Are they bothered? Using the curriculum to help ‘level up’

Written by: Chris Jones | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We want our pupils to be ‘bothered’ about where they live. Warrington headteacher Chris Jones explains how the primary schools in his trust have developed a curriculum designed to stem the drain of talent

With Liz Truss now working through what is probably the biggest and most ominous Number 10 in-tray in recent history, it remains to be seen if a new prime minister will mean a renewed impetus behind the “levelling up” programme.

For school leaders like me here in the North West that agenda needs to be a priority. For years the town my primary school serves, Warrington in Cheshire, has struggled with a drain of talented youngsters leaving for better prospects in other parts of the UK, with London and the South East at the top of their lists.

The problem is clear to see from our own straw poll carried out just before the pandemic. Of a small sample of children who left year 6 in 2008, more than two-thirds are now working in the South East in sectors like financial services.

This phenomenon was effectively halted, unsurprisingly, during the pandemic and it remains to be seen if those trends start up again. What is clear is that it’s no good waiting around to see if our young people have decided to stay put, or for government to get its act together. We have to develop our own responses through forging a curriculum and strong community and business links.

Our school, Bruche Primary, and the trust we belong to – Warrington Primary Academy Trust – is working hard to promote these opportunities and experiences to our pupils.

It is for us a great example of creating the conditions for all our children to succeed and makes it worth sharing with new and aspiring headteachers as part of my work with the NPQH programme.

We have reshaped the WPAT curriculum to support our aims. We want our children to be “bothered” and to be interested in where they live. And we want them to develop the skills and character that they need to succeed in the jobs market in our area.

Ultimately, we want the skills we teach our children to stay in Warrington and not be lost to other parts of the UK.

This “botheredness”, as we call it, is crucial. It is built on three key elements:

  • Why Warrington?
  • Careers pathways
  • Humanity

Why Warrington?

Our “Why Warrington” element is something we feel passionate about because it's about us and our community – it's unique. Children should learn about the communities they live in, and we do this through many subjects including geography, history, art, PE, English, maths and science.

For example, in history we discuss questions such as:

  • What were the key influences in the growth of the town in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries?
  • Why and how did Warrington keep re-inventing itself after the rise and falls of industries and trends?
  • Why was Warrington chosen for the first IKEA store in the UK?

At the same time, we link this to our career pathways element to discuss the types of jobs Warrington had in the past and the labour market for future growth. This helps to “sell” our town to our children, highlighting the many opportunities for them to stay in Warrington.

Careers pathways

The second key element is planned out progressively from the early years to year 6 and topics include learning about different types of employment and employment skills in year 2, work life behaviours and gender stereotypes in year 3, and CV-writing workshop and budgeting and interview skills in year 5 and 6.

This part of the curriculum is linked to companies situated in Warrington so that our children can make a direct link from learning at Bruche to the opportunities available to them in Warrington – now and in the future.


As well as being bothered about their local community we want our children to grow their connection and understanding of the world they are growing up in.

Our school’s work with Chester Zoo enables our children to develop greater understanding of the world in which they live in and will gain secure geographical knowledge in the context of human experience and explore key concepts.

This connection has involved regular visits to the zoo and has included a visit to our school by zoo rangers. The children have learned about the impact of humans on animal populations, including illegal trades in fur and ivory, and even prompted them to write letters to the prime minister and the late Queen Elizabeth to express their views.

Ultimately, we want this part of their curriculum experience to have a direct impact on the choices their families make in regards to protecting our planet.

Curriculum clarity

In order for the curriculum to have this desired impact on pupils it needed to be carefully sequenced, broad, coherent – and, most importantly, authentic. Being authentic to the area your school serves is really important because it has to be something that your whole school community will buy into.

We made sure that we sat down together with all staff at the beginning of the curriculum design process so that they were involved in deciding the key concepts we wanted to drive through the curriculum, along with the planning of the knowledge and skills across the curriculum.

We used a backwards model to construct the curriculum, beginning with what we wanted the enduring learning to be. This was led by the subject leaders, with input from staff across the MAT as well.

Giving teachers a holistic view of the curriculum was also important. It used to be that if you taught in year 2, you just needed to be very familiar with the year 2 curriculum. But it was important to us that a year 2 teacher knew what the children have learned in year 1 and also what they were going to learn in year 3 and beyond.

We developed that holistic view in a range of ways. One was to encourage teachers to get in the habit of sharing their schemes of work and teaching approaches during staff CPD and meetings.

We also encourage our teachers – most are subject leaders – to work together in “quality teams”. For example, the humanities team will consist of subject leads for geography, history and RE, supporting each other in monitoring and assessing work and often spotting similar issues emerging in different subjects.

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.