We believe that children are capable of extraordinary things – they just need the right environment to flourish in. Schools have a major part to play in this, and parents and teachers can be key players in shaping our schools.
We want educational excellence for every child. We believe that this is achieved when all schools have a strong culture and a great curriculum, underpinned by four key mantras:
- Knowledge Rich
- High Ambition
- Wide Curriculum
When schools are built on these foundations, every child can thrive, no matter their background or starting point. Here’s the detail of what that means and why, on the fourth of these mantras, it’s the right approach
What do we mean by… “Wide Curriculum”?
When people talk about a school’s curriculum, they are usually referring to the topics that are taught in timetabled lessons in a formal way. Of course, this is a hugely important part of education, and the focus that takes up the majority of time in school. Literature, maths, science, humanities, languages, the arts, technology and more – these are the things the knowledge of which makes us functioning adult humans, and which there is therefore an overwhelming imperative for every child to understand and enjoy.
Most children don’t live with a mathematician, scientist, historian, or linguist, so this important knowledge has to be taught to children in schools over the years. Schools bring pupils together with subject experts and take them on the learning journey in well-structured and creative ways that make the learning more memorable and enjoyable.
So much for the formal curriculum. However, if children are to flourish and receive a knowledge-rich experience in the truest sense, one that helps them develop into fully rounded adults, then they need to experience a wider curriculum, one that goes beyond the formal and ‘academic’. Many such development experiences will, for most though not all children, come from family and community and elsewhere. But there are lots of these broader areas where schools can – and most schools do – make a big difference, by again organising activities and bringing pupils together with experts. Just as most of us don’t live with academic experts, so most of us don’t have at home an opera singer, piano teacher, brain surgeon, football, swimming coach or a castle in the backyard.
So, the wider curriculum embraces and builds in all those other really important things that enhance life: sport (for fun as well as for the competition), work experience, musical performances, drama, chess, clubs and electives, guest speakers on multiple topics, careers advice, competitions, assemblies, culture, concerts, trips and so on.
House systems, school councils, prefects – these all provide the opportunity for children to learn about contributing to a democratic process, participating in fora to improve their school, public speaking, representing their peers, formulating ideas and proposals and realising the restrictions of budgets, opposing ideas and the lessons learnt from both winning and losing.
A Wide Curriculum represents a substantial part of the educational experience, involving a full choice of activities that take place beyond the academic curriculum – and usually outside the classroom.
Principles of respect, punctuality, consideration and awareness of the needs of others should be practiced not only within lessons, but between them, on the journey to and from school and within the child’s wider community; in such activities as organised sport, choirs, debate, the point of these principles becomes clear.
A Wide Curriculum offers students the opportunity to learn about life in its broader context: its challenges and opportunities, how to respond to both successes and disappointments. It also represents the significance and importance of extra-curricular activities and provides a balance to be achieved between academic focus and recreational enjoyment.
A Wide Curriculum also recognises the importance of ensuring that young people understand and appreciate the core British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance. The opportunity to discuss these principles can form part of the formal curriculum through Personal, Social, Health and Economic lessons, but their promotion should also take place within a range of other activities specifically designed to incorporate these values.
Great schools provide lashings of enriching experiences that cover these sorts of things and do so in a carefully considered and well-structured way. Just as they do with academic subjects, great schools’ piece together wider experiences in a holistic fashion, to ensure coverage and purpose, and to expand horizons. The very best do it in ways that mean they are accessible for everyone, not just the more privileged pupils. With a quarter of primary children leaving for secondary unable to swim before the pandemic, it is a matter of urgency for schools to tackle this statistic before this becomes a majority. Swimming is not just an enjoyable hobby or competitive sport but an essential life skill that keeps children safe.
Often, but not always, this means making the official school day, or term, a bit longer. This enables some things, like clubs, to be on the timetable so every child can take part in them, and not leave them all for “after school”, when many need to get home, have other extracurricular activities or – for some – caring duties.
It also means additional time is created to allow for days or weeks to be carved out for work experience, careers festivals, projects with other schools and community groups. Or it could simply mean it’s easier to organise day trips – locally or elsewhere – and ensure cultural experiences are had by all, not just those with steady home lives or relatives who have enough time, will and assets to provide such things.
The means may vary, but the purpose is the same: to ensure that all children are exposed to some of the best that’s been thought, said, and done in broader culture, and have a chance to develop skills in areas that interest them. For some these experiences will uncover a passion or talent to nurture. For others it will be another piece in the map of their cultural heritage, to enjoy now and then perhaps draw upon later in life. Either way, it ensures children receive their cultural entitlement. How they make the most of this will be worked out, primarily by the child, over time.
In summary then, to do a great job as a school requires both a knowledge-rich academic ‘core’ and a wider, enriching curriculum. They’re two sides of the same coin, just different in discipline and delivery, and together they’re the way we help children to flourish.