Ask the Experts

We asked our Subject Specialist Associate Consultants “How does a curriculum for your subject build across age phases?”

Here is what they told us;

Lynn Welsh – Secondary Art and Design

“The National Curriculum in Art and Design, as many of you already know, could be described as woolly or a little bit vague at best, this can be a curse or a blessing.

The flexibility that this ambiguity brings can allow us to provide a curriculum that plays to staff’s individual strengths, can be bespoke to our learners needs, is relevant and cross curricular but it can also be a daunting prospect to develop a curriculum that provides the best education possible for our youngsters when we have little guidance to draw on.

If we start at the beginning, In Key Stages 1,2 and 3, the aims are for our learners to:

  • produce creative work, exploring their ideas and recording their experiences
  • become proficient in drawing, painting, sculpture and other art, craft and design techniques
  • evaluate and analyse creative works using the language of art, craft and design
  • know about great artists, craft makers and designers, and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms.

These key elements are no different at Key Stage 4 and 5 where pupils are encouraged to develop their creative language, consolidate and expand their practical skills, analyse, discuss, challenge and reflect on their own work or that of others. Experiment and explore images, artefacts and products, develop as independent learners who are confident, take risks and are reflective and enquiring.

In practice, we can develop a sequential curriculum by focussing on the formal elements, constantly reviewing and building on existing knowledge. We develop skills by refining our comprehension and application of these elements and expanding our understanding by engaging with art from different time periods and cultures.”

Helen Ostell – Primary and Secondary Physical Education

“The National Curriculum for Physical Education (2013) clearly outlines how the subject should build across age phases.   For example:

  • In key stage one, pupils should develop fundamental movement skills, become increasingly competent and confident and access a broad range of opportunities to extend their agility, balance and coordination, individually and with others. They should be able to engage in competitive (both against self and against others) and co-operative physical activities, in a range of increasingly challenging situations.
  • In key stage two pupils should continue to apply and develop a broader range of skills, learning how to use them in different ways and to link them to make actions and sequences of movement. They should enjoy communicating, collaborating and competing with each other. They should develop an understanding of how to improve in different physical activities and sports and learn how to evaluate and recognise their own success.
  • In key stage three pupils should build on and embed the physical development and skills learned in key stages 1 and 2, become more competent, confident and expert in their techniques, and apply them across different sports and physical activities. They should understand what makes a performance effective and how to apply these principles to their own and others’ work. They should develop the confidence and interest to get involved in exercise, sports and activities out of school and in later life and understand and apply the long-term health benefits of physical activity.
  • In key stage four pupils should tackle complex and demanding physical activities. They should get involved in a range of activities that develops personal fitness and promotes an active, healthy lifestyle.

Subject Leaders should use this, and the other information outlined in the National Curriculum, to devise a curriculum that is sequenced in a logical and progressive way so that all pupils acquire the intended knowledge and skills relevant to each key stage and cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and enjoyment.”

Kit Rackley – Secondary Geography

“Geography does this in a number of ways, but perhaps most prominently and importantly is how individual elements of Geography become more interconnected as you go up the Key Stages. In earlier years, topics tend to be learnt in isolation, whereas at GCSE and A-Level you really do need to start thinking of each issue, concept or process as a component of a larger one.”

Kirsty Wilcockson – Secondary Music

“Across all levels, at the heart should be enjoyment of creating and making music. It should encompass performing, composing/arranging, improvising and listening appraising. Each area should look to build musically so that proficient learners explore and understand how to produce and create music creatively. For example, looking at one strand of composing at KS3 learners could be working at ‘composing to given prompts’, progress to ‘manipulate given prompts with musical ideas’ and by KS4 ‘extend musical ideas according to given styles.’ At all levels a curriculum should look to value the fact that a learner’s musical experience is a lot wider than their curriculum lessons.”

Helen Snelson – Secondary History

“A coherent curriculum is built with strong communication across key stages. As students can drop history at the end of Key Stage 3, most students will study most history in primary school. As students might not continue to GCSE and A Level, there are implications for planning what all students should have studied before some drop the subject. At the same time, there is a need not to duplicate substantive topics taught at KS2, KS3, GCSE and A level. There is simply too much history for that and it leads to a boring diet for students. A coherent curriculum is planned over a long arc of time.

There is no part of history that is easier than another. A Year 7 can study medieval England and so can a Professor of History. The same is true for the disciplinary aspects of the subject. A Year 8 group can engage with change, and a Professor of History may still be grappling with its meaning. Of course, the Professor is operation at a different level, but aspects of the subject are not intrinsically easier than others. Historical learning is not linear.

