With so much discussion about how pupils will return in September, it is inevitable that we will see a wealth of ideas and structures about how to plan for this. I have read about, and listened to, a number of proposed approaches and believe, wholeheartedly, that there is not one single model that will result in the best outcomes for all pupils in all schools. It is clear to me that the leaders of schools are best placed to determine their individualised approaches and that if we can add anything outside of this, it is to support their thinking, rather than determine it.
Listening to the narrative of teachers working with increasing numbers of pupils returning to school, it fills me with satisfaction and hope that many of them are reporting pupils who are returning thankful to be back at school and ready to learn. This is not exclusive, of course, but it is certainly the case for significant numbers of pupils. It is this hope that has led me to consider the tools that we have in our toolkits to make this return successful and I wonder if we have any tool more powerful and fit for purpose than the strength and agility of our existing curricula.
It is within Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that we recognise the importance of pupils feeling safe and secure. And what could engender this sense of safety and security more than familiarity, consistency and stability? As an adult, there is little more disconcerting than when a supermarket changes the order of the goods on its shelves. I wonder if the pupil equivalent to this is not knowing how the school day will look and feel on their return…
Schools are well practised at flexing their curriculum provision – albeit under entirely different circumstances. Most schools have given careful thought to the contents and structure of their curriculum and will know how it can be tailored and modified to suit different cohorts. And, while these are exceptional times, clearly, these principles and practices are of no less value to us at this juncture.
Alternative Provision settings, for example, are well-versed in supporting pupils who have significantly interrupted education. Those pupils who have missed large chunks of education due to medical or pastoral needs; those pupils who require completely alternative approaches to re-engaging with education; those pupils who need their pastoral needs addressed explicitly and robustly so that they are prepared and ready to learn. It is likely that we will encounter all this and more in all settings in September. So, what can we learn from those who live and breathe the flexible curriculum day in, day out?
1. An excellent curriculum, which you know inside out, is your very best tool.
It is this depth of knowledge that will serve you well in trimming, tweaking, tightening or tuning your provision to meet the needs of the cohorts returning in September. Taking a measured and evidence led approach to any decision-making about these adaptations will reduce the possibility of knee-jerk reactions or gut-feel judgements in restarting your curriculum provision.
2. Consistency is everything.
This serves to offer the familiarity, safety and security which we all, as humans, so desperately crave. Look carefully at your provision – what can you make consistent; how will you negate the challenges of that which you cannot make consistent? In my experience, it is often the small things that matter on this front.
3. Expect the unexpected.
Having worked with leaders from the AP sector over a few years now, I have learnt that they are usually prepared for anything – literally. In curriculum terms, this means expecting your planning to be agile. As teachers, many of us find living with ambiguity troublesome. We are, by nature, inherent planners. And it is in this planning that we can sometimes limit our flexibility. Plan carefully, by all means, but expect it to change course and always have a Plan B.
4. Select your tools carefully and use them precisely.
Inevitably, assessment will be more important than ever before in moving our pupils forwards to where we need them to be. But, for me, September will pose the age-old problem of the chicken and the egg. Do we assess pupils first to find the gaps and then teach them, or teach them first to jog their memories and then assess them? My thoughts – possibly a little of both. But whatever you choose to do by way of navigating the landscape of pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding, make sure that you are clear about the tools you are selecting, what they tell you and how they can be used to best effect.
5. Work to small, achievable goals in the first instance.
We are using simple structures such as First week, First month, First half term priorities to help schools plan their approaches to September. Of course, looking ahead is essential but investing time in that which we can address in the first instance will give greater clarity and precision to your longer-term planning.
6. Reading is the gateway to the curriculum.
If this mantra drives your thinking, it is unlikely to go far wrong. We know, beyond doubt, that a focus on developing pupils’ reading competencies can and will impact on their outcomes academically, socially and emotionally. Investing time in thinking and focusing on this area will never be wasted.
It is those who have led us through this crisis with such determination and integrity that will pave the way forwards for teachers to do what they do best – teach. And it is these leaders whose time, efforts and energies have been ploughed into carefully crafting their curriculum offers over many months and years before the pandemic. It is, on reflection, perhaps this that we should put our trust in, knowing that a Recovery Curriculum (noun) should possibly be recovering through the curriculum (verb) instead.