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Streamline learning to help disadvantaged students, primary head says

A slimmed-down curriculum is integral to ensuring success for disadvantaged students, according to a primary headteacher.

Writing in the 10 April issue of TES, George Shipp, who is writing under a pseudonym, explains why he decided that concentrating on core skills was essential at his school in a deprived area of Hampshire.

“As an experienced professional, I view the idea of a narrow curriculum with disdain and fear. Yet I have to face reality: without the appropriate academic skills, our children’s futures will inevitably be stunted,” he writes.

“The brutal truth – away from the league tables, data sheets and inspections – is that our children need to succeed, and for that they need the very best numeracy and literacy skills. Can we achieve this without compromising our principles? I think so. We may have to slim down the curriculum, but this doesn’t have to mean students sitting in rows, reciting spelling charts and times tables. We did it differently.”

Shipp sat down with staff and planned the school’s new curriculum. It involved stripping back content to focus on the core skills of literacy and numeracy.

“That did not mean just teaching English and maths. Instead, it meant that English and maths became the core of all learning – students would, for example, write reports in science or use number skills in geography.”

Results improved dramatically. Within two years, all children were achieving level 4 in reading and maths and more than 50 per cent reached level 5 in both areas. Ofsted visited in 2010 and 2013, and on both occasions the school was graded outstanding.

Shipp says nearby schools responded to this success not with congratulations but accusations.

“Other schools see the Sats headlines or hear rumours and brand us as a school that does nothing other than literacy and numeracy,” writes Shipp. “But I have the Ofsted document to prove that this is incorrect, to show that we do meet the requirements for a broad curriculum and that we also give our students what they vitally need: core skills.”

For the full story, get the 10 April edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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