Curriculum review and redesign: A case study

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Broad: From its five curriculum drivers to the 60 Curriculum Challenge, the new curriculum at Stalham Infant and Junior Schools offers a range of experiences to pupils (image supplied)

From building vocabulary to cooperative learning and the 60 Curriculum Challenge, a curriculum review at Stalham Infant and Junior Schools led to a range of innovative reforms. Emma Lee-Potter finds out more

When Stalham Infant School and Stalham Junior School moved to the same site in 2020, executive headteacher Glenn Russell seized the opportunity to focus on the approach to teaching and learning. He was determined to ensure consistency across year groups and subjects and build high expectations for all pupils.

The Norfolk school serves a “relatively deprived” area and more than 26% of the 400 pupils are eligible for Pupil Premium funding. Once the infant and junior schools joined together Mr Russell took a long, hard look at the pupils’ educational journey from nursery through to year 6, with a particular focus on disadvantaged pupils.

“It meant we had the opportunity to sit down and reflect on our curriculum offering and what we want to achieve for all the children,” he explained. “It’s been a really lovely opportunity to review and reflect on what we are teaching them here.”

Curriculum design

The starting point was curriculum design. Deputy headteacher Ella Barnes began by going through the national curriculum for every subject, working with subject leaders to produce curriculum overviews and breaking each subject down into “I can” statements, prior learning, links to other curriculum areas and key vocabulary to be covered.

The team then created subject summaries for every subject, including three key core threads for each one. In reading, for example, the core threads are phonetic knowledge, fluency and decoding, and comprehension and inference, while in history the core threads are significance (people, events and developments), chronology, and legacy in the UK.

“It means that the children not only develop their knowledge in a horizontal way – in terms of learning about the Egyptians or the Vikings – but they also learn in a vertical way, in that every year they reflect back on the learning they have done before,” said Mr Russell. “So when they’re learning about the Romans they might be learning about Julius Caesar. But when they get to year 6 and are doing the Second World War they might compare Julius Caesar to Winston Churchill. There’s a thread running through the history curriculum that can be linked to regularly.”

Five curriculum drivers

Mr Russell and the senior leadership team also consulted the teaching staff, governors, the Boudica Schools Trust (which Stalham is part of), the pupils and their families, asking questions such as “what do we want our young people to be like?” and “what do we want them to be able to do?”.

This information helped them to develop five key curriculum drivers – five areas that Stalham focuses on throughout pupils’ time at the school. These are helping children to be mentally healthy and emotionally literate, enabling them to become eloquent and effective communicators, inclusion for all, providing a wide range of experiences and opportunities outside the academic curriculum, and preparing them for secondary school.

“We then broke the curriculum drivers down to show what each one looked like in early years, key stage 1, years 3 and 4 and years 5 and 6,” said Mr Russell. “So we can see the progression that we expect to see in those five key areas as the children move through the school.”

When it comes to experiences and opportunities, for example, early years children will “start to access a rich set of musical and sporting experiences led by specialists” while pupils in years 5 and 6 will get the chance to take part in clubs, have overnight trips and face new challenges.

The 60 Curriculum Challenge

In a similar vein, the school launched the Stalham 60 Curriculum Challenge – 60 things that children get the opportunity to do before they start the next stage of their education.

Some aspects of Stalham 60 have been difficult to facilitate during the pandemic but challenges for year 1 pupils include performing a poem, baking, visiting a library, making a card for a family member, creating some natural art, learning to skip, and going for an autumn walk.

Meanwhile, year 5 pupils get the chance to learn basic first aid skills, visit a planetarium, learn to ride a bike safely, visit a zoo, visit the beach, try foods from around the world, and have an afternoon tea.

“There are so many things that we take for granted that a lot of these families and children may not experience,” said Mr Russell. “We’re really fortunate to have lovely beaches in Norfolk but loads of the children don’t go to them so we made sure we built into the curriculum that they all have a beach visit. By the end of year 6 they should have done things like campfires, nights away and learning to ride bikes as well as basic things like doing their laces up and splashing in puddles.”

