A curriculum to stimulate a sense of engagement

Written by: Steve Kernan | Published:
ICCE in action: Newington Academy’s curriculum centres on Independence, Collaboration, Creativity and Expression (Images: Supplied)

A curriculum focusing on independence, collaboration, creativity and expression has been the key to turning around a primary school in an area known as ‘little Beirut’. Headteacher Steve Kernan explains

Newington Academy is a primary school member of the Academies Enterprise Trust based in an area of Hull with significant social deprivation which had, until recently, turned into a ghetto for crime, drug use and prostitution – known locally as “little Beirut”.
As part of a stalled regeneration project, the Woodcock Street/Hawthorne Avenue area had spent years in decline, with a legacy of mass unemployment and condemned housing. At its centre and grimly reflecting these conditions was Newington Academy.

At its lowest, the school had 187 children on roll in 2011 – a figure that now stands at 363. It has been an incredibly long-haul journey for us, but five years on we have been able to create a school that radiates warmth and vitality – a place where our children display a true love of learning.

Curriculum choices have been critical in making that journey a success and we have developed outward-facing partnerships with inspirational schools such as North Ormesby Primary Academy in Middlesbrough to broaden that scope.

We aimed to develop a curriculum that goes beyond simple coverage of objectives and which develops a true sense of engagement through the use of enriched environment, media, visits, visitors and celebrations of work in learning portfolios.

The curriculum aimed to provide an experience for our children rather than schemes of work that did little to enrich their understanding of the world around them.

Four key strands form the backbone of our ICCE curriculum, with each one based around the skills that the vast majority of our pupils lack when they start at Newington – Independence, Collaboration, Creativity and

Expression. Key questions identify to what extent we are providing this curriculum:

  • Independence: Are pupils able and willing to steer their own learning?
  • Collaboration: Can pupils work alongside others in a supportive climate?
  • Creativity: Do pupils have the chance to do things differently?
  • Expression: Are there opportunities to express individualism?

Curriculum choices have been critical in making that journey a success. In essence, the rationale behind the ICCE curriculum was to provide an experience for our children rather than schemes of work that looked great on paper but did little to enrich their understanding of the world around them.

There are many similarities to other schools’ curricula; indeed, the actual objectives and learning intentions start life at the same point. However, it is how they develop from this point and grow in terms of enrichment that, we think, makes our curriculum unique. They include:

  • Immersive environments.
  • School visits.
  • School visitors.
  • Media use.
  • Bespoke parental engagement.
  • Celebrations of success.

Evidence of success

All groups of children now actively engage with the environments around them and are proud of what they achieve. Standards have seen a four-year upwards trend in each of our headline indicators – EYFS, phonics, key stage 1 and key stage 2.

Our children come into school significantly below their national peers and leave us in year 6 with attainment levels above those found nationally – they make outstanding progress. In particular, English as an additional language (EAL) and disadvantaged pupils (our last two year 6 cohorts comprised 62 and 67 per cent free school meals) make exceptionally good progress.

Our real indicator of success, however, is the work that children produce and the enjoyment with which they carry out their learning, both in lessons and beyond the classroom environments.

What did and didn’t work

We have made plenty of mistakes along the way but we have learnt from them and, once the tears had dried up, we tried again from a different angle. The resilience of our leaders, teachers and support staff has been critical.

Our vision was always a clear one, but logistically and practically we have had to re-evaluate our own mindset to make things work. Timetables have changed, work in books looks different, children and staff behave differently towards one another and the school feels unlike the one I first entered six years ago. Each of these changes involved its individual battles but was imperative to our growth.

Workload and our staff’s social and emotional mental health and wellbeing was always at the forefront of changes and that still stands today – our staff don’t work harder, but they do work smarter.

The future

Sustainability and stability are crucial, both for the community we serve and for our teachers’ wellbeing. We talk a lot about mastery for children but I believe that the notion of mastery is an important concept for our school leaders too. The immediate future will see us continuing to tweak and sharpen our curriculum and the way it “lands” for children at Newington. And we will continue to face outwards and absorb great practice and ideas from all over the country.

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