A flexible curriculum that responds to the needs of individual learners

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The curriculum at Fitzalan High School is tailored according to the potential, progress and ability of each learner. The flexible nature of the curriculum means that staff can respond to learners’ needs throughout the year.

Number of learners: 1,721
Age range: 11 - 18
Date of inspection: February 2017

‘The curriculum at Fitzalan High School is highly flexible and responsive to the needs of individual pupils.’ Estyn 2017.

Context and background

Fitzalan High School is an English-medium mixed 11 to 18 school maintained by Cardiff local authority.  There are currently 1,721 pupils on roll, including 344 in the sixth form, compared to 1,440 pupils, including 254 in the sixth form, at the time of the last inspection.

The school is situated close to the centre of the city, and serves a catchment area in which there are high levels of social and economic disadvantage.  The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is 32.7%, which is considerably higher than the national average of 17.4%.  Around 60% of pupils live in the 20% most deprived areas of Wales.  Around 35% of pupils have a special educational need, which is above the national average of 25.1%.  The proportion of pupils who have a statement of special education needs is 2%, which is lower than the 2.5% average in Wales.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Key stage 3

Curriculum provision in Fitzalan High School is differentiated according to the potential, progress and ability level of each pupil.  The school aims to meet the needs of all pupils; to be flexible and responsive; provide breadth and depth, and secure the best possible outcomes for all.  The dynamic nature and flexibility of the curriculum mean that staff can respond to individual circumstances and pupils’ needs throughout the academic year.  This is particularly important in Fitzalan, as pupils come from an extremely wide range of linguistic backgrounds and with different levels of prior education.  There is also a very high level of mobility within each academic year.  The school’s curriculum therefore needs to adjust to match the needs of pupils who are new to schools or new to Wales.  

In key stage 3, the most able pupils study Latin and Spanish in addition to French, and all other core and foundation National Curriculum subjects.  Pupils with literacy or numeracy deficits have specific ‘project’ lessons on their timetable where they improve their skills through thematic lessons that are linked to curriculum areas such as history or science.  Those with significant challenges have daily timetabled lessons to improve their reading and writing skills, including a focus on phonics to ensure that they attain functional literacy.  These pupils also follow an integrated humanities course and have a reduced number of teachers.

The school’s ‘Curriculum Access Team’ leads additional interventions: small group intervention groups focus on pupils with specific learning difficulties, visual impairment, speech and language needs, and emotional needs.  Pupils in all years who need nurture have timetabled sessions in ‘Cartref’ to improve their ability to manage their behaviour and emotions and to thrive in social situations.  From Year 8 onwards, pupils with significant behavioural needs are integrated into an ‘extended opportunities’ programme as part of a ‘graduated response’ to their behavioural needs.  Pupils on the extended opportunities programme follow a full curriculum.  They are taught by subject specialists and receive intensive behavioural support from BESD specialists.

Pupils who are new to learning English are taught in specific induction groups for most of their subjects, with an emphasis on developing their English language skills.  To help these pupils integrate into the school as a whole, they have form time, physical education and mathematics lessons with the rest of the year group.  Pupils who are new to learning English, but with good maths skills, are able to move quickly up through the maths sets while still receiving the support they need to gain a basic grounding in English.

Pupils of all ability, including those on the extended opportunities programme, are offered coaching in their own language and, where there is an appropriate examination course, the opportunity to gain external accreditation.  In addition, the school has recently introduced a ‘creative option’ into Year 9: pupils choose a music, drama, technology or art based course.  This was introduced to support creative examination courses, to keep pupils motivated throughout Year 9 and to make sure that all pupils develop the skills needed to study for and gain external accreditation.

Key stage 4

In key stage 4, a combination of free choice options and differentiated pathways mean that the curriculum is stimulating and aspirational, and that it meets pupils’ interests.  A wide variety of traditional GCSE and vocational qualifications are available and pupils start their key stage 4 curriculum in the summer term of Year 9.

To ensure that all pupils have breadth, depth and a balance between core subjects and option choices, the school runs a fortnightly 60 period curriculum plan.  The more able pupils in key stage 4 are offered four option subjects, including Latin, ancient history and computer studies.  All pupils have the freedom to make choices that appeal to them and receive individual guidance to support them to make the best choice and reach their full potential.  Almost all pupils sit an external examination in English literature, including pupils on the extended opportunities programme and pupils new to learning English.  Most pupils achieve external accreditation in full course Welsh and full course religious education.  Differentiated pathways and a focus on skills development have enabled pupils’ outcomes to remain high, particularly for those crossing the five A*-A, level 2 plus and level 2 threshold.

Pupils who are new to learning English or developing their competency in English undertake the school’s ESOL programme.  They follow externally accredited GCSE and vocational courses with an emphasis on developing and improving their English skills. 

Sixth form

A free choice options process means that pupils can choose a wide variety of subjects, some offered in partnership with other schools, or with Cardiff City or Glamorgan Cricket Club.  Each pupil’s offer is based on their key stage 4 outcomes.  Pupils can follow an AS/A2 and Welsh Baccalaureate programme, a level 3 Vocational programme, a level 2 programme, or a mixed provision, which is a combination, tailored to each pupil’s ability. 

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

At Fitzalan, the curriculum provision combined with the commitment of staff, the support of parents and high levels of pupil engagement have all contributed to the school’s success.  In Fitzalan, pupils ‘learn together to be the best that they can be’.

Over the last four years, at key stage 4, the school’s performance places it in the upper half of similar schools in most indicators, and in the top quarter in the majority of them.  More able pupils, pupils eligible for free school meals and pupils with additional learning needs achieve very highly.  In lessons, many pupils make strong progress in their knowledge, understanding and skills.

Most pupils demonstrate exemplary behaviour and high levels of engagement in their learning.  Rates of attendance are exceptionally high.

Links: www.fitzalan.cardiff.sch.uk