Cooperative learning

The teaching staff use cooperative learning to make sure that teaching strategies are consistent throughout the school.

“It’s a group of set routines and tools that we use in every year group and every subject,” said Mr Russell. “Rather than children having to remember what they are learning and then taking five minutes to understand the activity that they’re going to do to practise that learning, they already know the activities because they have done them before.”

Knowledge and skills are modelled by the teachers and then pupils practise these skills in a series of structured CLIPS (cooperative learning interactive patterns). Each CLIP is designed to encourage elements of listening, speaking, questioning and response and involves children moving around the class, speaking to each other and answering questions.

The Stalham teachers sometimes use a CLIP called Catch One Partner. Each child is given a card with a question on it. They approach a partner and say: “Excuse me, can I ask you a question please?” The other child answers the question, asks their own question in return, the pair swap cards and then each goes and finds another partner. “It’s brilliant for social interaction and communication development as well,” said Mr Russell.

Building vocabulary

As well as communication skills, the school has focused on building vocabulary and has developed between 10 and 15 key words in every subject. In history, for example, the word “chronology” is part of pupils’ core vocabulary. Early years children learn about putting things in order – “this is what happened yesterday” and “this is what might happen tomorrow” – whereas year 6 pupils’ understanding is more sophisticated and related to historical events.

Another innovation is the introduction of “R and Rs” – short reflect and retrieve activities linked to a subject’s three core threads or core vocabulary. Every lesson from year 1 to year 6 starts with an R and R, perhaps a question like: “Last year you learned about Julius Caesar. Tell me two things you learned about Julius Caesar.”

Mr Russell has also made supporting staff with resources and CPD a top priority. His mantra is “valued people, successful schools” and he believes that if you provide people with care, support and kindness you get the best out of them. Subject leaders get an additional half-day every half-term to focus on their subjects (on top of PPA time) and teachers regularly share good practice with each other.

Rather than a subject leader or the senior leadership team doing “book looks” the staff do it together – “so everyone can see the good things going on, rather than it being a punitive or accountability activity”.

High impact

Mr Russell is convinced that the school’s approach has had a considerable impact on the achievements of the more disadvantaged pupils.

“The richness of the experiences that the children have now is significantly greater,” he said. “We also have a mental health lead who is in school for the majority of the week who supports and targets disadvantaged children and makes sure that they are in the best place to access learning. You can have the best teaching in the world but if the children are not in the right frame of mind to access it, it’s not going to happen.”

He is hugely proud of everything the schools have achieved in the last two years, even though Covid-19 has made things more difficult. Thanks to the level of planning and the constant focus on children’s outcomes the staff feel ready for the junior school’s Ofsted inspection, which is due this year.

“In terms of being organised and prepared we are as ready as we can be – because of the time and focus the staff have shown in getting their heads round the curriculum and sharing good practice,” he said.

“I count myself so lucky to be working here with these brilliant people.”

Top three tips

When asked for three tips for overseeing curriculum design changes, Mr Russell said:

  • You can’t build Rome in a day. Everything has to be planned out, so pick the things that will have a big impact in a short space of time and flesh them out from there.
  • Staff can only do things if you give them time to do them. Build your staff structure in a way that allows them time to plan. We provide our teachers with additional PPA time.
  • Create a file contents page for every subject leadership file so whatever anyone asks them, subject leaders will be in a perfect position to answer. Having clarity and structure in place is really important.

The 14th National Pupil Premium Conference

Glenn Russell will be speaking about his school’s range of Pupil Premium approaches at the 14th National Pupil Premium Conference, taking place on Friday, March 18, in Birmingham. Organised by SecEd and Headteacher Update, this event offers 18 keynote and workshop sessions. Glenn’s session is entitled A takeaway toolkit: Pupil Premium at Stalham Infant & Junior Schools. For details, visit

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