Or as Lee Card, Deputy Head at Cherry Orchard School, said at ATL’s recent Shape Education debate “I believe that the curriculum is everything. Everything you do, say, offer, suggest, present, question, experience and feel is the curriculum.” If the curriculum is everything then the aims and values that inform a school’s ethos are of paramount importance; they must be real and not just paper policies.
Six years ago SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) and the Every Child Matters outcomes (Be Healthy, Stay Safe, Enjoy and Achieve, Make a Positive Contribution, Achieve Economic Wellbeing) were high profile.
SEAL and Every Child Matters have been pushed out of the limelight in recent years, but in Stanley Park High and Springwell Learning Community the underlying principles of both initiatives are key to the whole school ethos. Staff in both schools obviously buy into the aims and values, and use them to underscore their pedagogy. Both schools share the aim of nurturing and supporting the development of the whole child through the curriculum, not just the academic part of the child.
Many students face a huge transition from primary school to secondary school. This can make students anxious, and it has long been noted that the change between key stage 2 and key stage 3 can be, for some students, a retrograde step, in which achievement and progress stall, or even go backwards. When students arrive at Stanley Park they join one of four smaller “schools within the school”. These learning communities help to create more intimate learning environments within the larger school community.
The Excellent Futures Curriculum (EFC) is delivered by the form tutor. In year 7 this means that 50% of the curriculum is delivered by one teacher, the tutor, who has immediate pastoral responsibility for their tutees. This is a stark contrast to the traditional secondary experience in which a student might have as many as fifteen different class teachers with the form tutor not necessarily being one of them! The students I met at Stanley Park spoke with tremendous warmth about their tutors, highlighting the encouragement, interest and time that their tutors had invested in them. They felt cared for and valued.
At Springwell Learning Community the concept of “unconditional positive regard” underpins all interactions with students; praise is given, achievements celebrated and expectations kept high. Within the context of a special school students can present difficult and challenging behaviours, at these times students are treated with kindness and dignity.
One year 10 student explained that because of this he felt trusted and supported; the teachers listened to him and gave him a fresh start when he needed it. He described Springwell as a second home and the staff as family. Developing an understanding of both child development and mental health is a core part of the CPD programme at Springwell, staff view this as an integral part of their pedagogy; one teacher said “SEAL is at the heart of everything that we do”. Applying the principle of “Growth Mindset” around the school supports students both in overcoming learning and personal challenges.
This helps students with low self-esteem, to implement feedback and learn to face difficult situations, which ultimately enables them to achieve. Springwell’s Praise Page on the school website highlights good school work which enables parents to share in the triumphs of their children.
It was striking that at both of these schools students felt safe, trusted and confident. The positive relationships fostered within both schools enable the students to feel confident in their learning. This confidence enables students to take risks, reflect upon constructive criticism and ultimately achieve highly whilst they enjoy learning.
Relationships between the school leadership teams and staff are also strong. It is abundantly clear that a culture of trust, praise and support underpins the management and leadership approaches in both schools.
This includes building time into the timetable for CPD, group planning and assessment, and celebrating the strengths and triumphs of individual teachers. It also means creating an environment in which the teaching staff are valued as professionals; who are free to take risks in their teaching and know that if things don’t go exactly to plan that they will be supported not sanctioned.
It appears that two initiatives left on the shelf by policy makers are key to achievement within these schools. Is it time to look again at SEAL and Every Child Matters, and consider what they could bring to the curriculum?