Our curriculum is best understood through the answers to the following three questions:
- Intent: why do we teach what we teach?
- Implementation: how do we teach what we teach?
- Impact: how do we know what pupils have learnt and how well they have learnt it?
1. Intent: why do we teach what we teach?
Our curriculum is designed to ensure that from the moment each of our pupils sets foot into our Nursery, we take their individual starting point ‘on the mountain’ and make sure we have mapped out their path through our whole school to prepare them for success at university and beyond when they leave us at 18.
Our academic curriculum is therefore the body of knowledge we know our pupils need to learn as they progress from one year to the next. They need to know more, remember more and do more at each and every stage.
We serve an economically and socially disadvantaged community who need us to maintain the very highest academic expectations of them in order for their time at KSA to have the transformational impact on their lives that we promise them. Our values support our shared work in developing our pupils as kind, confident people who are able to lead happy, successful lives and have positive impact on the wider world.
Our curriculum offer is underpinned by the following five core principles:
- University preparatory academic rigour
- Values driven
- Transformational learning experiences
- Reading at the heart of the curriculum
1. University preparatory academic rigour
Our mission is to prepare our pupils for success at university and beyond. Our curriculum is therefore academically rigorous, providing our pupils with the knowledge, skills and experiences that they will need to reach this goal – making the most of our extended school day to do so.
Many of our pupils arrive well below national expectations for their age. We have to teach them how to learn first. As such, we prioritise social, emotional and language development in the EYFS curriculum. Throughout both the primary and secondary school, we invest time and energy into teaching pupils habits for discussion focussing on learning how to listen actively, how to speak with voice, in sentences and with precision and then moving on to sharing thinking and building on others’ thinking so as to ensure we are all learning with and from each other as one team and family.
We teach challenging subjects from an early age, with the goal that all pupils are successful at EBacc subjects at GCSE: 92% of Y11 pupils entered the Ebacc last year. These facilitating subjects enable our pupils to pursue subjects post-16 that then allow them to progress to academically rigorous courses at top universities.
The all-through nature of our curriculum leads to transformational outcomes over time. We have a stable cohort of pupils who transition from primary into secondary without expanding the cohort like many all-throughs. Our primary and secondary curriculum leaders work together to create and refine long term curriculum plans meaning the approach to teaching both core knowledge and skills is genuinely coherent between the phases.
Our curriculum is planned with end goals in mind: we ask ourselves what is the knowledge and what are the skills and experiences that our pupils need to enable university success in this subject. Key concepts are introduced early on in our pupils’ education and revisited regularly, with ideas becoming incrementally more challenging as our pupils grow older. For example, we have actively thought about what we want pupils to remember about plants in EYFS, in Year 1 and every time they revisit plants right through to Year 13 biology, utilising the support of subject specialists within the school and across the network.
Being a truly all-through school enables us to capitalise on subject specialist teaching and curriculum expertise: for example, we have one joined up music programme from Nursery right through to Key Stage 4; our primary science lead who does not have a scientific academic background themselves works closely with our secondary head of science; primary French is taught by French specialists three times a week from Year 5 upwards.
3. Values driven
Everything we do is driven by our values: Aim High, Work Together, Be Kind and Lead The Way. We do not simply work towards our pupils achieving exceptional examination results. Our curriculum supports the development of our pupils as people who will be ambitious, work together and be kind during their time at school and go on to be leaders who change the world in the future.
Our curriculum therefore fosters ambition and allows pupils to develop our school values through what they learn and how they learn. Subject leaders consider our values when planning every aspect of the curriculum; our classrooms are inclusive because all our pupils’ views, identities and backgrounds are valued through what and how they learn. We present pupils with opportunities to practice leadership and resilience, and a culture and pedagogy which values teamwork and collaboration in how they learn.
