The headteacher at Ysgol y Faenol conducted a series of discussion sessions for staff, enabling them to identify radical opportunities to embed the four purposes of curriculum reform. Initiatives resulting from these include oracy projects, collaborative learning projects and the strengthening of pupil voice. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation and planning and preparation.
Ysgol Y Faenol is in the village of Bodelwyddan, about four miles east of Abergele.
Currently, 150 pupils attend the school, including 20 part-time nursery pupils. The school is organised into five mixed age classes. Very few pupils speak Welsh as their first language and a few receive support for English as an additional language. A few pupils come from an ethnic minority community.
A minority of pupils are eligible for free school meals. The school has identified a minority of pupils as having additional learning needs and a very few have a statement of additional learning needs.
Stage 1: Evaluating the current curriculum within wider self-evaluation arrangements
The school responded to the Welsh Government’s consultation on the proposed new curriculum by arranging a series of workshops for staff and governors. These workshops focused primarily on what they wanted from a new curriculum. School leaders addressed the desire to develop a more innovative and creative approach to pedagogy. All contributors were enthusiastic and keen to embark on their curriculum development journey, one that would enable pupils to develop skills confidently in all aspects of school life. They discussed the recommendations in Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015), and agreed that, for any changes in their curriculum, leaders needed to:
- consider the extent to which staff already support children to develop the attitudes and dispositions set out in the four purposes
- consider what staff do within the context of the national curriculum to strengthen practice and pedagogy
Leaders responded to this by evaluating the school’s current provision. The school’s inspection report noted that, “the school meets the needs of the pupils well through a wide range of stimulating and innovative learning experiences.” As a result of this judgement, the staff’s response to Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015), was one of apprehension and uncertainty. They felt that they did not need to change the way they worked and were afraid of taking risks at the expense of diluting a well‑established and effective curriculum. In light of this, the headteacher conducted a series of discussion sessions that focused on understanding each of the four purposes. Each meeting enabled the staff to identify current good practice and aspects that they did not want to change, as well as elements of the four purposes that needed to be developed and included in their planning.
Feedback from teachers and teaching assistants and evidence gathered from monitoring data, scrutiny of work, lesson observations and stakeholder feedback informed their evaluation and gave staff an overview of what was already working well. However, they realised very quickly that, although they initially thought that there was little need for change, they recognised the need for radical reform to embed Donaldson’s four purposes. The evaluation enthused staff. They were excited about the prospect of having more ownership over the curriculum. Leaders allowed teachers time to think. They gave staff the freedom to focus confidently on projects and initiatives that would give extensive and creative opportunities to develop their pupils as ambitious, capable and creative learners. They focused on the pupils, not on curriculum content.
Stage 2: Planning and preparing for change
Following the discussion sessions , leaders incorporated areas for development into the school development plan. These areas included developing:
- oracy projects, including ‘Noisy Classrooms’ and ‘Talk for Writing’
- strengthening pupil voice
- immersion homework
- collaborative learning projects
- resilience and mental health interventions
As these priorities were included in the school’s development plan, this enabled leaders to allocate resources appropriately. Staff piloted the new Professional Teaching Standards, which enabled teachers to develop their practice and extend their experiences. For example, teachers took responsibility for developing a strand focusing on specific aspects such as collaboration, professional learning and leadership. Staff did not have specific support from any outside agencies, but worked collaboratively within a successful network of primary schools.
Leaders worked hard to develop a whole school growth mind-set culture, which ensures that staff are in a positive position for moving forward and preparing for curriculum change. Staff and pupils have developed an approach to learning that encourages them to take on challenges, learn from mistakes, persevere and take measured risks. Having such an ethos allows pupils to react positively and enthusiastically to the changes.
The main focus points that are currently being developed at the school following the publication of Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015), are:
Developing meaningful school-to-school collaboration
Sharing good practice and ideas for curriculum development amongst peers has been invaluable. This allows staff to broaden their understanding of what constitutes an innovative curriculum. They are aware that not all pupils respond to the same teaching styles and that teachers need to remind themselves of this. They work successfully on relationship building between themselves and the pupils.
Developing staff’s professional learning
Teachers are encouraged to lead projects that involve research and evaluation, sharing good practice, collaboration with colleagues, and working within other settings. As a result, staff develop effective pedagogy through maintaining an enthusiasm for teaching. Nearly all have a deep understanding of the learning process and are committed to their own learning journey and are not afraid of taking measured risks.
Greater emphasis on developing oracy skills and pupil voice
When teachers and support staff considered atrategies to develop the four purposes, they felt strongly that good oral communication skills were a key feature of developing ambitious, capable learners and healthy, confident individuals. They focused on developing pupils’ oracy skills through specific projects such as Noisy Classrooms, Talk for Writing, Collaborative Learning and through further developing the pupil voice.
When planning for curriculum development, the school’s evaluation highlighted one important barrier that might inhibit their ability to develop ambitious and capable learners. Analysis of the school’s assessment data showed that the majority of boys’ speaking and listening skills were not as high as the girls’. Staff reflected on this information and the implications for planning activities to develop confident individuals, capable of leading fulfilling lives as valued members of society. Leaders were keen to address this issue as they felt that it was key to successfully implementing the four purposes.
The local authority’s behaviour support officers provided guidance for staff on meeting the needs of individuals who had difficulty responding to conflict. Working in partnership with Flint High School, staff developed debating activities through their ‘Noisy Classroom’ initiative. These activities focus on engaging disaffected boys as well as more able pupils who are not confident or successful speakers. Regular debates actively encourage ‘talking’ and offer worthwhile opportunities for pupils to disagree and fall out with each other. The emphasis is always on allowing others to speak and remaining calm when their peers disagree with them. It is still too early to evaluate the outcomes of this initiative, but the headteacher is confident that boys’ ability to articulate themselves clearly and respectfully in a non-aggressive manner has improved considerably. This has enabled the staff to plan purposeful and ambitious activities without fearing that low level disruption could have a negative effect on learning.
Teachers involve pupils in planning and believe that the flexibility of the new curriculum allows them to impact upon their own learning in a more meaningful way. For example, at the beginning of a new topic, teachers read a novel to the pupils. When reading the story, they may pause at key points in the text, highlighting that there is a ‘problem’. The teachers summarise the problem and ask pupils to discuss possible solutions with a partner. Pupils share their ideas with the whole class and teachers use these ideas to identify future learning opportunities.