Developing thematic projects

Print this page
Bishop Gore - Developing thematic projects image

Bishop Gore School has taken a personalised approach to learning, by completely redesigning the key stage 3 curriculum model. Development blocks now allow pupils to apply subject-based skills to cross-curricular thematic projects, enabling them to develop wider problem solving skills and work with others. As a result of this approach, end of key stage levels and feedback from tests have shown significant improvement.

Number of pupils: 1,002
Age range: 11-18 years
Date of Estyn inspection: April-May 2015

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Bishop Gore School is an English medium 11 to 18 comprehensive school situated in the Sketty area of Swansea. There are 1,002 pupils on roll, including 112 in the sixth form, with around 26% of pupils eligible for free school meals, and 38% of pupils live in the 20% most deprived areas in Wales.  Around 23% of pupils have a special educational need, including 4% with a statement of special educational needs.  12% of pupils speak English as an additional language.

The school’s comprehensive intake requires a highly personalised approach to learning at all levels and, whilst the option choice system allows pupils to tailor their learning packages at key stages 4 and 5, the need to be able to do this at key stage 3 was identified as an important area for development.  More importantly, it was felt that learning which was being undertaken through the ‘traditional’ subject structure was not portable, often remaining within the subject in which it was taught.  Two main reasons were identified for this. Firstly, in many cases, pupils were not having the opportunity to apply their acquired skills knowledge and understanding.  Secondly, there were a great number of pupils who, despite being given the opportunity to synthesise their learning, did not have the skills to be able to so.

In order to accommodate the learning needs of pupils and to provide appropriate and challenging opportunities for skills development and application, it was decided to completely redesign the key stage 3 curriculum model.

Description of nature of strategy

The new curriculum structure was divided into Learning Blocks and Development Blocks. Learning Bocks focus on subject specific-based skills delivered through curriculum areas.  Development Blocks allow pupils to apply their subject-based skills to a cross-curricular, thematic project.

Learning clusters are responsible for designing, delivering and assessing each Development Block, with the skills from the lead cluster providing the focus for the theme of the activities.  One such Learning Block involves the pupils in planning an Antarctic expedition and is led by STEM cluster of subjects.  Each pupil is provided with a ‘challenge menu’ comprising a series of tasks which they can choose to complete with each task being given a points value, reflecting the complexity of the activity.   

Tasks all have a literacy, numeracy and ICT focus as well as reflecting the subject specific skills relevant to the lead cluster. Activities are designed to allow pupils to develop the wider key skills of problem solving, improving own learning and performance and working with others.

During the Development Block, teachers and support staff act as facilitators for the learning that is undertaken, supporting pupils as they progress through their action plan.  In addition, pupils can choose to attend workshops which target literacy, numeracy, ICT or subject specific skills.  Pupils who attend the workshops are expected to cascade their learning to others within their group.

All pupil work is assessed and feedback given to pupils and parents and carers in the form of a report.  This provides pupils with an accurate statement of the skills covered and achieved and areas for further development.  The report also allows both formative and summative reporting on the LNF.

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

The impact on provision and standards has been marked.  In terms of subject specific skills, pupils have been able to access higher levels as the design of the development block units encourages autonomous learning where pupils are placed at the centre of decision-making, allowing a highly differentiated approach. 

End of key stage levels and feedback from literacy and numeracy tests have all shown a significant improvement with a large number of pupils moving on to key stage 4 study early. 

Pupil attendance during development blocks has improved by between one and three percentage points.

Performance at key stage 4 has been consistently outstanding for the last four years.  In the key indicator that includes English and mathematics performance is well above expected levels.  Performance in this indicator has placed the school consistently in the top 25% of similar schools based on levels of eligibility for free school meals for the last four years.  Over the last four years, performance in almost all other indicators has placed the school in either the top 25% or upper 50% of similar schools based on levels of eligibility for free school meals.  Pupils make exceptional progress based on their prior attainment.

At key stage 3, performances in the core subject indicator and the separate core subjects have also been consistently strong.  Pupils make very good progress from the previous key stage.

Estyn judged that the key stage 3 curriculum is an effective and imaginative vehicle for the delivery of key stage 3 subjects and skills development.  All elements of the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework are well embedded into lesson planning and in the Development Blocks.  These provide pupils with interesting and engaging opportunities to develop their learning and skills within real life situations.