Taking into account our pupils’ context, we aim to provide guidance and encouragement to support our families. We structure our school to ensure we know every child and work closely with families to better be able to remove barriers to their learning. We teach a pastoral curriculum through morning meeting, assemblies, events and our overall safeguarding culture which nurtures our pupils and ensures their wellbeing.
We are proud of our Personal Development (PSHE, RSE, SMSC and Citizenship) curriculum which aims to equip pupils with the social and emotional skills and wider cultural understanding they need as they grow up through and beyond school. Key topics are taught throughout each key stage and revisited to reinforce knowledge at an age-appropriate level as pupils grow older through two drop down days per cycle, morning meetings and assemblies as well as through coherent links into the rest of the taught curriculum, for example through addressing big ideas questions in English. We consider the significant majority of our pupils who grow up in Muslim homes. Every pupil studies Religious Studies GCSE to ensure a rigorous understanding of how religion influences and interacts with society as a whole.
4. Transformational learning and experiences
Our curriculum is designed to ensure our pupils build cultural capital and have wider world experiences which provide them with the confidence and resilience to thrive in the world outside of the school gates during their school careers and at university and beyond.
Trips, workshops and experiences are mapped into the curriculum every half term from nursery throughout primary, and from year 5 onwards, all pupils are expected to attend an annual residential trip with their peers. From spending a week outdoors at Sayer’s Croft in Year 5 to a World War I focused visit to Belgium in Year 10, our pupils build up a broad range of real-life experiences beyond the school gates. Starting in Year 6 and including a week living on campus at Warwick university, we build in a university experience into every year group’s curriculum, normalising the choice to attend a top university and building positive memories of university experiences.
Our personalised and extensive careers provision ensures that all of our pupils have experiences of the world of work and are provided with the skills they need to be successful in their futures. All primary pupils engage with a different career each week in Morning Meetings and our careers programme is embedded into the secondary ‘Advisory’ curriculum and an annual careers week is an all-through opportunity for our pupils to meet with individuals from a wide range of careers and pupils in Year 10 spend a week doing work experience independently. Our pupils are exceptionally well supported at key transition points in their academic careers, through the support of a full time, out of class Head of University and Careers Service who has a personalised development programme in place for every pupil in KS4 and KS5.
Our String Orchestra programme is unique in state education in the UK and is at the heart of our music specialism. All pupils learn to love to sing from Nursery and establish foundations of music learning in primary. From Year 4, they begin to learn violin, viola or cello and every child starts playing in the whole year group orchestra which begins in Year 7. This inclusive approach means all pupils have the experience of playing to orchestra standard, irrespective of their family background or interest, and by doing so, experience something genuinely transformational. By learning an instrument we develop our pupils’ memory and abstract reasoning powers, and allow them to develop self-awareness in understanding the impact of the practice, determination and teamwork required to perform in an orchestra.
5. Reading at the heart of the curriculum
We believe that if our pupils can read with confidence they will be able to learn more and know more, and that they will have the life-changing experience of reading for pleasure.
Pupils begin learning to love to read from their very first day. We systematically teach phonics through the Read Write Inc phonics programme alongside learning to sight-read high frequency words. Pupils’ progress in learning to read is rigorously monitored to ensure every child is taught to read fluently as soon as possible, with whatever intervention they need to make it happen. We know early intervention is best and invest time, energy and expertise into catching pupils up as rapidly as possible – wherever they are in the school.
Engaging every day with a range of high quality texts is a fundamental part of our curriculum. This begins in our primary reading curriculum where we have mapped the whole curriculum around a carefully selected, age-appropriate and suitably challenging reading spine. Each year group has an over-arching big question to answer over the course of the year to frame big thinking for example “what does it mean to belong?” in Year 1, to “what is trust?” in Year 6. In Key Stage 3, each year of study is also centred on a big thematic question, with a citizenship and personal development focus. For example, in Year 8, pupils consider 'What does it mean to be a hero?' through interrogating ideas of heroism in World War poetry, a Shakespeare play and Animal Farm. In Key Stages 4 and 5, pupils develop a rich contextual understanding of their texts, evaluating protagonists’ drives for power, critiquing the societies that caused characters’ repression, and debating the writers’ intentions in their language and structural choices.
