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Opening minds to new ways to learn

THROWING OUT the national curriculum rule book is many a teacher's dream, and one which, in the light of the key stage 3 reforms, is promising to become a reality. But how does cross-curricular teaching work?

At a conference in London, teacher Kath Pollard spoke of the work at St John's school in Marlborough, Wiltshire, one of the first schools to implement the Royal Society of Arts's Opening Minds programme, which has been adopted by 100 so far. Its radical approach to the curriculum involves abolishing subject boundaries in favour of six-week projects that combine science, art, maths, English and more.

"Some teachers who had lived their lives with the national curriculum had difficulties adapting," said Mrs Pollard. "Some of them were in tears."

"It was a bit weird at first, when we took our timetable and instead of 'chemistry' or 'French', every period said 'integrated'," said Demelza Watts, a sixth-former.

But the Year 7 and 8 students soon adapted. For one project, about forests, they spent days in the woods studying photosynthesis using leaves and measuring the height of trees through geometry.

The Opening Minds approach is based around five competencies, including group work, thinking skills and citizenship. Six pupils representing two pilot projects, at St John's and Brompton-Westbrook primary in Gillingham, Kent, were keen to tell the delegates how it had helped them grow.

"School became the most stimulating part of my life, to the extent that I even let my hobbies slide," said Glen Bridges, 17.

"I can't emphasise enough what a shock it was when I moved to a new school that did things differently. It was stifling."

Jonathan Scott, 17, spoke about how it had allowed him to develop friendships and confidence alongside academic skills. "It does not just help pupils who are disaffected," he said.

"There is a vivid contrast between this style of learning and the mainstream. It doesn't tell us what to think, it tells us how to think, and that's brilliant.

"Students not the scheme feel their creativity is being stifled, their individuality is being crushed and, frankly, they're bored."

Mrs Pollard added: "New staff sometimes think our pupils are arrogant and challenging. I say, good. That's exactly what we're after."

* www.rsa.org.uknewcurriculum

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