When Lowbrook Primary in Berkshire became an academy in April last year, it seemed the perfect opportunity to review and refresh its curriculum. The school wanted a curriculum that would be tailored to its locale and its particular intake. But what format to use?
The last government had intended to introduce a new primary curriculum, but this was scuppered by the general election and a new national curriculum is not expected until 2014.
Dave Rooney, Lowbrook's headteacher, asked all of the teachers to research curriculum developments and academic evidence. "We felt quite valued that Dave had asked our opinions," says Year 6 teacher Zoe Smith.
Rooney then amalgamated their findings and staff decided the curriculum structure proposed by the independent Cambridge Primary Review (CPR), an inquiry into primary education that started in 2006, would provide a good basis.
Over three years, the school plans to restructure the entire curriculum around the eight domains set out by CPR director Professor Robin Alexander. These are: arts and creativity; citizenship and ethics; faith and belief; language, oracy and literacy; mathematics; physical and emotional health; place and time; and science and technology.
Lowbrook began with "place and time" (history and geography) in order to make headway with another of the CPR's recommendations - a curriculum that is 30 per cent local. This means that the area's distinctive features, such as Windsor Castle and the River Thames, take pride of place. Work on the science and technology is nearly complete and language, oracy and literacy planning is underway. Every Inset day for a year has been devoted to curriculum development.
To raise the status of the subject domains, distinct physical spaces are being created - for example, an outdated ICT suite is being converted into a science lab. The changes have brought a decluttered curriculum (out go 14 separate subjects) and more collaborative working among teachers, since curriculum development is now done by teams rather than individual subject coordinators.
While cross-curricular thinking is seen as important at Lowbrook, language and speaking skills - also stressed by the CPR - underpin everything. Smith is spearheading an oracy drive, drama is used across all subject areas and children are talking about talking.
Another key recommendation of the CPR was to maintain a play-based curriculum for children under six. To implement this, the school's foundation stage now incorporates Year 1 and they have the same areas of learning as reception pupils.
Tips from the scheme
When you undertake a review, look at your staff. What are their strengths and passions?
Having physical areas for learning really adds value to those subjects.
Research what is best for your particular school and do not try to do everything at once.
Evidence that it works?
"The push on oracy has had a great impact on learning," says Smith. Classroom observations show that there is higher-level talk in lessons. Staff say the pupils love the new curriculum and that it has opened the way for greater creativity. Lowbrook, which has an average intake, already had high standards. Last year, it was the sixth highest performing school in the country and it has been in the top 100 for three years running.
Approach: Developing a curriculum based on the eight domains recommended by the Cambridge Primary Review
Leader: Dave Rooney, headteacher. Oracy development led by Year 6 teacher Zoe Smith
Name: Lowbrook Academy
Location: Maidenhead, Berkshire
Age range: 4-11
Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2011).