expected in the interim period between meetings
  • gradual building up of communication and confidence within the group
  • non pioneer schools committing to the project and releasing people to attend
  • genuine collaboration between schools, with a willingness to share successes and failures and an ethos of honesty and integrity
  • including in the group teachers of different ages with different perspectives and a wealth of experience from a range of backgrounds and a diversity of schools
  • readiness of the pioneer school to share feedback from AoLE group meetings and to gather information to go back to those groups
  • equality within the group, in which there is no sense of status and all opinions are valued
  • strong facilitation of the group by class teachers
  • financial and professional commitment of headteachers, senior leaders and governors in all schools involved, including release time for meetings and INSET time to carry out interim activities
  • building on existing networks, including clusters, school improvement groups, informal groups of schools
  • responding positively to feedback from senior leaders and other staff in each school to shape future work

Links

https://www.cadoxtonprimaryschool.com/

http://www.romillyprimaryschool.co.uk/page/default.asp?title=Home&pid=1

http://www.rhwsprimary.co.uk/