‘Lighting fires’: Sparking conversations around the curriculum

Thanks to Alex Bottomley, Head of Humanities at Trinity Academy in Halifax for this blogpost. This work describes some of the work of the DfE pilot Curriculum Fund project, whose initial findings have just been published. The DfE originally gave £2.4 million to a selected list of 11 lead schools to test the effects of their complete curriculum programmes on reducing teacher workload and improving pupil outcomes. Trinity Academy is a pilot lead school for KS3 History. Here Alex describes some of the work done as part of the pilot and the learning that has come from it.

‘Lighting fires’: Sparking conversations around the curriculum

The curriculum is at the core of most academic discussions following Ofsted’s new framework and for many departments this may result in a ‘brand new’ curriculum and all of the planning that comes with it. Other departments may opt to tweak what they currently have, but one thing is clear, conversations around the curriculum have never been so important. Despite the great work published in Teaching History, or the wonderful work done by some practitioners on Twitter, there are still many departments left unsure about terms such as ‘sequencing’ and ‘knowledge rich’. Over the last 18 months, I have been working to try and reach schools left behind and to spark conversations about their curriculum.

Curriculum Programme Pilot

In January 2019, Trinity Academy Halifax started working with 6 pilot schools who signed up to trial a Key Stage 3 curriculum. The process was free to schools and the pilot schools gave feedback on their opinion of the resources. The purpose behind this was three-fold; to reduce workload, improve outcomes and support practitioners in tackling the big questions that surround the curriculum. The first phase of the programme went well and now, in the next phase, Trinity Academy are working with 20 schools across Yorkshire and Lancashire who are receiving the curriculum and implementing the resources within their schools. Interest in being part of the pilot spread from Durham to Cornwall but unfortunately we could only work with schools that we could realistically support.

The History Hub

Whilst it would be beneficial for all staff to attend CPD sessions from organisations such as the HA and to access to the latest research, the reality that we have found is that this is not happening in many schools. Subject specific CPD provision being outside school time and the difficulties less experienced colleagues may face breaking into long running professional conversations are just two examples of blocks to access. The History Hub aims to translate recent thinking and research about the subject and pedagogy into resources that can be used by staff in the classroom. The curriculum is ambitious. It is knowledge rich and the planning is thorough, including schemes of learning, knowledge organisers, differentiated tasks and assessments. The resources are designed to be a starting point for schools, with schools engaged with CPD on how to adapt these resources for their cohort. Colleagues within the Hub met for the first time in September for a day’s CPD to discuss their experiences of the curriculum so far and more training. Feedback from staff involved demonstrated that the most valuable part of the day was being able to discuss the curriculum intent and understand the bigger picture. More CPD events are planned for later in the academic year on other aspects of the curriculum.

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An example of a Year 7 knowledge organiser

The History Hub has been able to do much more than just create and share resources. It has created a network of professionals who can support each other, it has provided staff with the latest research from organisations such as the HA and, perhaps most importantly, provided reassurance to staff in another turbulent time of change. It is also not perfect, we have found areas of the curriculum that work well and other parts that don’t. The resources have already been refined once after the round of feedback to ensure that we keep trying to be at the forefront of curriculum design and giving our pilot schools the best resources possible. The best thing about the feedback we get is that it is informed by teachers delivering the resources to their groups in very different contexts. Changes we make are therefore informed by a wide variety of student need. At the same time we can support colleagues by identifying common areas of difficulty and bridging the gaps.

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Curriculum Makers

Personally, I believe a funded Hub model is one of the most realistic ways that we can improve teacher workload and support practitioners within the classroom. From my experience so far as project lead, I can see the impact that it is having within schools and the scope this has as a model moving forward. The CPD and human contact is just as important as the resourcing. The goal is to give each history teacher the oversight and understanding as if they had designed the curriculum themselves but with most of the starter work being provided for them. If every history teacher had a local contact for support/CPD on the development of their curriculum, or even just a quick chat about the purpose or design on one of their units, it would solve some of the biggest headaches facing history teachers and allow us to spend more time doing what we do best – teaching history!

Alex Bottomley – Head of Humanities, Trinity Academy Halifax

Trinity Academy Halifax are working as a lead school in the DfE Curriculum Programme Pilot. For more information, please contact a.bottomley@trinityacademyhalifax.org

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