Therefore, a curriculum is best built as a spiral. History teachers need to make hard decisions about what to include (and what to leave out) of a programme of study. They need to consider their students and choose historical enquiries, and place these historical enquiries carefully, so that students learn and revisit substantive and disciplinary concepts by studying topics from different times and places.

At secondary level the public examinations specifications will impact on choices at key stage 3 as well as KS4 and 5. However, the best departments, with some of the best results, do not let the ‘exam tail wag the history dog’. They know that passing an exam is only part of learning to do history well. The exam serves the history and not the other way around. Their curricula carefully build knowledge over time so it is secure. They provide opportunities for securing historical understanding. They do not focus on public exam questions from year 7. Instead, they focus on building secure disciplinary understanding and the ability to communicate as a historian – historical literacy. ”

As ever this is a short answer to a very large question. For more support with this you could go to The History Association.

Gillian Georgiou – Secondary Religious Education

“Constructing an effective curriculum in RE is about being clear about the different types of knowledge we are seeking to develop. The Ofsted RE Research Review (2021) cites three types of knowledge: substantive, disciplinary and personal. Depending on the type of school/academy in which you work, the region you are based in and the GCSE specification you follow, the substantive knowledge you teach might look quite different. This has implications for what curriculum progression might look like. It will be a case of being clear in your own mind what the end point needs to be – where do the students need to get to by the end of KS3/KS4/KS5? Crucially, it is also about being clear about where the students have come from – what you are building on from KS2. It can be really challenging to do this in a context where you have a high number of feeder primary schools, but as a rule of thumb, I tend to aim high rather than pitching low. Although we are only at the beginning of thinking about disciplinary knowledge in the context of RE, it is also important to think about what a movement towards greater complexity might look like from KS3 to KS5 – what, for example, an increasingly complex approach to hermeneutics (interpretation) might look like in practice. There is lots of conversation about this going on right now, so check our Secondary RE Subject Resources page for more information!”

Kate Percival – Primary Languages

“MFL provision at KS1 is not compulsory (it is, however, in Scotland and international schools) but can provide a fundamental ‘education of the ear’ to new sounds and meanings; a fun and active experience based on songs, stories and games.  When statutory language learning in England begins in KS2, pupils have four years to make progress in listening, speaking, reading and writing in the target language.  Within the Primary Language Network’s scheme of work, stages 1 and 2 (the first two formal years) provide the foundation and are similarly pitched covering greetings, colours, numbers, animals and other topics familiar to children of that age.  Children work at word level meeting nouns, then nouns and adjectives, and set phrases, embedding some key phonemes and simple grammatical rules of the language for example that in French and Spanish the adjective follows the noun.  In stages 3 and 4, the children’s language skills are developing; they can do more with the language such as express their opinions, join sentences with conjunctions and use a bilingual dictionary successfully to explore unfamiliar language. By the end of KS2, a pupil may be able to independently manipulate parts of language to say or write what they want to express. This may still be modelled and scaffolded but with the opportunity to engage in a ‘no ceilings approach’ to what they can produce.”

Allie Beaumont – Primary Science

“The key idea here is to understand progression. The National curriculum does build on ideas but the PLAN resources really help teachers to appreciate the links between topics and how these building blocks progress. Not only do PLAN provide progression in knowledge ladders for each of the national curriculum topics, which show the links to other topics, they also explicitly state the prior knowledge and future learning expectations within each topic matrix. This is key information for busy teachers to understand expectations. It is also important to note that the progression ladders identify EYFS and KS3 so that teachers can see how the subject knowledge builds across the phases. Alongside this, teachers will also need to appreciate how the children’s skills of working scientifically progress. The PLAN Progression in working scientifically skills document is an extremely useful resource to identify progression of skills from KS1 – KS2. However, it does also emphasise that

the characteristics of effective learning from the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage are the foundations on which the working scientifically skills build in Key Stage 1.”

Linda Whitworth – Primary Religious Education

“Curricula in RE are varied, but they all aim to deepen pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills in RE and promote learning which enables them to live in a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-secular world.

There has been a lot of discussion about building knowledge in RE, so this piece focuses on understanding and applying Ofsted’s thinking about knowledge as set out in the Research Report on RE (2021).

I recommend you are familiar with what progress looks like in your Agreed Syllabus so that you can relate it to the published advice on progression from Ofsted. In particular it would be helpful if you consider the following sections in the Ofsted Research Review on Religious Education (2021) when thinking about progression.

These parts of the Research Review are already being worked on by the RE community and their language is being repeated and explored in a number of different projects.

