The Plymstock School Curriculum
Our curriculum vision
At Plymstock School our core purpose is to empower young people, through education, to have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life and make a positive contribution to society.
We believe that key to achieving this, is giving every single student a broad, balanced and highly academic curriculum, which has knowledge at its heart. The central place of knowledge acquisition within our curriculum is explicit and we provide rich and varied contexts for students to acquire, develop and apply this broad knowledge.
Powerful knowledge takes a student beyond their own experience. It is knowledge that many will not have access to at home, amongst their friends or in the communities in which they live. We are all the inheritors of the great ideas, writings and discoveries of the past and our young people have a right to learn this knowledge.
We are an inclusive school, yet we are uncompromising in our belief that every student should study our full curriculum. We know that some students will need more help in order to flourish and we work tirelessly to make sure they get the right support to succeed.
By learning our curriculum, we know that our students will be provided with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life and make that positive contribution to society.
The ‘Four Pillars’ of our curriculum
1. Powerful disciplinary knowledge
We focus our curriculum on the acquisition and mastery of powerful disciplinary knowledge, building on that which is learnt in primary school. We believe that all young people should have access to the kinds of knowledge which may not be encountered in their personal lives i.e., knowledge that takes pupils beyond their daily lived experience. Access to powerful knowledge is central in achieving social mobility as it enables pupils to think beyond their individual context. Our subject leaders and teachers select knowledge for their curriculum based on this overarching principle and look to foster a deep conceptual understanding of key ideas which enable lifelong learning.
2. Teachers as subject experts
The making of a curriculum is more than just the selection and sequencing of powerful knowledge. Curricula are made and re-made in the dynamic classroom setting, and a curriculum vision is only effective in achieving its goals when in the hands of expert teachers. Teachers at Plymstock School are subject experts and using the Plymstock Principles of Curriculum Delivery, they base their pedagogical decisions on cognitive science, educational research, and a nuanced understanding of the discipline which they teach. Subject teams pre-empt, and respond in real-time, to the range of needs encountered in the classroom, placing the student at the heart of their decision-making. Teachers are afforded regular opportunities to engage with their subject teams (both in-school and across the Trust) and attend subject-specific training so that they can maintain and build on their expertise and engage with their wider subject-network communities.
3. High Challenge
Challenge is central to every curriculum decision made at Plymstock School. Subject leaders and their teams select content for the curriculum that will challenge students and equip them with the knowledge and understanding that will enable them to flourish when they leave school. As such, the National Curriculum is recognised as a minimum entitlement for all students and regular opportunity is made for our curriculum to go beyond the National Curriculum so that our students are ready for the next steps, be that further education, higher education or the world of work.
4. The whole person
At Plymstock School we want to develop well-rounded young people with a highly developed social conscience, ready to lead in their communities and beyond. Our curriculum will challenge students to uphold our core values of Compassion, Collaboration and Creativity, and develop their cultural capital, character and confidence. Our subject curricula, along with our wider enrichment opportunities and Personal Development curriculum, will ensure that pupils leave Plymstock School as respectful, self-motivating and productive individuals who are able to actively engage in the world and importantly, make a difference.
Key Stage 3 curriculum overview
Our curriculum in Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9) recognises the National Curriculum as a minimum entitlement. Irrespective of starting point, we aim for all students to study every National Curriculum subject: English Language and Literature, Mathematics, Science, at least one Modern Foreign Language, History, Geography, Religious Studies, Computing, Art and Design, Music, Design and Technology and Physical Education. Citizenship, PSHEE, RSE and Careers Education are delivered through our Personal Development curriculum and opportunities to support their delivery across the full KS3 Curriculum are identified. In addition to the National Curriculum, students also study Drama, and a wide range of extra-curricular opportunities are provided to enrich the KS3 Curriculum.
Forensic Reading is taught as a discrete subject at KS3 to establish a strong foundation of knowledge, vocabulary, understanding, phraseology and experience, which helps form a basis for success in accessing challenging, complex and academic texts.
We focus on learning French for the majority of students and provide access to a second language (German) from Year 8 to support able linguists and progression to GCSE and A Level languages and beyond.
Key Stage 4 curriculum overview
The breadth of our curriculum continues into Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11) and enables students to work towards the equivalent of nine qualifications. Balance is ensured through a compulsory core curriculum of English Language and Literature, Mathematics, Science, Geography and/or History, Physical Education, Religious Studies (Ethics and Philosophy in Culture), Personal Development (Personal, Social, Health, Economic and Careers Education and Relationship and Sex Education). Students are strongly encouraged to study a Modern Foreign Language, which remains an important part of our curriculum. There are further option choices from a wide range of additional subject areas, spanning the Arts, Technology, Sport and the Humanities.
We provide access to an academic curriculum for all students. We want to maximise Ebacc take-up at KS4 and actively pursue this through a compulsory Humanities choice and a recommended MFL choice for most. Any student who wishes to continue their study of French or German is supported to do so. The option blocks are created to allow students to study both French and German to GCSE and this continues to KS5.
