Developing a skills-based curriculum in primary school

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Tavernspite Primary School researched and developed engaging learning activities to enhance their pupils’ cross-curricular skills in meaningful contexts to attain the statutory demands of the new curriculum.

Number of pupils: 207
Age range: 3-11
Date of inspection: December 2017

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

A major factor that proved to be a catalyst for change at Tavernspite was the release of the Successful Futures report, published in early 2015.  The leadership team had already, through evaluative processes, identified that there was a need for significant improvements in provision in order confidently to attain the statutory demands of the New Curriculum for Wales.  

An alternative planning process and professional development strategy for staff were outlined, which would support teachers to engineer a stimulating skills curriculum that was aligned with best practice models in Wales.

The school proceeded to create a rich and immersive skills-based curriculum at key stage 2, which requires teachers to be creative, and to track and manage the skills coverage of their planning.  It also requires leaders to be trusting, supportive and appreciative of the complexity of such tasks.  The school believes that the attainment of consistently high standards across a whole key stage is not a short term project; it is instead the product of a longer term commitment to a leadership philosophy that identifies teachers as learners.

The vision at the school is one of teacher support and empowerment.  The school believes that consistently high standards are facilitated by enthused, motivated and creative practitioners who are given every opportunity to thrive.  Leaders focus on supporting and developing staff to design and refine sequences of absorbing learning activities, and to stretch learners, focusing around engaging themes and meaningful contexts.  

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Planning and managing the blending of skills through absorbing thematic tasks required reflective, independent and collaborative processes.  To provide a real-time picture of curriculum coverage across key stage 2, leaders and teachers use a skills and range tracking management system, accessed through Hwb, for each of the cross-curricular purposes and specific subjects.  This system allowed multiple authors to enter information on what skill they had covered in each unit of work.  Over time, this allowed staff and leaders to see what was being covered, when, and to what degree in specific year groups and across the key stage.  As a result, this supports teachers to identify any skills or areas that require further development, facilitating effectively the planning of future learning activities.

In order to create a skills-based curriculum, staff were provided with training sessions and time to work collaboratively.  The starting place for the design of the new skill-rich learning activities was the selection of a compelling topic under a general overarching theme, for example Alan Turing breaking the Enigma code under the banner of the Second World War theme.  Staff would be encouraged to research a topic and think about what they would have found interesting if they were the pupil studying this for the first time, for example, in this case, Alan Turing’s backstory, his genius Enigma code breaking machine, and the personal injustices he suffered.  Once the learning stage had been set, time is provided for staff to consider how the range of skills from subjects across the curriculum can be facilitated into a meaningful sequence of lessons.

An example of a cross curricular sequence of lessons in this instance could include: the teaching of algebra, then the working of the associated rules into codebreaking activities related to the Second World War topic, which develop pupils’ reading and reasoning skills.  These cracked codes could then be shared using oracy, drama or writing activities and further enhanced using ICT.  It would also be easy to incorporate history, geography and personal and social development into the sequence of lessons. 

The school believes that it is important to avoid tenuously forcing skills into tasks when they are not complementary.  The selection of engaging themes, with depth and scope, gives teachers ample room for creating engaging cross-curricular tasks.  This is most effectively achieved when teachers are trained to think more creatively and to feel like they can take risks.  In order to create a culture of innovation and experimentation, regular forums and bespoke training sessions for staff were held, based upon an assessment of needs.  These events sharpened the focus on standards and pedagogy.  This led to a consistent approach by teachers in the use of certain strategies and resources. 

Identifying teacher skill sets, and committing them to teach the same year group for a number of years, provided stability to the team and allowed for the progressive refinement and improvement of provision and practice.  The confidence and peace of mind that this gave to staff acted as a powerful incentive for investing time, energy and creativity for the long term: leading to reduced future workload, higher standards in teaching and learning experiences, and a greater confidence and expertise in the effective delivery of their lessons.

Coaching and mentoring processes were initiated that help staff to share and develop their expertise with each other.  The focus moved away from scrutiny and competition, towards support and growth, allowing for greater trust and closer working practices to flourish between the staff.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

The pupils have benefited from experiencing engaging and exciting learning experiences that are well structured and thoughtfully engineered to refine and develop a wide range of cross-curricular skills in meaningful contexts.

This impact has been identified through the study of pupil questionnaires and learning walks, and by observing improvements in pupil outcomes.  The standards of work in pupils’ books and e-portfolios has been monitored by the leadership team over time through scrutiny and self-evaluation practices, and the school considers that notable improvements in consistency and quality have been observed.

How have you shared your good practice?

  • through Estyn thematic surveys: ‘Primary School Improvement Journeys’ and conference at Principality Stadium

  • the ERW consortium Professional Learning Schools project

  • learning visits from schools across Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire