Putting the pupil at the heart of the curriculum

Jo Campbell

Jo Campbell, executive headteacher of Shaw Wood Academy has had a long and varied career as both headteacher and advisor to schools. Passionate about ensuring the curriculum meets the needs of children, Jo continues to work with a brilliant team who support her with equal enthusiasm to challenge perceptions and constantly improve.

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Website: www.shawwoodacademy.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: Flickr // niexecutive. Image credit: Flickr // niexecutive.

I wholeheartedly agree with her majesty’s chief inspector of schools. That’s a sentence I never believed I would write. When, however, Amanda Spielman expressed the view that Primary schools who scrap most of the curriculum in Year 6 to focus just on English and maths could be accused of “putting the interests of schools ahead of the interests of the children in them”, it is difficult to see how any education professional could disagree.

Nor does present wisdom, which will hopefully be sustained, cause myself or the staff at our school - Shaw Wood Academy in Doncaster - any level of anxiety. Why? Simply because, like many others, we have been working to develop a truly broad curriculum for years. We now have plans in place to widen and deepen it beyond anything we have developed so far – but which hopefully will come to be commonplace.


Working to ensure rich, practically-based learning for our children has long been a focus for our school and many others. We believe that, after years of revisiting, revising and reconstructing “We now have in place a high quality and vibrant series of learning modules for each year group.”our present curriculum, we now have in place a high quality and vibrant series of learning modules for each year group. Excellent teaching of the Arts, Humanities, Science and Technology support our children to excel in subjects much wider than those of the core curriculum, but also enables them to read and write for purpose. Introduction of growth mindset teaching is now being further developed though, to be honest, the additionality this brings is proving hard to quantify. So – are we happy? Have we cracked it? Absolutely not.


In 2016, working with a particularly challenging Year 6 group at our annual outdoor challenge residential weekend gave us a true lightbulb moment. A likeable cohort of individuals with masses of spark, these young people had challenged teachers for years with their inability to ‘gel’. Their tendency to squabble, sulk, pick at each other’s faults was well known. All too often their lack of ability to be supportive of each other and their tendency to criticise peers in public resulted in low levels of attainment as many were reluctant to take a risk for fear of public embarrassment.


Away from their familiar environment and immersed in four days of intensive challenge and problem solving activities, where the only way to succeed was to support each other, was a true turning point for this group. Skilled instructors, trained to identify personality strengths, individual vulnerabilities, coordination skills, and the ability to think logically and laterally – or not – provided tasks and challenges for groups through which the children truly blossomed. With very few exceptions we watched as a true metamorphosis took place. This group of fractious individuals became a cohesive team who were keen to support each other to succeed. New leadership skills emerged. Those with a tendency to overpower became more self-aware. Our only regret – we didn’t take them at the beginning of the year.


Translating our observations into a vision for school that could be communicated has taken time. Senior staff have said, understandably, that it’s hard to unscramble ideas so that they can be put into practice. After a year of consideration and contemplation, however, we are embarking in 2017/18 on the next phase of curriculum development. “Higher levels of challenge underpin themes.”Programmes of study have been revised so that higher levels of challenge underpin themes, school has employed a ‘challenge coach’ who will work with children both within and outside class activities to develop a range of identified skills and behaviours. Working with external partners we aim to develop simple ways in which children, staff and parents can evaluate skills linked to mental toughness at key points throughout the year.


This school year will be a challenge. We know that some staff will find it difficult to see that working in this way does not necessitate finding more time in the day; we know that we won’t always have activities ready to develop those skills and attitudes needed; we know that communication will be an issue at times and that some staff will feel far less confident than others. We are also determined that, whatever the challenges, we will learn together, support each other, openly address fears, differences and successes. Would we want it any other way? Absolutely not. Our journey will mirror that of our children and together we will learn to aspire and succeed.


How will you be tackling the curriculum this year? Let us know below.

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