Improving the ‘iLearn’ curriculum through planning and evaluation

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classroom experiment

Learning managers at Olchfa Secondary School have planned schemes of work that focus on key areas specified in ‘Successful Futures’. These areas include iCommunicate, iCalculate, iDiscover, iThink, iCreate and iThrive which will develop pupils’ core skills. A team of teacher-researchers have been informing the school’s teaching and learning practice, ensuring that the learners are at the heart of planning and evaluation.

Number of pupils: 1,700
Age range: 11-18
Date of inspection: February 2018

Context and background to the innovative practice

Olchfa School has been a Curriculum Pioneer School since November 2015, and launched its innovative ‘iLearn’ curriculum in September 2016.

The school had been reviewing its key stage 3 provision for a number of years prior to this and used its pioneer status to explore new possibilities, particularly around the grouping of ‘traditional’ subjects.

Description of the innovative practice

The iLearn curriculum is the school’s response to Professor Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ report.  The following six Areas of Learning and Experience have been adopted:

  • iCommunicate (Language and Communication)
  • iCalculate (Mathematics, Numeracy, Computing and IT)
  • iDiscover (Science and Technology)
  • iThink (Humanities)
  • iCreate (Expressive Arts)
  • iThrive (Health, Wellbeing and Enrichment)

Learning managers are charged with designing schemes of work that focus upon the development of the four purposes according to ‘Successful Futures’.  Teachers engage in collaborative planning and evaluation.  Consequently, the new curriculum seeks to maximise what Professor Donaldson calls ‘the common integrity’ between and across Learning Areas.  Unrestricted by the need for National Curriculum coverage, lessons have real-life contexts and allow space for teachers to challenge and develop pupils’ deeper understanding.

Significant planning and preparation time was allocated in the summer term of 2016, allowing for the iLearn launch for Year 7 pupils in September 2016.  Following subsequent roll-outs, in September 2018 every pupil in key stage 3 will experience the iLearn curriculum.

From September 2017, the school has deployed a research team, comprising five teacher-researchers.  These researchers teach a half timetable, and use the rest of their time to undertake detailed and relevant research to inform the school’s teaching and learning practice.  A major function of the team is that it continues to conduct an ongoing evaluation of the new curriculum and associated pedagogy.

Impact on provision and pupil standards

The new curriculum is still in the early days of its development.  However, the research team’s early findings are that pupils are achieving high standards in their oracy, problem solving capabilities and critical thinking.  Pupils are ambitious and confident learners, quick to raise pertinent questions and engage with the subject matter.  Moreover, pupils have grown in creativity and originality, work successfully in collaboration with others and take measured risks.  Increasingly, pupils apply their literacy and numeracy skills within unfamiliar contexts and recognise the interconnectedness of their learning experiences.

The research team has found that the curriculum is engaging, relevant and challenging.  It has enriched pupil experience and enhanced the ownership of learning.  It has also engendered a pedagogical approach that embraces Professor Donaldson’s ‘twelve principles’.  Teachers and pupils are empowered by the greater flexibility and choice afforded by the new curriculum.  The use of pupil voice in the review process ensures that the curriculum remains dynamic and energising.

Moreover, the research team has identified areas that need development.  These include the need for the explicit teaching of group work skills, and the question of how to assess progress against the four purposes.  As such, the team provides a vital role in the school’s attempts to continue to improve its key stage 3 provision.

How have you shared your good practice?

As a Pioneer school, Olchfa has hosted nearly 20 visits from other schools and interested parties.  The school has also participated in a number of national and local conferences, and presented to the Welsh Government, local consortia, the local authority and higher education providers.