Planning the curriculum to ensure creative experiences for pupils

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In reviewing the curriculum, Ysgol y Dderi resolved to adapt its planning to develop literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum. Staff and pupils jointly contribute and are flexible to change. Visitors to the school have inspired and enriched learning opportunities. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation, planning and preparation, and realising change.


Number of learners: 135
Age range: 4-11

Context

Ysgol YDderi is in the village of Llangybi near Lampeter, Ceredigion.  It serves a wide rural area.

There are 135 pupils, including 21 who attend part-time.  There are five classes, three of which are of mixed ages. 

The school has identified a minority of pupils as having additional learning needs, including a very few who have a statement of additional learning needs.  A few pupils are eligible for free school meals.  English is the main home language of many of the pupils.  There are a very few pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds in the school and none speak Welsh at home.

Stage 1:  Evaluating the current curriculum within wider self-evaluation arrangements

Following two training days to consider the effectiveness of the curriculum, staff at the school judged that they were “uninspired” with the termly themes and that there was “no spark or excitement’ when they planned activities.  The leadership team’s analysis of pupil achievement in language and mathematics showed that outcomes varied according to each cohort and judged that planning was not coherent enough to develop literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum effectively.  They also found it difficult to timetable all curriculum subjects and decided to adapt their planning to meet the school’s specific needs.  Staff judged that the pupils did not have the necessary tools to gain full access to every aspect of the curriculum because their literacy and numeracy skills were not strong enough.  As a result, they explored the possibility of planning activities that developed literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum rather than teaching the curriculum subjects in individual, stand alone and unrelated lessons.

Staff have ownership over the school’s evaluation of the curriculum.  They drive the agenda for change and ensure that governors, pupils and parents are included in all decisions and kept informed of the changes.  The headteacher works in partnership with all key stakeholders to develop a successful and innovative curriculum.  The school’s processes enable staff to concentrate fully on what needed to change over the mid-term and in the long-term.  The school also had the confidence to be open to change in the short-term.  If there is a need and an opportunity to improve provision, even if the school was not planning for this outcome, staff are in a strong position to respond very quickly and they are very flexible to the notion of change.  The school plays to its strengths and uses the headteacher’s teaching commitment purposefully to provide ongoing evaluation of provision so that important messages are shared effectively with all members of staff.

While evaluating their current curriculum, the school considered the relevance of what was being presented to the pupils in relation to their day-to-day lives.  Monitoring outcomes show that this did not happen every day and that pupils found themes such as ‘our neighbourhood’ and ‘me, myself and I’ both dull and uninspiring. 

Stage 2: Planning and preparing for change

Leaders encouraged teachers to change their plans according to pupils’ outcomes, aspirations and interests.  As a result, standards in language and mathematics across the whole school showed good progress.      

The stimulus to plan in order to revise the curriculum is two-fold:

  • the teachers had grown tired of the same old themes
  • there were adequate standards across the curriculum

When planning activities, an initial emphasis was placed on providing creative ‘experiences’ for pupils.  This is now developing further to include worthwhile opportunities to develop the four purposes outlined in Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015).  Every visit, activity and visitor is planned in order to develop at least one of the purposes.  If the activity does not contribute to the development of these core purposes, then the activity simply does not proceed.  This follows a discussion with the staff and pupils at the beginning of each theme.  The senior management team work very closely with individual members of the governing body in order to ensure that they understand the principles of the four purposes and the need to develop effective pedagogy.  The senior management team believe that their involvement prepares them well to evaluate and develop a broad curriculum in relation to the areas of learning and experiences, especially expressive arts. 

An initial focus was placed on the pace of lessons, ensuring that the teaching moved forward using the different themes.  Leaders encouraged teachers not to concentrate on one theme for too long by changing the theme every half term at least and to include sub-themes as part of the main theme for up to a week at a time.

Leaders encouraged teachers and pupils to take risks and the headteacher gave freedom for this to happen in the classroom in order to develop the thinking skills of teachers and pupils. 

Every stakeholder scrutinises books together before providing constructive written feedback that informs future planning well.  The parents receive comprehensive information about the work that will be done during each half term.  This enables them to take an active role in curriculum development.  The school makes very good use of parental expertise.  For example, a ship’s captain, the director of IBM, doctors and engineers, as well as clothes designers, have inspired many pupils following their visits to school.

Every new teacher is given the freedom to experiment with new learning styles during the first year.  This is done by providing them with regular opportunities to observe their colleagues teaching in order to adopt a positive approach towards exciting teaching based on experiences.  Following observations, every teacher writes a report that includes references to aspects of strength and areas that need to be developed.  These are reviewed every term when the cycle of observations is repeated.  The teachers plan lessons jointly, in order to develop the ability of new teachers to plan in accordance with the school’s vision.

Every member of staff looks for exciting learning opportunities independently and shares their ideas with others.  When planning activities, teachers learn alongside the pupils – they share their frustrations at times as well as their excitement and enthusiasm.  They take great pride in developing unique projects, for example creating marigold ointment using Meddygon Myddfai recipes, opening an international pop-up café for parents, recreating Ann Boleyn’s prosecution, and hosting a music festival named Glastondderi.

Stage 3:  Realising change

A long-term overview of the subjects ensures that they meet the requirements of the curriculum.  The school’s plans focus on more specific aspects of the curriculum and provide deeper learning opportunities.  All pupils contribute to the planning at the start of every half term.  This means that the pupils take ownership of their learning.  Although there is a whole-class plan in place at the start of every half term, the pupils and staff are flexible to change, and current issues change the direction of the learning.

Every half term, each class plans an off-site visit and also invites a guest to visit them.  This enriches the children’s learning experiences and improves their extended writing work when writing for a purpose and from experience.  It brings the world of work into the classroom and opens doors for possible interesting careers.  Staff are passionate and open to continuous learning, and take pride when a pupil leads the learning.  By inviting local, national and international visitors to the school, the children become very aware of their Welsh identity.

Links:  http://www.ydderi.ceredigion.sch.uk/