Our curriculum: Structure and timetabling
The basis and rationale for the structure of our curriculum:
The timetabling and delivery structure of our curriculum plays a significant role in enabling it to succeed.
With this in mind, we undertook a range of activities to find a structure and system that works. These activities included:
- Whole-staff discussions
- Attending relevant professional development
- Evaluating current research
- Trialling different approaches
When considering how to best deliver our curriculum, we were very aware of:
- The compelling research into spaced learning (or ‘retrieval practice’). The concept of retrieval practice has its origins in cognitive science. It has a strong evidence base and is becoming more widely discussed amongst teachers around the globe. It is a learning approach focussed on getting information out of pupils’ brains (retrieval) after it has been learnt. When we focus only on getting information into pupils’ brains, we can be misled by instant recall and success – we assume that because pupils learn quickly, they will remember. This is often not the case. Pupils forget. Retrieval practice intervenes after a pupil has started to forget. They are challenged to retrieve their knowledge. It is not always easy. In a blog post, US educator Doug Lemov (author of Teach like a Champion) explains that “the fact that you must work harder to retrieve it but then do so successfully causes you to build a stronger neural pathway.” In the context of curriculum design, we were eager to ensure our curriculum was structured in a way that allowed learning to be spaced over time, providing opportunities for ‘retrieval’.
- The advantages of longer timetabled ‘blocks’ in providing scope for deep learning. By devoting a full afternoon of curriculum time to a subject, we are better able to ‘dive deep’ into the learning content. From a learning perspective, we believe this will help pupils develop a stronger knowledge and understanding because they are focussed on one thing for a full afternoon – switching subjects may confuse some pupils and weaken our attempts to help them remember. There is a practical element here too – if a class are using a particular set of resources to support their learning in a subject, it is more efficient to use these resources all afternoon (rather than pack away half-way through in order to get out another set of resources). In the context of curriculum design, we were eager to ensure our curriculum was structured in a way that allowed ‘deep dives’ into subjects whilst using our time efficiently.
- The benefits of discrete subject teaching. We wanted to be confident in our delivery of the full National Curriculum in KS1 and KS2 – we also wanted children to develop a clear understanding and awareness of the separate subject disciplines.
- The opportunities we have to link learning across the clear and discrete subject disciplines. We wanted to grasp every opportunity we had to forge meaningful links across the curriculum – when done well, this improves engagement and enhances knowledge retention.
We found a way in which we could combine both longer timetabled ‘blocks’ of deep learning with the research around spaced learning.
Which subjects do we teach and when?
Our approach involves splitting subjects into two groups. The first set of subjects (group A) are taught every half-term; in KS2, this list includes mathematics, English, science, PE, RE, Spanish and PSHE. The second set of subjects (group B) are each taught in 3 of the available 6 half-terms; in KS2, these subjects include art and design, design and technology, geography, history, music and computing.
Group B subjects have been carefully mapped across the 6 half-terms to ensure that meaningful links can be made between discrete subject areas.
Within each half-term, when is each subject taught?
Across a typical 6 week half-term, each of the group A subjects is taught every week. We then devote a series of full afternoons to the group B subjects. The teacher will look at the half-term as a whole and decide how to allocate the full afternoon slots effectively so that each of the three group B subjects is taught well.
The number of full afternoons allocated depends on the subject. This ensures learning is deep across a full, focussed afternoon but also ensures learning is spaced over time.