Crucially, reading expands beyond the reading and English curriculum. We know that excellence in reading is essential for success in the wider world and prioritise reading in our curriculum implementation and in our professional development. All teachers across the school are teachers of reading and are trained in strategies they can use to develop confidence in their subject specialisms, for example ‘partner reading’ in primary and ‘Inside, Outside, Beyond’ in in secondary.
Pupils read for pleasure every day: from enjoying five stories and songs a day for every child in EYFS through whole class story times moving into DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) from Year 4 through to Year 9 building the habit of independent and sustained reading for pleasure and developing their ability to tackle an ever more challenging repertoire of texts via non-fiction DEAR and class reading. Until Year 9, all pupils are also expected to build their reading skills at home every night through carefully monitored homework routines and throughout Key Stage 4 pupils continue to read regularly through non-fiction DEAR. Pupils are increasingly encouraged to read for pleasure on the subjects they enjoy. In Sixth Form, we support wider reading through the use of structured preparatory reading integrated into the curriculum and supporting extended reading through the Extended Qualification Project.
We celebrate reading successes at every opportunity, in class libraries and displays, through Reading Ambassador leadership roles in Primary, in reading competitions and events and through partnership with as many external reading organisations as we can maintain. We are in the process of investing in a new OYS library and have a dedicated full-time librarian.
2. Implementation: how do we teach what we teach?
The curriculum is driven by the leaders of the school through the embedding of long-term curriculum overviews and medium-term plans for every unit and knowledge organisers for many. Leaders decide the core knowledge and skills to be taught and in what order. In French, art and music, the curriculum is led by all-through subject specialists. In English, maths, science, humanities, computing and PE, we have primary Subject Leads working with Senior Leaders and Heads of Department in secondary. In many areas (maths, secondary geography, secondary history, secondary science) our curriculum builds on formal Ark Common Curriculum Programmes and capitalises on subject expertise from across the network.
We are ambitious for all our pupils. All pupils always work to the same learning objective every lesson: we are all climbing the same mountain. Teachers plan for the fact that some team members will need more scaffolding; others will require a greater challenge. We aim to meet the academic needs of all learners every lesson through the use of differentiated questioning and resources as well as through additional support from peers or additional adults. In the EYFS, pupils learn through a balance of adult-directed and child-initiated learning experiences which focus on the development of core skills alongside celebrating the unique child.
We have high expectations. Pupils are expected to work hard and display excellent attitudes to learning in all lessons and teachers plan rigorous lessons which support them to do so. Learning is maximised by familiar practiced routines and clear behaviour expectations that support pupils to focus on learning and ensure there is no wasted time from low level disruptions.
All lessons from Y1-Y13 begin with a Do Now asking pupils to recall knowledge from a previous lesson, practise a skill independently or prepare for new learning. Learning activities are then planned according to how best to achieve the learning objective of the lesson, often using the structure of ‘I do, we do, you do’ culminating in an LO review or Exit Ticket for pupils to evidence their progress in achieving the LO. All pupils are expected to learn independently for a portion of every lesson and to practice new knowledge and skills through deliberate practice activities.
A highly systematic approach to homework throughout the whole school ensures pupils develop habits for learning independently throughout their academic career, gradually raising the expectations of pupils to complete high quantity and quality of learning outside of the school day.
We pride ourselves on our extensive programme of trips, workshops and events which our pupils participate in; each half term’s teaching is complemented by at least one enriching experience throughout the primary school as well as residentials for all pupils from Year 5 right through to Sixth Form.
Our curriculum leaders make purposeful choices about what to teach, ensuring that pupils are exposed to a diverse and inclusive range of voices and experiences. Through our curriculum choices, our pupils are taught to respect and value others’ perspectives.
