Mastery of a broad and balanced curriculum...

Written by: Craig Clarke | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Lea Forest Primary Academy delivers an enriched, broad and balanced curriculum, at the heart of which is a five-part mastery model that guides teaching and learning. Headteacher Craig Clarke explains

Lea Forest Primary Academy’s motto is “find your remarkable” – and for good reason. Situated on the outskirts of Birmingham, it is in the top 10 per cent of deprived areas in the country with mass unemployment with almost three-quarters of the pupils qualifying for Pupil Premium funding. Despite this, the school is in the top one per cent of the highest performing schools nationally.

In 2016, Lea Forest was judged “good” by Ofsted for the first time. However, the inspection report stated that “pupils’ love of reading is not widespread” and “children do not learn consistently in reading, writing and maths”. Since then, the following initiatives have become embedded and have led to a marked increase in progress and attainment and a more practical approach to teaching, learning and assessment:

  • An English, mathematics and science mastery flow teaching model – a five-part model to prepare pupils for the modern world. The desired outcome for this learning journey is “mastery”.
  • A creative curriculum approach, which is knowledge and skills-based – where depth is as important as breadth – at times, even more so. Children are offered plenty of opportunities to deepen their understanding of “the basics”, subjects and concepts.

The Mastery Flow Model

The school has adopted a consistent mastery flow approach in English, maths and science. The five-part model is now fully embedded and lessons, books and classroom environments are of a consistently high standard.

The model is based on a range of educational research including Bruner’s Multiple Representations (1966), Skemp’s Relational vs Instrumental Understanding (1976), Bloom’s Taxonomy, and others. The five steps can be seen below and the aims of each step are as follows:

  • Representation: Pupils have a deep conceptual understanding of a learning objective (and not just a method, rule or fact) by making connections with prior learning contextualised with the bigger picture.
  • Fluency: Pupils can independently and directly answer routine and familiar questions.
  • Probing questions: Pupils can independently prove their conceptual understanding.
  • Further extension: Pupils can interleave their conceptual understanding and prior learning to answer questions in less familiar contexts.
  • Rich tasks: When pupils can devise their own approach to explore unfamiliar contexts and reflect on their response.

Deep learning: The five-part Mastery Flow Model, as used by Lea Forest Primary Academy, supports independent study

Children are fully aware of the teaching sequence and always feel appropriately challenged. They are able to work through the different stages either independently or with support.

All classrooms have an interactive English, maths and science working wall which shows the five-part mastery flow including key examples, vocabulary, models and evidence of children’s work to support pupils in their learning journey.

A creative curriculum

Children are offered plenty of opportunities to deepen their understanding of the basics, subjects and concepts through the Cornerstones Curriculum, which Lea Forest has made very much its own.

The creative curriculum builds on the experiences outlined in the individual Cornerstones projects. Strands are chosen for each subject to cater for the needs of the children. There is a focus on linking strands of geography, history and so on together, providing a breadth of study.

While Lea Forest has chosen to teach English, mathematics and science as discrete subjects, these core skills are then reapplied in the topics, allowing opportunities for mastery and learning in context. They are applying and developing children’s skills across the curriculum.

A central aim of the school’s curriculum is to widen children’s horizons, raise their expectations and aspirations. Lea Forest has prioritised making enriching experiences, such as educational visits and lessons that take children out of their normal frame of reference, part of the pupil offer. The school feels it is crucial to provide these experiences for the children, to help them engage with a topic and for their knowledge and understanding to “stick”. When they remember these experiences, then they learn more and take on skills for lifelong learning.

Presentation and high-quality work are a key focus. Expectations are high and children know that their efforts are valued, particularly within their stunning curriculum books. At the start of every project, every child is given a book featuring engaging templates and backgrounds for them to create a high-quality record of their learning. The curriculum books have been a huge success and give children and teachers a real sense of achievement. The books also instil the children with an awareness of how far they have come and what they have learnt.

Pupils are also awarded certificates for their achievements and across the school staff have exemplification booklets of high-quality activities and examples of work to support and share the best practice in the school.

Non-threatening and supportive drop-in sessions enable middle leaders to support teachers in ensuring a consistent approach. A coaching model also supports and improves the quality of education. Although consistency is key, the school never takes away teachers’ individuality. Consistency simply sets the minimal expectation.

Support and leadership

Subject leads are well established and developed in their roles. Many of them have undertaken middle or senior leadership training and are involved in wider trust curriculum teams, working with a wide family of schools across England to develop teaching strategies based on evidence and research. Every two weeks, each middle leader or team meets with colleagues from different year groups, representing the whole school, to drive their areas. They also provide coaching and mentoring if necessary.

Non-negotiables have been discussed and agreed by staff and pupils – this has led to consistency across the whole school, from books to displays. For new staff or visitors, there are handbooks for each subject area which have been created to explain the mastery sequence and approaches.

Consistency has been ensured by the senior leaders and middle leaders demonstrating outstanding teaching and learning and through regular showcases, in which staff are encouraged to share books, outcomes and resources in staff meetings.

Elsewhere, our wonderful school library is the heart of the school and helps foster a love of reading, with every class having a session with the librarian. It is also open after school to serve the wider community, allowing pupils to share books with their parents and to carry out research.

Knowing the impact of the curriculum

The school has seen a significant impact on both outcomes and wellbeing. The most recent end of key stage 2 data shows that the percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard was 90 per cent in reading, writing and maths combined, 97 per cent in reading, 93 per cent in spelling, punctuation and grammar, 97 per cent in maths, and 93 per cent in writing. School progress scores have all been very positive and phonics results are also high (93 per cent in 2019). Senior leaders have been impressed with how results have improved. We feel there is an equal balance between knowledge and skills and children are getting a really good deal – having enjoyable experiences really does have an impact on their learning.

Staff have already felt a positive impact on their workload since using Cornerstones Curriculum. In terms of planning, the project plans free teachers up to do what matters. Children are also beginning to direct their own learning – they generate questions that direct the next line of enquiry. This active involvement is already helping learning to “stick”.

What did and didn’t work?

The biggest challenge has been in engaging parents. Relationships with parents have been developed through an active senior leadership team and also through the use of the Parent and Community Advisory Board, which works with the school, parents and wider community to drive initiatives. This has been successful in raising funds for the school and building stronger partnerships. Parent workshops have helped to share the school vision with families.

Sharing and celebrating

The school has a real buzz about it with a strong team-work culture. Staff support each other and live and breathe the school’s values and motto, always striving to create opportunities for children to be their remarkable selves. The school regularly shares work and celebrates both the staff and children’s achievements, including via Twitter accounts that have been created for each year group and each subject area. 

  • Craig Clarke is the headteacher of Lea Forest Primary Academy, an AET academy in Birmingham and a member of the Whole Education network.

Further information & resources

Whole Education is a network of schools and partners dedicated to delivering a fully rounded education for children. Visit

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