The minimum expectation is that all students study Combined Science – a pathway that facilitates access to A Level Sciences and progression beyond into STEM subjects and into medical professions. We offer Triple Science as an option at KS4 to support those young people with a significant interest in STEM. Religious Studies is taught to all students in KS4 through our Ethics and Philosophy in Culture curriculum, alongside a RS GCSE option for those who choose it.
We recognise that for some learners we may need to provide non-GCSE qualifications and awards as steppingstones to success in literacy and numeracy. Our students take exams at the point of maximum maturity and when content has been studied in the appropriate level of depth. This means we will not pursue early entry as a rule – the exception would be for EAL and bilingual students entering exams in a language they speak at home, or for students securing qualifications and awards as part of a stepped curriculum to success. For example, the Entry Level Certificate in Science as a route towards building confidence and achieving two GCSEs in Science.
Key Stage 5 curriculum overview
Our Key Stage 5 (Years 12 and 13) curriculum offers a wide range of Level 3 qualifications. We recommend that the majority of students study three A level/Level 3 qualifications, but further subjects can be taken if appropriate for the individual. Core Mathematics and/or the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) can be studied alongside three A Levels/Level 3 qualifications.
The KS5 curriculum is supported by a rich tutor programme which aims to develop students as learners alongside their personal development. The tutor programme includes lessons on study skills, careers, Relationship and Sex Education (RSE), and a tutor project mainly focused on health and wellbeing to develop students’ collaborative skills and confidence in presenting to others. Careers advice and guidance is part of the weekly tutor programme. All students have access to Unifrog to help build their knowledge and understanding of careers, next steps and applications. All students in year 12 undertake work experience. Membership of the Sixth Form Leadership Team develops student responsibility around student voice, wellbeing and inclusion. All students in the Sixth Form are encouraged to ‘Give an Hour’ through volunteering either in school or the wider community.
From September 2022 we have moved to an agreed curriculum structure for all secondary schools within the WeST multi-academy Trust. This is facilitating high quality curriculum planning by subject specialists, which allows for curriculum alignment, sharing of resources, high quality subject CPD, and a reduction in staff workload. Ebacc Heads of Department are supported by Executive Directors of Subject and newly appointed Lead Practitioners for all other subject areas are beginning the journey towards greater collaborative working in non-Ebacc subjects. The curriculum work is driven by the aspiration to maximise outcomes for all our young people, no matter their starting point or background.
We see reading as the gateway to the curriculum. An enriched vocabulary enables a better understanding of concepts and ideas, and facilitates access to, and the remembering of, substantive knowledge within and beyond subject areas. All subject areas teach key ‘Tier 3’ vocabulary and high frequency ‘Tier 2’ words through their curriculum. Students in Key Stage 3 spend 30 minutes each day reading for pleasure through DEAR Time as we believe that the will to read influences the skill. We also provide a personalised, structured reading programme for pupils requiring support with reading development so that they can access our challenging curriculum. Reading instruction focuses on improving students’ phonics awareness and their decoding and comprehension skills. Reciprocal Reading is utilised to improve pupils’ ability to predict, question, clarify, summarise, infer and to activate prior knowledge.
Both teachers and teaching assistants have received CPD in supporting students’ reading progress and have been introduced to recent evidence informed practice in relation to reading and vocabulary development. We strive to create a love of reading and literature through a number of events such as: the provision of authors’ visits, participation in the Carnegie, reading challenges, residential trips (Warner Bros. Studio Harry Potter), book groups, our annual reading festival and celebrations of Poetry Day and World Book Day.
Our Forensic Reading programme is delivered to students in Years 7, 8 and 9. Staff from across the curriculum teach Forensic Reading and receive CPD relating to oracy, vocabulary and reading which facilitates a deeper understanding of these aspects of literacy so that we will see them addressed in lessons across the curriculum. Our main objectives through the delivery of Forensic Reading are to:
- Improve literacy through both structured reading and vocabulary development
- Develop pupils’ vocabulary through the explicit teaching of key stone vocabulary
- Develop pupils’ cultural capital thorough exposing them to sophisticated concepts central to their understanding of the world
- Create opportunities for extended reading
- Improve word recognition and comprehension
Character Education and Spiritual, Moral and Cultural Education
Our well-designed curriculum aims to ensure that our students grow in self-confidence in their ability to make progress as they master rigorous content. In addition, we fully embrace the responsibility we hold in the wider personal development of our students. Our curriculum provides numerous opportunities for personal development outside of the classroom through a diverse range of activities including visits to the theatre, concerts, sporting events, field trips, challenges and opportunities to engage with local employers. We aim to provide co-curricular activities across a wide spectrum of different domains and monitor that all groups of students are participating and carefully consider any barriers to participation. We are continuously seeking to increase the opportunities for volunteering. Our aim is to ensure character education is fully embedded across the school and that teachers are striving to ensure that students develop the character traits that will support our students to flourish in wider society. The spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of our students and, within this, the promotion of fundamental British values, are at the heart of what we do at Plymstock School. Within our curriculum we plan for many opportunities to help our students to develop into well-rounded citizens, ready to play an active part in 21st Century Britain.