Inclusion and personalisation
Pupils learn in a carefully planned mixed-attainment seating plan. Pupils are expected to learn from their teammates, as well as from their teachers. Habits for discussion enable our pupils to share their thinking, build on each other’s and act as a team and family. This inclusive culture means that all pupils feel confident to contribute and benefit from high quality, learning-focused interactions with peers.
We use the Graduated Approach to identify the right level of timely, effective intervention for each pupil with SEND. We begin with Wave 1 (universal) approach, prioritising relentlessly high-quality teaching and learning strategies. For example, these pupils benefit particularly from the routines and structure of our lessons which reduce cognitive load: from the use of Do Nows to recall and apply key knowledge and from checking for understanding through data driven use of Cold Call and Intentional Monitoring.
Where pupils with SEND require further support, we plan Wave 2 (targeted) 1:1 and small group interventions to promote rapid progress and nurtured development of every pupil. For pupils with high levels of need, we liaise with external partners to deliver Wave 3 (specialist) support. We take on board feedback readily when designing inclusive learning for each pupil. All staff contribute to Pupil Passports and Individual Learning Plans for pupils with SEND. We review pupils’ SEND targets termly and expect all our staff to know our pupils’ needs, what we do to address them and what success looks like. A small group of pupils who are significantly behind their peers in English and maths benefit from nurture group teaching aiming to accelerate their progress.
Teacher Development, Intellectual Preparation and Subject Development
We know that investing in constantly improving the quality of teaching is crucial to securing excellent progress for our pupils and therefore invest substantial time and energy into observing, coaching and training our staff. Professional development is data driven, focused on common areas for development across the school.
We focus our training on a small number of all-through ‘signature strategies’:
Every teacher is developed through timetabled weekly coaching with their Curriculum Leader (secondary) or a Senior Leader (primary) to review pupil work together, set coaching action steps and plan the details of pupil learning for the week ahead.
In addition, in Primary, each year group teaching team has two hours a week with a Senior Leader for “Intellectual Preparation” of the Medium-Term Plans. In Secondary, fortnightly department curriculum development sessions drive forwards subject specialist expertise and curriculum knowledge.
All our Curriculum Leaders are active participants in Ark Subject Networks – many of them leading practitioners in the network – and all teachers benefit from additional subject specialist professional development from across the Ark network. Curriculum leaders and Pastoral leaders alike benefit from regular training sessions, timetabled into the half termly calendar and focused on developing their ability to coach and develop their teams.
3. Impact: how do we know what pupils have learnt and how well they have learnt it?
Teachers use data to drive their in-the-moment responses to pupil learning, strategically gathering pupils’ knowledge, and checking for understanding to allow for intervention at the point of error, through over-the-shoulder feedback and live class or group re-teaching. We call this Intentional Monitoring.
In EYFS, every member of staff uses observational assessment to baseline children’s starting points and plan experiences which ensure progress. These assessments are tracked on Smartgrade which enable us to measure our starting points against a national data set and track the individual progress of every child against six monthly milestones.
Given that reading is so important to us, we invest significantly in assessing reading. Every child is assessed 1:1 at least once a half term while they are on the phonics programme, we use PM Benchmarking for every child in Year 1 three times a year and for target groups of children working below their chronological age in Year 2-Year 6 where we also use daily Lexia assessment to inform next steps in moving those pupils on in their learning. We sit NGRT assessments three times a year from Year 2-Year 10 for every pupil. Our staff are trained in putting all this data together and analysing it to progress each child individually: ensuring they are in the best daily reading group in primary and identifying which pupils need additional reading interventions (speed sounds ‘pinny time,’ 1:1 reading, high frequency words intervention, fluency intervention, Lexia)
Deliberate practice is embedded across all-through in order for teachers to be able to assess the extent to which pupils are learning and remembering. In primary, this approach is particularly well evidenced in our five-day reading model across Year 1 – Year 6. Maths is also assessed through termly maths mastery assessments, half termly arithmetic tests and Times Tables Rock stars in Year 2 to Year 6 to assess progress over time. We are also beginning to experiment with the use of ‘Cold’ and ‘Go’ quizzing in humanities and science against the core knowledge set out in our knowledge organisers.
