Teaching and learning at key stage 2 builds on foundation phase practices at Ysgol Heulfan. Children thrive through independent discovery and exciting topics, underpinned by strong support for teachers and shared goals across the school. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation, planning and preparation and realising change.
Ysgol Heulfan is in Gwersyllt near Wrexham. Currently, there are 380 pupils, including 40 pupils who attend the nursery. There are 15 classes in the school, which includes a specialist resource base for pupils with additional learning needs.
A minority of pupils have additional learning needs. A very few have a statement of special educational needs. Most pupils are of white British ethnicity and speak English as their home language. A minority of pupils are eligible for free school meals and a very few speak Welsh at home.
Stage 1: Evaluating the current curriculum within wider self-evaluation arrangements
Following a thorough evaluation of the current curriculum, leaders concluded that, as a result of learning through foundation phase philosophy, pupils entering key stage 2 had different skills and learning habits from previous cohorts. They were more independent and had a growing capacity to direct their own learning. To continue to develop these learning behaviours and meet pupils’ needs, the school trialled learning zones. Initially this work was limited to a mixed Year 2 and Year 3 class. Further monitoring of teaching and learning identified high levels of pupil engagement, motivation and high standards of work in the learning zones, so leaders extended this provision to all key stage 2 classes.
Evaluating the current curriculum showed that effective foundation phase provision proved to be a key starting point to the evolution of the school’s pedagogy for teaching and learning.
Stage 2: Planning and preparing for change – learning zones
Teachers at Heulfan plan purposeful activities that are carefully organised into areas of learning and experience (AoLE) that match those outlined in Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015). They set out stimulating resources within these areas that match pupils’ needs and interests well so that activities reflect the topics covered currently or previously in class. This encourages pupils to consolidate their skills, knowledge and understanding in a wide range of contexts. Examples include Space, Adventurers and Explorers and Chocolate. Pupils generally choose which area they would like to work in, for example the mathematics or digital areas. Staff monitor pupils’ work carefully to ensure that they access a broad range of experiences and produce work of an appropriately high standard. Pupils also choose whether to carry out independent project work or to respond to challenges.
The learning zones are available to pupils at all times of day. For example, pupils do not have to go outside at break time. Instead, they may choose to visit the gym and soft play areas, to play with resources on offer or continue with project work. The school places a high priority on providing opportunities for pupils to play at key stage 2. The school draws upon research and pupil requests to stock play boxes with suitable toys and resources.
The school has changed its staffing structure to support curriculum development and improve teaching and learning. The leadership team comprises a headteacher and three assistant headteachers who have a good balance of departmental and whole school responsibilities. They play a key role in supporting other staff to fulfil the cross-curriculum responsibilities of teaching literacy, numeracy and digital competence.
One assistant headteacher has overall responsibility for school planning. This supports effective continuity and progression and high levels of flexibility in curriculum delivery that responds well to pupils’ needs and interests. This approach has led to considerable reduction in ‘paper planning’ for class teachers and enabled them to think about suitably challenging activities that pupils will enjoy.
Key features of planning that the school has changed:
- There are no formal timetables for lessons – pupils carry on with learning experiences that engage them for a sequence of lessons rather than moving on to another activity to satisfy a content led timetable.
- Areas of learning are mapped carefully to ensure full curriculum coverage and are taught in blocks that may last several weeks.
- There is a whole school thematic approach to planning that relates very closely to real life contexts.
- The whole school follows the same main topic at any given time.
- Activities include extensive opportunities for purposeful outdoor learning to develop skills and understanding of concepts.
- Following pupil consultation, teachers and other staff plan activities that pupils would enjoy.
- The assistant headteacher with responsibility for planning collates ideas to create a whole school plan.
- At the beginning of each new theme, there is an ‘Entry Point’ day. These include events such as food tasting and treasure hunts. There is also an ‘Exit Point’ event to celebrate and reflect upon pupils’ learning and achievements. These include events such as fashion shows, creating a museum, or market place activities to sell pupils’ produce.
- In addition to these themes, each year group learns about a specific historical period, a faith and a foreign country. Pupils make links between topics such as healthy living and the country they are learning about, often through independent research. For example, they learn about healthy living in Pakistan or France and draw comparisons with Wales.
Stage 3: Realising change – Teaching styles and pedagogy to support the four purposes
School leaders have supported staff effectively at all levels to develop a shared understanding of how the four purposes can be included in the school’s work. In addition, the staffing structure includes teams with responsibility for each of the AoLE. Each team has a leader with responsibility for observing lessons, analysing performance information and identifying next steps for improvement. Throughout the school, there are many visual reminders for staff and pupils about the purposes of the curriculum and of teaching and learning.
Regular staff meetings develop a shared understanding of curriculum reform. They provide valuable opportunities for discussions about the theory behind approaches to teaching. For example international research from Finland encourages teachers and pupils to try new ideas and approaches by placing curiosity, imagination and creativity at the heart of learning.
Leaders make sure that teachers use proven teaching strategies effectively. For example, they create many opportunities for peer-to-peer teaching and learning in shared lessons for foundation phase and key stage 2 pupils. Such opportunities contribute well to achieving the four purposes, for example by enabling older pupils to take responsibility for their actions. Individual learning sessions do not last longer than 45 minutes. Within this time, the pace of teaching and learning is sharp. Teachers use assessment for learning strategies well to ensure that pupils are clear about the purpose of their learning. They provide a good balance of direct teaching, pair and group work within structured sessions. For example, they teach phonological and mathematics skills directly to cover essential content and develop skills. They provide valuable opportunities for pupils to develop and apply these skills in learning zones throughout the foundation phase and key stage 2.
Teachers use the whole-school thematic plan to give a context for learning. They use pupil assessment information purposefully and to good effect to plan lessons that challenge all pupils to achieve highly. This includes provision to support pupils to move on with skills set out in the Literacy and Numeracy Framework and, more recently, the Digital Competence Framework. Pupils, particularly in key stage 2, have a clear understanding of what they need to do to improve their key skills, for example to improve the quality of their writing.
In addition to the thematic planning, the school has recently introduced a series of ‘Super learning Days’. Topics have included problem solving through ‘Alien Invasion’ and ‘The Rainforest’. Each day begins with a ‘Wake Up, Shake Up’ activity and an inspirational presentation, for example from university lecturers. Such experiences have given pupils opportunities to develop their own ambitions and to identify what they need to do to achieve them.
The school’s approach to family and community engagement supports recent developments to the curriculum and pedagogy particularly well. Leaders plan valuable opportunities for all parents to work with their child at the school each year. Nearly all parents engage in these activities enthusiastically. For example, they cook with their children as part of the healthy eating project. The school also offers learning walks for parents to share curriculum developments and to help them to support their children with their learning.