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Approaching autumn: How one school trust has revolutionised their curriculum to put wellbeing first

It’s a question that politicians, educators and parents have agonised over in recent months: what do children need after so much time away from school? Many have called for an intensive ‘recovery curriculum’ to ensure students regain ground in subjects like maths and English, whilst others have expressed concern about the potentially negative effects of this approach on students.

We spoke to one primary school trust which is determined to do things differently this autumn; below, Lisa Worgan of Victoria Academies Trust explains below how her team have created a curriculum that puts student experience and wellbeing at the centre of learning.

Knowing that our students had spent an unexpected and difficult six months away from the classroom, we felt we had to think outside the box when devising the autumn curriculum. As a team, we agreed that the idea of a catch-up curriculum, with an exclusive focus on core subjects, did not align with our Trust’s vision for students: real, immersive and purposeful learning, driven by challenges. Instead we felt that it was most important for students to share their thoughts and feelings about the last few months with peers and teachers, so that they could process their experiences and begin to reengage with learning in a school setting. Whilst a traditional focus on PSHE and wellbeing would be an important starting point for enabling these conversations, we were determined to take a holistic approach and use the entire curriculum. This way, we would be able to show children that their experiences over the last few months, be they negative or positive, were important.

To this end, we have designed a framework for our teachers to use in their lesson planning: through subjects such as history, PSHE, geography, art, music and English, we have aimed to enable students to situate their experiences within the wider context of the pandemic. For example, in English, we have designed writing tasks to help students express their own experiences, both helping to improve their written communication skills and allowing them the opportunity to explore their feelings towards the last few months. To emphasise the historical significance of their experiences, we will explain that in years to come students just like them will learn about 2020 through primary sources. This term, they can help to create these primary sources, including photos, artwork, songs and reports, through their schoolwork. This approach helps students to grasp the concept of history in a way they would not have been able to before: through creating these primary sources, the students will see first-hand that significant, real life events is what forms the history that people study in years to come. And they have been a part of history.

Naturally, some people might question where maths and science fit in to this innovative learning framework. We have, of course, ensured that these subjects are taught alongside this approach, in discrete lessons. We are aware that there will be gaps in students’ knowledge and they might be ‘further behind’ their expected level, but we are confident that with quality teaching, they will make progress. This has been an unprecedented experience that they have had to survive – if we can re-engage them in education, as well as making them feel safe and positive about an extremely turbulent few months, we are willing to spend slightly longer in ensuring that their maths and science skills catch up.

We have designed this approach based on what we believe to be most important: the welfare and wellbeing of our students. For educators across the UK, getting the first few weeks right will hugely impact the behaviour and engagement in learning for a generation of students. We need to allow space for acknowledging the last six months, whilst also building a feeling of momentum to help students move forward again. A crucial part of this task will be understanding our students as individuals, rather than pieces of data on tracking charts that tell us the children, inevitably, have knowledge gaps after so long out of the classroom.

 

Lisa Worgan is head of curriculum and innovation for Victoria Academies Trust, a primary-led academy chain in the West Midlands.

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