Follow one school’s journey through curriculum design and discover how the process has been supported by Sonar Curriculum. Using the innovative digital platform, the school has moved from its ‘inadequate’ starting point to an outstanding judgement from Ofsted.
Curriculum design can be overwhelming…
A few years ago, like thousands of other primary schools in England, Silkmore Primary Academy in Stafford was grappling with curriculum design and delivery. Leaders were working tirelessly to make sense of the then-new Primary National Curriculum, raising questions about how best to design a model that suited the school’s needs.
“It was an incredibly demanding task,” explains Joanna Connelly, current headteacher at the school.
“We knew we wanted to create something that truly matched the needs of our children and that would help us track progress across all subjects. We deliver most teaching and learning through topics, but we felt that our children and teachers weren’t always able to get to the heart of individual subjects within each topic.”
Staff workload and well-being were also factors that leaders were conscious of during this process.
“There are so many pressures on staff in primary, so we wanted to make sure we weren’t adding to that,” continues Jo. “We had to find a way forward that ensured relentless high standards but that also felt manageable for staff.”
Exploring the options…
Along with the wider leadership team at the time, Joanna investigated a number of potential ‘solutions’ that could help support the process.
“All of the options we looked at were too prescriptive,” she explains. “They just didn’t feel like our school and we felt they would remove teachers’ autonomy.” “We wanted to make sure the staff had ownership of anything we created and truly understood the whole picture. Life in a primary school is frenetic and it’s hard for everyone to have a strong grasp of the overarching vision. But fragmentation is a huge problem and we believe that it’s only by having a coherent, joined-up approach that we can make a difference to the children we serve.”
Finding a solution…
It was at the start of 2018 that leaders at Silkmore Primary Academy became aware of Sonar Curriculum (previously known as Concentric Curriculum) and it ticked all the boxes.
“One of the best things about the curriculum is the clarity it provides for leaders and teachers. It cuts through the white noise and gets straight to the heart of the matter. My staff have a really clear understanding of what is expected across all subjects, so even though we still use topics and themes, we are able to drill down into discreet subjects.”
“The model doesn’t overcomplicate; it presents really complex thinking in an accessible, straightforward way. Staff have loved it from the very beginning because they could see how it supported and facilitated their thinking around curriculum. One teacher said it was a ‘lightbulb’ moment for her.”
The impact of using this model has resulted in a vastly reduced workload for staff, allowing more time to plan and deliver inspiring, purposeful learning opportunities – something that was highlighted by Ofsted during the school’s 2018 inspection.
“Sonar Curriculum was being implemented in school during our inspection and we were delighted when inspectors commented on the ‘buzz around learning’ in their report.”
“The children were able to clearly articulate their learning across the curriculum and teachers were able to plot the progress of our children as historians, geographers and so on. It really has been a game-changer for us as a school.”
Best for leaders and teachers…
The model is lauded by both subject leaders and teachers, both of whom report that the resources and materials make life so much easier when it comes to planning deliberate leadership activity and teaching and learning opportunities.
“The wealth and quality of resources save time and reduce workload at all levels in the school’s teaching and learning team. They provide a strong starting point for teachers to base their lessons on.”
“But best of all, teachers can take the guidance and then adapt it to suit a more individualised, flexible approach. We have ended up with a really bespoke curriculum that feels like our school and that we constantly review to make sure it continues to match the needs of our children.”
Covid catch up…
Jo goes onto report that the digital platform has been a huge support during the pandemic, with its clear direction and coherent approach to all subject areas.
“During our periods of remote learning, teachers were still able to successfully deliver the Sonar Curriculum model and continue with the suggested units and themes.”
“With a full return to the classroom at the beginning of March, it was immediately obvious that we needed to prioritise reading and writing. We used the Sonar Curriculum platform to identify gaps and create a whole-school reading and writing focus. It’s worked wonderfully, particularly with regard to improving vocabulary, writing stamina and reading fluency.”
“We have used this model successfully for the last few years, including during the pandemic, and we look forward to seeing how Sonar Curriculum continues to grow and develop over the coming months.”