Lesley Hill, headteacher of NACE member Lavender Primary School in North London, shares her school’s approach to ensuring the curriculum remains broad, engaging and meaningful – alongside a successful focus on good outcomes for all learners.

“Lavender” School conjures images of a delightful school in a leafy suburb. It is a delightful school, but we have our challenges. The number of children with English as an additional language, and of those eligible for FSM, are both above national averages. We also have a high number of children with need. However, challenges are not just about closing gaps, and when it comes to curriculum one particular challenge is to hold on to what is important.
In the late 80s, I was an advocate of themes, of helping children see links in learning and maximising creativity. Although I understood the need for a national curriculum (to avoid children potentially repeating the same topic year after year!), I had serious concerns about a rigid, dictated and narrow curriculum that would merely feed standardised tests.
A few decades (and curriculum reviews) on, and I don’t believe that prescription has to stifle creativity, or that children have to learn within a narrow framework to get results.

Empowering learners to make choices… and mistakes

For some years, most of our subject teaching has been done through cross-curricular topics and we insist on at least one pupil choice topic per year. Classes or year groups vote on different themes and teachers ensure that the statutory knowledge and skills are covered within the topic. In KS2, we aim to include children in the planning process by asking them to consider how the required topic content could be taught.
Our use of pupil voice helps to engage and motivate our learners, but we also want them to have ownership over their learning. The introduction of growth mindset five years ago made a marked difference in terms of attitude, and was particularly empowering for those higher-achieving learners who find it so hard to “get something wrong”.

Developing skills for self-evaluation and reflection

Learning to learn strategies were also embedded and this culture enabled us to introduce fast, effective feedback a year ago. Teachers do not write in any books, but mark verbally during lessons, through 1:1 or group conferencing. Children peer- and self-assess and write reflections on their learning against success criteria. The self-evaluative process needs higher-order thinking, and allows learners at all levels to develop those skills.
Meta-cognition is promoted through peer work and is particularly successful for higher achievers when working with lower achieving or younger children (such as through our Reading Buddy scheme). Talk partners are therefore picked randomly to allow a range of peer-work experience. Group and paired feedback has been successful across the curriculum. I opened a sketch book recently and read, “I spoke with my partner and we thought that I should put more shading and detail on the petals.” Our “drafting and crafting” approach is used across the curriculum, enabling children to reflect on all learning, not just the core subjects.

Encouraging creativity at home

The fact that we value all subjects is visible in our homework policy. Learners have the usual spellings and number facts to learn, but also work on given topic themes. Because the titles are quite open (such as “Enfield Town”), children can access them and deepen their learning according to their own starting points. On home-learning day, you might see children carefully manoeuvring a model volcano, clutching a home-made booklet about local history or a USB stick with a slideshow about chocolate. They might just have a sheet of notes that have been prepared for a “lecture”. They share these projects at school, paying special attention to their presentation skills, which are then peer- and self-evaluated.

Extracurricular experiences and engagement

Visits and outings are built into our curriculum. We develop enterprise and aspiration through trips to businesses and institutions, such as Cambridge University, and by inviting in key people. We value working with others, getting involved with school cluster creative projects wherever possible. Last year, we were able to buy in a British Sign Language (BSL) teacher from a partner school to teach sign language to every class from nursery to Y6. We also encourage entries to events such as the annual Chess Tournament and Mayor’s Award for Writing, and are in the process of organising a spelling bee across our partner schools.
Home-school partnerships are important to us. Family days, where parents come in and work alongside their children, as well as exhibitions and information fairs, help us to share our wider curriculum. One event saw parents being led on a tour through the WWI trenches and, last year, families came in to learn the school song (written by the children themselves). We also work to build wider community links through events such as bulb planting with the local park group, or charity choir performances. Our School Council representatives are confident and vocal when considering local and wider issues and how we can support others.

What does it all mean?

Lavender's results are very pleasing across all key stages. Our GLD, phonics, KS1 and KS2 combined outcomes remain above national figures, with progress data of our higher-achieving children being better than national in all subjects.

OK, so Year 6 do have to do practice tests and more homework than most, but you'll still catch them sneaking into my office during a unit on mystery texts, going through my bin, and desperately trying to work out if I'm actually a spy. Despite budget pressures, I will continue to find the money for Herbie's insurance (our school dog's work with the most vulnerable children is priceless) and I’ll always value our subject leaders for the passion and drive they bring to our curriculum.

Data will always be top of my agenda, but it's there alongside breadth, depth and enrichment. A broad and balanced curriculum doesn't have to be at the expense of good outcomes for our children.
Lesley HillLesley Hill is headteacher of Lavender Primary School, a popular two-form entry school in North London, part of the Ivy Learning Trust and a member of NACE. She has taught across the primary age range and has also worked in adult basic education and on teacher training programmes. Her current role includes the design and delivery of leadership training at middle and senior leader level, and she also provides workshops on a range of subjects, such as growth mindset and marking. Her book, Once Upon a Green Pen, which explores creating the right school culture, is due to be released early next year.

How does your school provide a broad and creative curriculum? What opportunities and support do you have in place for more able learners? To share your own success stories with the NACE community, get in touch.
Monday, November 6, 2017