A trawl through recent Ofsted inspection reports from primary schools judged ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Good’ indicated that one of the main areas for development in primary schools is the curriculum, particularly foundation subjects. Aspects of the way in which the curriculum is planned, taught, assessed, and monitored were identified as key areas for development in many schools. So, what must be done to ensure all our pupils have access to a high-quality curriculum across the full range of subjects? This blog post looks at how primary schools can achieve best practices through curriculum planning in foundation subjects to improve learning outcomes for all pupils.
A recent Ofsted report stated:
“Leaders must make sure that curriculum thinking identifies the important knowledge that pupils need to know and the order in which it should be taught in all subjects from the early years onwards”.
This theme was echoed in many reports.
In-depth planning of all subjects, identifying what must be taught and when, and ensuring a clear learning sequence are the bedrock of a successful curriculum. The following prompts may help you to evaluate your curriculum and identify where changes might be needed:
- What knowledge do we want pupils to acquire in each foundation subject?
- When will we teach the knowledge and skills we have identified?
- Do we have clear objectives for learning in each subject area?
- Is there a clear progression of skills across the year groups in each subject and each strand, e.g., locational geography, drawing, painting and sculpture
- Have we identified links across subjects?
- What are the skills we want pupils to develop, e.g., as an artist, a historian
- How do we ensure our pupils ‘know more and remember more’ at each stage of their learning journey?
- What opportunities are there for pupils to revisit learning at a later stage?
- How effectively does our curriculum build on prior learning?
Teaching the Foundation Subjects
Teaching foundation subjects was identified as an area of weakness in several schools. This was due largely to one or more of the following:
- Lack of detail about what they should be teaching and when – Some teachers are not sufficiently clear about what knowledge they should deliver and when this content should be taught.
- Curriculum coverage – Leaders, including subject leaders, have not ensured that all subjects are taught in all classes
- Weak subject knowledge – Some teaching staff do not have sufficiently secure subject knowledge. Teachers have not received the training and support to teach all subjects well.
- Lack of awareness of what pupils should know already so they can build on that prior knowledge – Some teaching does not use well the information about what pupils know already.
- Failure to identify and address gaps in learning – In some subjects, some teachers do not check how well pupils are learning the curriculum… As leaders finalise their curriculums, they should ensure that teachers use assessment strategies effectively to identify and address gaps in pupils’ learning.
Once the curriculum has been mapped out in detail, it is imperative to ensure that all teachers know the content of the curriculum, how and when they are required to teach it and how learning in that subject area is sequenced across the year groups from EYFS – Y6. It is also essential to ensure that all teachers have the subject knowledge they need to teach the subject well. If we want our teachers to address gaps in their subject knowledge, then further training may be required. This could take various forms, including internal or external CPD, self-study, mentoring, and team teaching. Ongoing staff development must be given a high priority. With a strain on school budgets, access to CPD is often an aspect which suffers, but it is essential for the development of all staff.
Assessment of Foundation Subjects
Assessment is ineffective in identifying what pupils know and can do in the foundation subjects. As a result, leaders and teachers are unable to adapt learning to meet pupils’ needs. Leaders need to implement effective assessment systems to understand pupils’ knowledge and determine future learning.
Ongoing assessment in all areas of the curriculum is essential if gaps in learning are to be identified and addressed. Effective assessment:
- Identifies what has been retained from previous learning and what is known already
- Identifies the starting point for learners at the beginning of a new topic/unit of work
- Identifies gaps in learning for individuals, groups and classes of pupils
- Identifies the learning which has taken place by the end of a topic/unit of work
- Identifies what has been learnt and remembered sometime after the teaching input.
- Identifies progress and attainment for individuals, groups and cohorts of pupils
Where curriculum plans identify steps/objectives in learning, assessment will be more straightforward as it will be against these steps/objectives. If teachers do not have a clear idea of what they should be teaching, assessment will be much more challenging.
Monitoring the Impact of Your Curriculum
Leaders do not make adequate checks on the implementation of the curriculum. As a result, they are not sure how well pupils learn. Leaders should ensure that systems are in place to ensure that the curriculum is being delivered effectively and that pupils know and remember more.
Many subject leaders are very new to their roles and do not understand their curriculum areas sufficiently. This means that they are not effectively monitoring how well pupils are learning. They do not always know what is going well or where teachers need more support.
Ofsted inspectors found that, in some schools, even though the curriculum was well planned and sequenced, there was little monitoring of its implementation and impact both by school leaders and subject leaders. In some cases, this led to subjects, or aspects of them, not being taught, a lack of awareness of where further staff support/training was needed and a lack of information about how successful, or otherwise, coverage of the curriculum for foundation subjects was.
Leaders need to ensure they get into classrooms to monitor teaching and learning across the curriculum. To make the most of those observations, identifying a focus is key. One suggestion would be to explore a strand of the curriculum, for example, locational geography. Monitoring of the area could take several forms:
- Lesson observations by the school and subject leaders
- Planning scrutiny – long, medium and short term, is there a clear link between them?
- Book look with all teachers bringing 2 or 3 pupils’ books to a meeting and checking that, as a staff, you can see coverage and progression in that area of the curriculum
- Discussion with pupils re what they know and remember about locational geography
- Discussion with staff to ensure they all know the sequence of progression so they build on prior learning and ensure pupils know and remember more
- Identifying areas where training and support are needed
- Identifying strengths and areas for development in that curriculum area
Over time the aim would be to look at strands of all foundation subjects to ensure pupils have access to effective teaching.
To ensure all pupils have access to an engaging, high-quality curriculum, time and attention must be devoted to core subjects and foundation subjects. A detailed, well-sequenced curriculum is needed, along with strong school and subject leadership and an effective system for assessment.
If you would value assistance on your journey, Juniper Education offers a range of resources, CPD and expertise to support you as you seek to ensure the best possible outcomes for your pupils.
Our CPD Courses include the following; click on the course title to find out more and book your place:
- New to foundation Subject Leadership
- Subject leader update: foundation subjects
- Preparing for Ofsted: The Deep Dive into foundation subjects
- Progression across the curriculum in foundation subjects
- Assessing Foundation Subjects in Sonar Tracker
Other resources you may find helpful are: