There is a real need for education to help develop the skills needed today by the world of work, and this has perhaps been the main driving force behind this new curriculum.
There are a number of curriculum issue we have struggled with over the years:
- Teaching in Year 6, Years 10, 11, 12 and 13 is primarily focused on passing knowledge-based exams.
- Pupils are often passively disengaged in lessons
- Generally we are not challenging the more able enough
- The excellent literacy and numeracy work developed in primary schools is often not continued in secondary schools – Year 7 and Year 8 regress in these areas
- The transition from Year 6 to Year 7 is an issue – pupils move from one or two teachers to up to 10 teachers – this develops a lack of belonging
- Too much time is wasted in secondary schools in moving between lessons
- The curriculum in secondaries is ‘siloed’ into several different subjects which does not help knowledge application
- The curriculum in primaries is sometimes not broad enough
- Employers do not think schools are delivering young people with the right skills – there is a skills gap
- Ofsted is placing a greater emphasis on curriculum
- Teacher recruitment and retention is getting harder
- Exclusions and mental health issues in children are increasing
Another important driver has been the issue of the Year 7 curriculum. In comparison to primary education, which has generally improved greatly over the past 10 years thanks to the focus on English, Maths and a trans-discipline creative curriculum, secondary education is still struggling. Year 7 should be an exciting year, with a new school, often better school facilities and new friends. In reality, most students go backwards or do not progress as much as they should.
Secondary schools spend a great deal of time with primary schools and their pupils and parents to ensure a smooth transition between primary and secondary. So what goes wrong? Why do so many students fail to make sufficient progress in Years 7 and 8, feel alienated with no sense of belonging, and learn in classes where many students are passively disengaged?
This is what Aspirations Academies Trust is trying to improve through ‘No Limits’ – implementing the defining features of primary schools into Year 7. Working with young children all day, every day, delivering specific literacy and maths teaching, along with the creative curriculum, which is generally working on trans-discipline project based learning, creates a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum and a real sense of belonging. Primary teachers talk about the ‘whole child’ and ‘whole curriculum’ as they see it as their responsibility to give as much attention to children’s personal and social development as to their academic progress.