RE should build in 3 areas: substantive knowledge, ways of knowing and personal knowledge (Ofsted 2021).

Substantive knowledge includes ‘knowing more and remembering more’, which is key to Ofsted’s approach to knowledge. Schemes of work should indicate to both teachers and pupils how knowledge of religions and non-religious understandings develop. There should be a clear arc of learning which builds on previous knowledge and prepares for future knowledge. There is such a large amount that can be selected in RE, including different religious and non-religious traditions, that it is very important that the RE curriculum uses carefully chosen, sequential or linked material which enables pupils to develop a depth of understanding rather than a shallow breadth. Subject leaders and teachers need to aim for depth within and across different Key Stages as presented in their Agreed Syllabus.

Young pupils benefit from lessons which explore and embed understandings and enable them to build schema which can be revisited and developed in later learning. Some Agreed Syllabuses select a small number of religions and worldviews in Reception/KS1 and relate the learning to concepts such as identity, story, life experience and celebration. More religions and worldviews are then added later to extend knowledge and refine understandings. Other Agreed Syllabuses have a larger number of religions taught from KS1 onwards, so it is important to understand the structure of the syllabus your school is using. One of the areas which develops depth is by representing religions as diverse rather than uniform. Pupils should know for example that there are different denominations within different religions. A good way to introduce pupils to this diversity is through teaching about different individuals (often children) who belong to the same religion but practise differently. Resources are available to assist with this approach. (e.g. KS2 BBC video on different Christian denominations worshipping.)

Ways of Knowing refers to pupils’ developing understanding of how knowledge is approached. It includes understanding the tools and methods of enquiry, verification and interpretation which are used in scholarship in RE. There is currently research being undertaken in primary schools about the different disciplines which underpin RE. Three in particular have been identified, theology, philosophy and social sciences. Each of these approaches has different premises which frame the way they understand knowledge and each has a place in developing pupils’ ‘toolboxes’ of approaches to RE. For example, KS2 pupils could be introduced to information from the census to understand the range of religions practised in the UK. This is using a social sciences approach. Studying the beliefs and practices themselves could involve using both theological and a social science lenses. To help pupils understand the impact of the beliefs on someone’s life, pupils could pose and respond to philosophical questions which help them consider their own views as well as those of others.

Personal Knowledge refers to the developing way in which the pupil reflects on their learning and understands their own positionality. There are potential links here to SMSC and PSHE. There should be a relationship between the substantive knowledge, ways of knowing and personal knowledge which flows through the content of the RE curriculum and enables pupils to reflect on their own developing understanding of themselves and their identities in the context of religions and worldviews.

RE subject leaders in primary schools should aim to map the development of these 3 types of knowledge across the curriculum and discuss with teachers in each year group the part of the curriculum they are teaching and its relationship to previous and later learning. It is particularly important to match the learning to the age and stage of the pupils being taught and employ pedagogies which help pupils to engage with the lesson content, recalling and reflecting on  their learning. EYFS/KS1 pupils often benefit from learning about individuals and their stories before concepts  and there should be opportunities for pupils to revisit and refine earlier learning so that it is contextualised. Mapping will enable teachers to see development and recognise the depth of learning each year group is achieving. By the end of primary school, pupils should understand some tenets of the religions and worldviews they have studied, diverse ways of believing and living within and across different religions and worldviews, different ways of understanding knowledge in the subject and have ideas on how their own understandings and views are developing.”

Matteo Sciberras – Primary Mathematics

“The national curriculum for maths is considerably more comprehensive than other subjects so the answer to this question can be found throughout the document. However, it is important to note that foundational maths knowledge tends to be hierarchical. For example, a limited understanding of place value in KS1 is going to create problems when dealing with larger numbers in KS2, a limited understanding of number bonds within 20 is going to limit fluency when using formal methods of addition etc. The Department for Education’s Ready to Progress criteria, published to support schools with learning loss due to the pandemic, have been useful to help schools with curriculum prioritisation and progression, showing the hierarchy of maths and how it builds across age phases.”

Steve Willshaw – Secondary English

“In an ideal world there would be a clear, systematic development of skills in reading, speaking and listening and writing across the key stages. KS3 should be wide ranging and encourage pupils to develop their own strong opinions about texts which they can articulate with confidence in speech and writing. This would then flow on into KS4, resulting in free thinking learners who respond to exams by reading the question and providing a fresh, thoughtful and insightful answer rather than trying to regurgitate something their teacher said in a lesson six month previously.”

If you have any questions you would like to ask our experts, then please contact us.

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