All Year 7 pupils take part in a day of team-building activities as part of their induction to the school, geography fieldwork and a community cohesion week at the end of year 7. All Year 8 and 9 students take part in ‘challenge week’ where they can opt for a variety of activities that further enhance their personal development. Activities on offer range from residential trips to France, Germany, Cornwall to a PGL camp. Students can take part in off-site activities such as fishing, water sports, horse riding, surfing and skiing, as well as school-based activities that include art workshops, theatre workshops and citizenship studies. Various foreign trips throughout the year give our students the experience of a different culture and the opportunity to use the language they are learning in the classroom in real life situations. Students taking part in the trip to the German Christmas markets spend a day in a German school. The whole school takes part in an annual sponsored walk in the summer term.
We actively encourage participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and large numbers of students readily take up this opportunity. Our outstanding sports provision encourages inclusivity across all year groups. There are many different sporting clubs available. We also hold a yearly ‘Festival of Sport’ that enables all students, whatever their sporting interests, to take part in a wide variety of sports, in addition to competitive athletics.
We provide high quality, impartial careers guidance that helps our students to make informed choices about which courses suit their academic needs and aspirations. Our students are well prepared for the next stage of their education, employment, self-employment or training. The school employs a full-time careers advisor, who provides impartial advice to all students. Careers education is strong and forms an important part of the Personal Development Programme and tutorial programme. We actively promote employer engagement with our students. We are one of the few schools that continues to promote work experience and every student completes a one-week placement at the end of Year 10 along with further opportunities in Year 12. Annually we hold an exceptional careers fair, known as our ‘Futures Event’, which involves nearly 50 companies, training providers and further/higher education establishments.
Achieving Excellence in Curriculum
Our pursuit of an ambitious curriculum centres around the ‘four moral arguments for ambitious curriculum’ presented by Rush Ashbee.
Cognitive: We must teach our students powerful knowledge, so they have a sturdy foundation on which to build new knowledge. The more and better knowledge they have the better equipped they are for cognitive work.
Socioeconomic: To gain excellent qualifications that give access to careers that demand such qualifications (and the socioeconomic rewards of those careers), students must study a strong curriculum.
Democratic: We must deliver a powerful curriculum to ensure our students are able to question and challenge ideas and participate in a healthy democracy. In this way they are able to keep a check on fake news, propaganda and extremism.
Intellectual: we believe that it is the social entitlement of every child, regardless of background, to have access to the knowledge that has been passed down through the generations so they can, in turn, pass it on to future generations.
At Plymstock School, subject leaders and teachers are cognisant with the science of learning and apply that knowledge accordingly to curriculum planning. They actively engage, where appropriate, with both the KS2 and KS3 National Curriculum – reflecting on whether the curriculum builds on KS2 and fully covers, and where possible exceeds, KS3 NC expectations. Teachers ensure that students have the prior knowledge necessary to learn new curriculum content. Curriculum planning identifies small enough component steps that allow students to understand more complex ideas in more complex activities so that all students can ultimately achieve ambitious end points. They actively learn how the subject builds new knowledge and they draw on enough knowledge to answer subject-specific questions and engage meaningfully in subject disciplinary practices.
Sequencing of the curriculum in each subject has been carefully positioned to make subsequent learning possible. Curriculum Development time for departments is a priority and is built into the school calendar to ensure there is ongoing dialogue between teachers to discuss what they are teaching and why, to reflect upon sequencing and collectively plan appropriate classroom strategies to ensure concepts and knowledge are embedded in long-term memory.
Departments have time to consider how students are responding to aspects of their curriculum in real time (eg. if students in KS4 are struggling with Victorian England, then the team need to go back to KS3 and adapt now)
All subject leaders and teachers are expected to understand the following:
- The aims/concepts of the curriculum they are teaching (including the big picture).
- Why the content knowledge is sequenced in the way that it is.
- How the selection and sequencing of content knowledge builds students’ knowledge of concepts over time (i.e., how previous learning underpins learning today, and how today’s learning is laying the foundations for future learning).
- The rationale for the pedagogical activities chosen in the lesson (underpinned by the Plymstock Principles of Curriculum Delivery and an understanding of memory/learning theory such as cognitive load).
- How they will ensure the content being taught now will be remembered in the long term (e.g., strengthening retrieval pathways).
- How ongoing assessment supports all of the above.
All teachers recognise that Curriculum, Teaching and Assessment are inextricably linked, and assessment is used with increasing effectiveness to inform teachers of the degree to which students have moved through the curriculum and informs curriculum development and delivery. Departments are working towards integrating reading into curriculum planning and striving to ensure that they develop a clear line of SEND throughout their whole curriculum.
The school’s quality assurance process is curriculum focused. Analysis of student outcomes leads to rich discussion about development of the curriculum to improve future outcomes. Meaningful professional dialogue between subject leaders, teachers and SLT is central to the process and regular curriculum discussion takes place between all parties. Work scrutiny and lesson drop ins by Heads of Department, Key Stage Managers and SLT assure that the planned curriculum is being taught.