Shaking up your curriculum

Mark Beverley

After graduating in 1992, Mark worked for three years in the UK before moving to Singapore, where he was head of English at the United World College of South East Asia. He returned to the UK in 2008 and is currently director of curriculum at Sevenoaks School.

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Images courtesy of author. Images courtesy of author.

When the English GCSE exam was described as ‘not fit for purpose’ four years ago by then education secretary Michael Gove, a widespread concern about GCSEs was reported by the national press. In fact, many educators already believed that traditional GCSEs were dull and insufficiently challenging, and a few independent schools had been developing their own Middle Years curricula and examinations, including Bedales, Malvern College and Sevenoaks School.

A traditional Middle Years curriculum tends to encourage a mindset defined only by the limitations of unadventurous examinations, and, as a result, is a poor means of preparation for“Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Creativity and People Management are paramount.” higher education or for the workplace. In its recent Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum identified the top ten skills that will be required in the workplace of 2020. At the top were Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Creativity and People Management – qualities not encouraged in GCSE courses which encourage students to spend months preparing for exams and little time developing independent investigation skills, critical thinking and a genuine interest in the subject.

At Sevenoaks School, we seek to offer our students courses which develop these skills and promote a global outlook and an interdisciplinary approach to study. A number of recent initiatives have been implemented in the Sevenoaks Middle School curriculums, which rethink the way these years operate. One is a suite of Sevenoaks School Certificate courses in Arts, Humanities and Technology, launched in 2010, with the first exams taken in 2012.

The Sevenoaks School Certificates are recognised by UCAS as a Year 11 qualification. Developed by Sevenoaks School, they are internally examined and moderated, but final moderation is undertaken by an independent external specialist. A range of assessment methods are employed, including terminal examinations in Year 11, coursework portfolios and oral assessment. Alongside these, which we now offer in nine subjects, our students continue to take IGCSEs and GCSEs.

Freedom to construct these courses ourselves has meant that we can introduce exciting, distinctive elements designed to elicit a strong sense of personal engagement with them, and we are also mindful of the need to prepare students for learning in the digital age.

In addition, the courses place emphasis on the notion of learning independently. In part, this emerges through the introduction of an element of choice; for example, not only can students select particular courses within a faculty area, but within each course they are invited to pursue certain areas “English students are asked to nominate a period or genre on which to focus.”in which they feel a particular interest. The English Literature course, for instance, asks students to nominate a period or genre on which to focus their independent project, and in both drama and music, students can select practitioners or theories in which they are particularly interested, as well as whether to follow a historical, technical or expressive individual journey.

At the centre of our Middle School curriculum is another innovation, two core subjects studied by all pupils in Years 9-11: Critical Perspectives, an applied course which teaches the principles of critical thinking, and Ten Ideas that Changed the World, which promotes critical and creative thinking about current affairs and matters of ethical, philosophical or religious importance. These are courses that are unique to Sevenoaks School, promote the values and ethos of the school, and prepare students for the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Theory of Knowledge component they will follow in the Sixth Form.

Combined with a personal research project and voluntary service activities, this curriculum provides a unique space within which pupils can explore, extend and reflect upon what they are learning.

We encourage a spirit of curiosity, discussion and creativity and the result is the students and teachers really enjoy themselves. We are beginning the 2017/18 year with the launch of our new Sevenoaks Middle School Diploma programme, which will sit alongside the Sevenoaks School certificates.

The aim of this new unique Diploma programme is to take into account the ways in which academic, intellectual, personal and emotional qualities are all inter-related, whilst providing students with the opportunity to learn and reflect as they move through the Middle School. Students will be assessed on skillsets that often go unrecognised, or are historically undervalued, in the old-fashioned curriculum model – skills such as enquiry, creativity, independent learning, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and international awareness.

For example, an ethical outlook on the world, an ability to listen as well as lead, a willingness to work productively with others, and a sensitivity to cultural differences are just some of the characteristics that the new Diploma seeks to celebrate and to nurture. These are qualities increasingly being recognised by universities and employers, and reflect our commitment to the provision of a rounded, complete education for our students. Sitting alongside, and in support of their GCSE or Sevenoaks School Certificate courses, the Diploma will therefore enhance the relationship between Middle School years and the IB, as well as lay important groundwork for our students’ lives once they leave the school.

How will you be shaking things up this year? Let us know below.

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