Working together to recognise strengths and plan an effective curriculum

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Ysgol Cae Top’s leadership team audited their current curriculum, and made changes to how outcomes were measured, keeping pupils central to all decisions and activities as key to a successful curriculum. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation and planning and preparation.


Ysgol Cae Top, which is under the control of the Church in Wales, is situated in Bangor.  There are 234 pupils on roll, which includes 28 nursery-aged children.  There are eight single aged classes at the school.

A very few pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes.  About 25% of pupils come from ethnic minority or mixed backgrounds and speak 16 different languages.  About 24% of pupils are learning English as an additional language.

Twelve per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  Thirteen per cent are on the school’s additional learning needs register.  Very few pupils have a statement of additional learning needs.

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

The senior leadership team has established a common understanding across the school regarding their vision to develop a curriculum that is based on real, first hand experiences for pupils that cannot be acquired in the classroom.  Over the past three years, staff have planned purposeful activities and experiences that expand pupils’ knowledge and understanding and strengthen the level of engagement in their work.

Following the publication of Successful Futures, the school focused on developing the four purposes outlined in the report.

Leaders conducted an audit to judge the curriculum’s current strengths and how the current provision should be adapted and changed.  Staff carried out a range of self evaluation activities that focused on the four purposes.  These activities involved:

  • observing lessons – the headteacher observed all teachers alongside another member of staff, focusing on one or more of the purposes
  • scrutinising pupils’ work – involving all members of staff and governors
  • questioning pupils on their understanding of the four purposes
  • scrutinising schemes of work and evaluating how well teachers planned to develop the four purposes

Following a series of staff meetings to analyse outcomes, these aspects were identified as essential for an exciting and innovative curriculum:

  • pupil participation in curriculum developments
  • ensuring that pupils benefit and gain enjoyment from their work
  • ensuring that provision for raising standards of literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology (ICT) is of a high quality
  • ensuring robust challenge for all pupils by teachers having high expectations
  • ensuring that a Welsh ethos is an integral part of provision

Teachers identified the importance of keeping pupils central to all decisions and activities as key to a successful curriculum. 

The school held a number of evaluation meetings for teachers to scrutinise pupils’ work and their own planning.  Members of the senior leadership team facilitated these activities and shared outcomes with the rest of the staff.  A particularly effective group activity involved all teachers placing post-it notes on a large chart, which focused on current themes and the areas of learning and experiences (AoLE) to indicate what the school was already delivering well.  Staff placed a blue post-it note if they judged the provision as ‘good’, and a yellow sticker if it believed that provision needed to be improved.  Staff wrote ‘action comments’ on the yellow stickers and used these to develop priorities in the school development plan.  Over time, following ongoing evaluation of progress, the yellow coloured post-it notes are exchanged for blue ones.  Staff find this clear and simple visual method of monitoring changes and improvements very effective.

During this early stage of curriculum development, leaders included parents in evaluating the current provision and created a ‘Parents’ Curriculum Forum’ to discuss proposed changes and to prepare parents for the changes.  Members of the senior leadership team met with parent representatives to discuss their ideas and aspirations for a vibrant and strong curriculum.  The outcomes of this include:

  • more homework based on humanities, and health and wellbeing
  • more relevant opportunities for pupils to use their literacy and numeracy skills outside the classroom
  • further opportunities to take part in creative arts projects
  • increased opportunities to develop pupils’ Welsh identity

Governors meet each half-term to discuss developments.  The school has identified a governor with responsibility for curriculum development who visits the school regularly to consider the way in which the school plans to develop pupils’ digital competence across the curriculum.  Governors are conscious of the pedagogy required to ensure learning experiences and achievement are consistent across the school and that clear and visible progression can be observed. 

The school evaluates its planning by using learning triads.  Teachers work with staff from two other schools to observe lessons, plan, scrutinise pupils’ work and give feedback.  This has a significant effect on raising standards in the Foundation phase, particularly at outcome 6.

Following this audit, the headteacher arranged training to ensure that teachers improved their skills to enable them to teach specialist aspects of the curriculum, or aspects in which they were not confident. 

Stage 2:  Planning and preparing for change

The school quickly established a staff forum to discuss aspirations, expectations, worries, and doubts.  The headteacher ensured that all staff had regular opportunities to air their opinions so that meetings focused closely on pedagogy.  Teachers were initially concerned that lack of training meant that they would not be able to plan effectively to implement the four purposes.  Staff also felt unsure about how they would assess pupils’ achievement and were worried about not following a structured curriculum that consisted of agreed and nationally recognised levels and outcomes.  In order to diminish these worries, the headteacher decided that the school would continue to assess pupils’ attainment in core subjects using an electronic assessment recording tool.   

Leaders were keen to ensure that all staff changed their approach to planning by considering the four purposes carefully in all theme activities.  Learning activities all start with an ‘experience’, which is related to a particular subject or topic.  This is followed by a series of discrete lessons to master specific skills, before pupils address a challenge where they apply the skills.  The school believes that it is within the challenges that the four purposes will be developed to a deeper level, when pupils lead the learning.  Following the school’s self-evaluation of these challenges, teachers have modified and created new challenges, to ensure that pupils have worthwhile opportunities to develop their understanding of the four purposes as they lead the learning to apply skills.  This pedagogy is consistent with foundation phase philosophy. 

The headteacher believes that a change of approach or teaching method is easier if all members of the team change together and share successes and failures.  The school’s approach to curriculum development consisted of enabling all staff to focus on the needs of the curriculum.  They set aside personal aspirations and, during this period of reform, training arrangements were based entirely on Donaldson’s four purposes.

Worthwhile training ensured that all members of staff led on different aspects of the four purposes and focused on developing effective pedagogy.  Leaders have developed a robust structure of training and staff induction that offers effective support to inexperienced teachers to plan jointly and observe experienced teachers teaching.  This ensures that they respond well to curriculum reform.

In all interviews for new staff, school leaders ask specific questions about curriculum development.  Asking candidates, and current members of staff “What will children remember about their time at Cae Top?” ensures that teachers plan practical experiences that allow pupils to apply their skills. 

Teachers are encouraged to take measured risks and regularly trial different approaches to pedagogy.  Leaders accepted that planning to develop AoLE would not be perfect from the outset.  This has led to a climate in which teachers feel comfortable discussing the things that have been unsuccessful.  The headteacher encourages staff to be innovative to ensure that pupils’ literacy, numeracy and ICT skills develop effectively through experiences and activities across the curriculum.
All along the school’s curriculum development journey, leaders continue to evaluate provision and reflect on their work termly in order to consider what has been successful and what needs to be changed. 

In preparing for this change, all staff provide pupils with first-hand experiences through well-planned, discrete learning that challenges them effectively.  Teachers have identified the importance of beginning each unit of work with a visit or by inviting a visitor to the school.