Across Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5 we carefully plan for appropriate periodic curriculum and assessment alignment with other Ark schools to allow diagnostic and summative assessments to inform our understanding of how our pupils are learning when compared to partner schools. We use question level analysis to identify which aspects of the curriculum have been well understood and which need to be revisited in comparison to other schools.
In Key Stage 3 and 4, teachers engage in regular formative assessment throughout the term through regularly marking and providing feedback on independent practice in planned checkpoint activities. Pupils complete regular interim assessments activities each term, which often culminate in a formal, cumulative assessment. This, alongside our daily, weekly and half-termly review points all contribute to a working at, age related grade, agreed by the Head of Department at the end of term. This allows for a termly cycle of reviewing the curriculum and pupil progress holistically. At the end of each academic year, we use Ark assessments to allow us to compare to network-wide data to provide a valid and objective understanding of our pupils overall learning over time.
Key Stage 5 pupils are assessed every three weeks using tri-weekly assessments, for which they are awarded grades of ‘At’, ‘Above’ or ‘Below’ in relation to ambitious pupil-specific target grades, set using the ALPS methodology. Pupils sit a range of taught tests and cumulative assessments. The schedule for these is shared in advance of the school year, giving these pupils more responsibility for their learning and revision and so allow teachers to assess holistically. Shared network assessment in most subjects at Key Stage 5 ensures that no subject teachers are designing lessons and setting assessments in a silo. The network assessments act to ensure the curriculum is sufficiently broad and rigorous and allows collaboration with a subject specialist group of teachers across the network, ensuring there are opportunities for moderation and co-planning. The use of network moderation and these shared assessments increases the likelihood that the gaps in pupil knowledge identified by assessments are the correct ones for our teachers to focus on to drive pupil progress.
In both Key Stages 4 and 5, pupils sit formal mock examinations at the end of their first year of study (Year 10 or Year 12) and in Term 2 of their second year of study. These give pupils meaningful opportunities to revise the entire curriculum learnt so far and demonstrate this learning, and so allows curriculum leaders to identify where gaps remain in knowledge which is retained over time.
Where gaps exist, we know the best investment we can make in catching pupils up is in quality first whole class teaching. However, intervention is also used to accelerate the progress of specific groups who have fallen behind. This is particularly the case during the pandemic, where significant gaps have appeared for some pupils. In the Early Years, we focus on the primes, and prioritise phonics and early maths intervention in Key Stage 1. Throughout both Key Stage 2 and 3, interventions take place in reading and maths to drive accelerated progress of our lowest attaining pupils. As pupils progress through the school and reach key stages 4 and 5, data-driven intervention becomes more tailored and subject specific based on the assessment approach outlined above.
Long Term Impact
Ultimately, our aims are long term, and the impact we wish to see goes beyond our assessment outcomes, it is shown in who are pupils are when they leave us and what they are ready to achieve in their lives. Our curriculum aims to prepare pupils for success at university and beyond. As the first cohorts of our pupils have now started graduating from university, we can see the life changing impact of what we teach our pupils. We are consistently enabling more than 70% of our pupils to attend top thirty universities. As our first alumni return to visit, or indeed to work in our school inspiring the next generation of KSA pupils, they are able to demonstrate the long-term impact of our curriculum. They are thriving at top universities and securing careers in law, engineering, accountancy, childcare, nursing, local government, teaching and the civil service. By tracking our pupils’ destinations and achievements over time, and maintaining strong relationships with the community we serve, we are able to reflect on how our curriculum can be refined further, to better still achieve our mission.