‘It’s not maverick heads we need, but a truly maverick curriculum – one that focuses on the kids as individuals’

8th June 2016 at 16:47
Maverick headteachers
All schools should have a curriculum based totally on the needs of their children – not one solely aimed at preparing them for Sats and the end of the key stages, writes one leading primary headteacher

How wonderful that the Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has decided that we need more individuals running schools. It is strange that his pronouncement should come now: it certainly hasn’t felt that way in the 25 years I’ve been running schools.

I can only assume that he came out with this comment because he has just noticed, a little late, the total regimentation that has taken over the education system.

In schools up and down the country we now have too many conformists who, when asked to jump by the government, only ever answer, "How high?"

So Sir Michael's solution to this problem is to create a group of so-called "maverick" school leaders rattling cages and disagreeing with the government mantra.

Perhaps, however, this is not the solution needed. Perhaps it’s not maverick school leadership that we need, but a maverick approach to curriculum development instead.

We need a curriculum based totally on the needs of our children, which engages with pupils and shows them love – not one solely aimed at preparing them for Sats and the end of the key stages.

Of course, there would need to be some constriction on this curriculum, but there should be nothing to stop it being different all across the country. It should utilise the individual school’s natural resources and environment, and expand as teachers evolve, change and start gaining confidence, which has been missing in recent years.

Teachers need to be confident that they can provide something exciting; confident that they can take risks; and confident that they don't all have to do the same thing.

This is something we try to do at the primary where I am head.

Within my school, we talk about the "oneness" or "uniqueness" of each year group. We want every child to remember each and every year and the teachers within it. I challenge my talented staff to create such a year group based on the premise that children learn best when they are engaged, enjoy the work and feel they are part of it…

You've got to have some fun

Somewhere, over recent years, much of the education system seems to have forgotten this very simple message.

Our seven year groups are totally different but surrounded by a common ethos. Each has fun, has trips, visitors and team days, and no learning opportunity is missed. It is an expansive curriculum and we work hard with permanent smiles and ensure that our children recognise that learning is both important and fun.

Each year group’s teachers ensure their carefully chosen themes engage the pupil. They seek out cross-curricular links as a joy rather than an imposition. The school always has a buzz: Romans walking the corridors, children cooking in the school grounds, and parents making a Second World War Anderson bomb shelter.

With this "uniqueness" we do not deviate from our core purpose and our results reflect this. Throughout the creative curriculum is the "core", which we wrote several years ago, and we update yearly. Add to the mix an outdoor classroom, and a well-established PSHE curriculum, and you have our "Maverick" approach.

So what have we created? Firstly, we have children engaged in their learning, who want to be at school, and see teachers as a vital link for them to achieve their goals. Secondly, we have an ethos focusing on success rather than failure, and we ensure teachers do what they came into the profession to do: teach and thoroughly enjoy it.

Now that is a truly "maverick" approach.

Colin Harris is headteacher of Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire 

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