An innovative approach to curriculum design has transformed the provision of core and foundation subjects at Middlestone Moor Primary School in County Durham. The curriculum aims to inspire children to learn by encouraging an enquiry-based ethos. Children are taught to believe that they can improve, irrespective of their ability.
The national curriculum is fully covered and is used as the basis for topics, but emphasis is put on encouraging children to think and write imaginatively.
Inspectors were struck by the richness of writing ideas displayed on the Year 2 wall. Pupils had created work on witches and had been asked to write long sentences on "Ten things you might find in a witch's pocket". One answer was particularly evocative: "Doors to other worlds!" The whole school contributed to the Middlestone Moor Book of Spells.
The same topic is never taught twice and staff are always inventing new ways to cover the curriculum. The introduction of a topic is an important event and the subject is kept secret until the day arrives. Teachers decorate their classroom doors over the weekend so pupils get their first clue when they arrive on Monday.
Each topic includes social, moral, cultural and spiritual features to help pupils' personal development. Teachers build in open-ended questions, using examples suggested by the self-organised learning environment (SOLE) approach, pioneered by Professor Sugata Mitra of Newcastle University.
For example, questions in biology have included "What is the most amazing thing about the human body?", and in geography, "What kind of animals are endangered and why?" Children's philosophical thought has been encouraged with questions such as: "If the world is so beautiful, why are people worried about it?" and history lessons have asked: "Was the Raj good or bad?" Pupils are encouraged to think for themselves and to learn how to organise research-based tasks. The questions are deliberately planned to be beyond pupils' current knowledge and understanding.
All staff, including teaching assistants, contribute to each topic and are encouraged to come up with imaginative ideas. Subject coordinators monitor and evaluate the work but more emphasis is put on letting pupils "see a piece of learning through to the end" than on attempting a comprehensive coverage of the curriculum. Any omissions in the pupils' work are threaded back into topics later in the year.
Signs of success
In 2008, key stage 1 attainment was significantly below average but by 2011 it had risen to average. Key stage 2 attainment in 2008 was average; by 2011 it was significantly above average. Attendance in 2008 was below average; now it is above.
Independent study skills, creative and formal writing skills, self-confidence and understanding of scientific enquiry begin at an early age. "We now have a meaningful context for teaching literacy; children actually want to write," headteacher Helen Wilson says.
What the inspectors said
"The quality of the learning environment is excellent and demonstrates the value that teachers place on pupils' work. Pupils are putting their best efforts into working to high standards to get their work on show. Pupils' high-quality work is on display on every available square inch of wall, and sometimes ceiling and floor space."
Read Ofsted's report at bit.lyVCdnkK
Name: Middlestone Moor Primary School
Location: Spennymoor, County Durham
Age range: 3-11, mixed
Number of pupils: About 200
Intake: Almost all pupils are white British. A higher-than-average number have special educational needs.