Deciding what to teach during a phased return.
Applies to England
We recognise that it is particularly challenging to make decisions about curriculum given the uncertainty around public examinations during the 2020 to 2021 academic year. However, some schools are planning to devote more curriculum time to foundation subjects English and maths, with a particular focus in primary schools on phonics and early reading.
Deciding what to teach on site and what to teach remotely
A director of primary education at one multi-academy trust explained that schoolwork for home education has focused on reading, and this will continue. “We don’t want to cut the curriculum we’ve worked hard on and know works for our children,” he explained. “We know more dedicated work, and more hours on the timetable, will be needed for English and maths. But we will do that without losing our broad and balanced curriculum.”
“We will re-plan and strip our curriculum back down to the fundamentals,” he continued. “It will also be important for us to make links between subjects and do more cross-curricular teaching. For example, we will integrate aspects of the humanities into English where we can. There will also be a greater, weekly emphasis on personal, social, health and ecomomic (PSHE) education and reaffirming good learning behaviours in the first few weeks,” he explained. In the long term, we’ll make sure any breadth lost during this period is brought back into the curriculum, so pupils can recover this loss of knowledge and understanding later in the key stage.”
Deciding contact time by subject
Schools are making decisions about the contact time required for each subject partly based on which subjects appear to have more opportunities for work to be done at home.
Sallie Stanton, Director of Education at Bedford Free School, has found that hierarchical subjects with a more obvious sequence of curriculum are easier to plan for and other subjects (like English) have better opportunities for work to be completed from home. “We’ve not made decisions about this yet, but anticipate it will mean different amounts of contact time for different subjects – with, for example, practical subjects requiring more on site contact time with teachers,” she explained.
A deputy headteacher at a secondary school explained that, “For the remainder of the summer term we have planned to offer up to 10 hours per week to year 10 and 12 pupils, with lessons in English, maths, science, humanities and modern foreign languages.”
Teaching the curriculum with less time on site
Some schools are re-planning around the core concepts in each academic subject, so that pupils are secure in the ideas that underpin them.
Jo Marchant, Trust Lead at Endeavour Partnership Trust (Windrush Primary), shared their approach to determining what pupils must know in maths. “We have a ‘number sense’ curriculum we previously designed with non-negotiable knowledge and skills pupils need to progress. For example, year 1 must know one more/less, ten more/less, doubles and halves. We recognise that any gaps in children’s understanding of these core concepts could lead to serious cumulative misconceptions. Areas of the maths curriculum like shape and space are obviously still important, but less hinges on them.”
Similarly, Sam Strickland, Principal of the Duston School, explained their method of prioritisation. “In science, middle leaders identified 6 core pillars across biology, chemistry and physics, and have outlined what they want all their pupils to know, from one key stage to another. Departments should ask themselves: what do years 7, 8 and 9 need to know so that they are prepared for key stage 4?”
Maintaining curriculum breadth with less classroom time
School leaders are also thinking of creative ways to retain breadth in the curriculum, despite the need to focus on core subjects and concepts.
Sallie Stanton, Director of Education at Bedford Free School, for example, explained that “it is difficult planning for breadth and enrichment when we can’t be sure what pupils will be able to do come September.”
“It’s possible that there are aspects of a broad curriculum pupils won’t be able to access for a while yet,” Sallie continued. “So in response to this uncertainty, we are thinking creatively about what we can deliver remotely so that pupils still receive as broad an education as possible.”
“At our secondary school we usually have an ‘electives’ slot built into the school day,” Sallie continued. “Electives are like school clubs that usually run at lunchtime or after school (we have them as part of the school day so that all students benefit). Students pick a new elective each term, and they cover things like creative writing, ancient history and Latin, cake baking, yoga, school band - whatever our teachers feel able to offer.
“If we have limited time in school with students as we re-open more widely, we will prioritise the core learning of students and it may be we can move to providing electives online, so it would form part of the remote learning package we put together if in-school provision is part time,” Sallie continued.
Similarly, one multi-academy trust has instigated and will continue to run weekly, trust-wide competitions, for example in writing, art exhibition or maths investigations. “These are open to all year groups and are celebrated at the end of each week,” their director of primary education explained. “Children look forward to those challenges and it has become a good vehicle for breadth and enrichment,” he said.
Sam Strickland, Principal of the Duston School, said that if more pupils return to the school site in September, they would be planning for 2 weeks focusing on cultural capital. “We already offer pupils a fortnightly cultural capital talk, delivered by a member of senior leadership team (SLT). This takes place in the afternoon. We will continue to use this time and to consider current affairs and the wider impact of COVID-19 to broaden pupils’ minds,” he said.
“This would develop from our existing cultural capital talks, where senior leaders choose a current affairs theme from the news for wider discussion with pupils. What this looks like will depend on how many pupils we can have in school at once,” Sam continued.
Teachers can read the following case studies from schools and teachers about their experiences adapting the curriculum: