Portslade Aldridge Community Academy

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Curriculum Aims

Curriculum Aims

Our context

PACA is a comprehensive and inclusive school serving students from across Brighton and Hove and West Sussex.  Our students go on to a full range of post-16 opportunities both at college and in apprenticeships.  From there, we know they go on to higher education and careers, locally, nationally and internationally. Looking into the future, we know many of our young people will go to jobs that have not yet even been invented. 

Our aims are threefold:

Firstly, to give students a broad education that offers great depth of knowledge, a wide range of experiences and leaves them with the cultural capital and self-belief to go out into the world and take any opportunity that comes along.

Secondly, to give students maximum choice for their next stage in education or employment by achieving the best academic qualifications and through conquering challenges to develop their character strengths. 

Lastly, we aim to ensure that our students’ time in school is engaging and enjoyable, they work well together, they lead their own learning, and they develop their interests and passions while at PACA.

Our curriculum aims for our students to be:

  • Responsible and entrepreneurial citizens who have self-belief and the personal attributes and motivation to make a positive contribution to society. Our primary objective is to make sure that students are work-ready and life-ready. (Character)
  • Confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives (Conduct)
  • Successful learners who enjoy and appreciate their own learning; make good progress and achieve excellence (Learning)

Our curriculum aims for our school are:

  • To create an aspirational, entrepreneurial and enterprising school culture
  • To appreciate individual needs and styles and ensure our community is inclusive
  • To allow everyone to experience success (a broad curriculum)
  • To have a collective focus on learning to raise attainment

Our Curriculum is:

  • Founded on the idea of students leading their own learning: At the centre of our curriculum planning is the objective to promote students’ ability, to guide their own learning by ensuring that they know what they need to do to improve, by helping them to understand how they learn best, and by being really clear about what excellence in their subjects looks like.   Our aim is to put control for learning in the hands of our students.
  • Broad and balanced: In Year 7 and 8 students’ study 16 subjects: English, maths, the three sciences, computer science, history, geography, religious studies, a modern language (either French or Spanish), art, music, performing arts, food technology, dance and physical education.  A greater proportion of time is spent on English and maths to ensure that all students have the core skills to allow them to access the wider curriculum.
  • Gradually narrowed: Year 9 offers a chance to reduce the range of subjects by selecting two creative subjects to continue while maintaining their work on an essential group of academic subjects.  At the end of Year 9, students select four subjects in addition to the core subjects of English, maths and science, to take in years 10 and 11 to study to GCSE level.  One of these subjects must be history or geography.  Students are not required, but they are encouraged to select the modern language they have studied to Year 9.  Other subjects include: computing, IT, media, food technology, art, photography, textiles, music, performing arts, dance, GCSE PE and BTEC sport science. As the school grows in size we are considering adding other subjects including business and ethics to supplement the subjects we already offer.
  • Mastery of subject areas: English, maths and geography follow a mastery curriculum from Year 7 that places high importance on giving students a solid grounding in the fundamental experiences that underpin a subject before proceeding into more abstract constructs within the discipline. For example, in English this means studying a rigorous programme on grammar and a robust set of texts that develop cultural capital through the experience of the literary canon.
  • Firm foundations: For those who arrive needing extra support in English, modern languages are not taken and the time is devoted to additional literacy.
  • Personal development: A programme for Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE); Careers Education and Enterprise and Entrepreneurship education is run through a 30-minute daily tutor time programme. The programme develops: (i) students’ awareness of their character strengths and presses them to take on challenges, (ii) their aspirations and what it takes to turn them into reality, and (iii) their ability to navigate personal and social choices as they mature as well as understanding the value of positive conduct.
  • Mainstreamed literacy: A focus on literacy permeates the curriculum. As a school we encourage reading in every subject, along with an explicit understanding of the characteristic literacy styles of different subjects.  The development of tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary is made explicit. Talk for writing, disciplinary literacy and extended writing are common features of every PACA classroom. 
  • A shared understanding of learning and common structures for thinking: At the heart of our curriculum is a shared fascination in human learning. Our teaching and learning policy are for both staff and students. Our tutor time programme includes explicit teaching of core ideas about learning. Every classroom uses a set of common structures to support active thinking. These structures are the PACA Thinking Tools.

For PACA, Mastery is:

A set of teaching and learning strategies based on the premise that students will achieve a high level of understanding in a given domain if they are given enough time.

Our mastery curriculum breaks the key knowledge relating to each subject area into units with clearly specified objectives, which are pursued until they are achieved.  Learners work through each block of content in a series of sequential steps.  Students must demonstrate a high level of success on tests. Typically, approximately 80% of students are expected to have mastered the threshold concepts before progressing to new content.  Retention of this knowledge is then assessed in future testing and gaps which emerge are addressed by PACA at teacher and department level.

By using a mastery curriculum, we seek to avoid unnecessary repetition across years by regularly assessing knowledge and skills.  Those students who do not reach the required level are provided with additional tuition, small group discussions, or individualised homework so that they can reach the expected level. Students who arrive at school with more advanced levels of knowledge or who acquire the knowledge covered within a unit more rapidly are required to apply the relevant knowledge in more challenging tasks, which demand higher order thinking skills or work on similar tasks using a broader range of knowledge.

The mastery curriculum which we have implemented for Year 7 will be rolled out throughout the Academy and will not only draw upon these principles, but also on the developments in our understanding of cognitive science and its implications for classroom practice.

How we teach:

How we teach is influenced by what we believe about learning.

We aim for mastery in all subjects – i.e. moving from concrete to abstract, being able to apply knowledge previously learned to new situations and topics, making links from prior learning and being successful in new learning situations not previously encountered.   The disciplinary proficiency of thinking like a writer, thinking like a historian, thinking like a geographer, thinking like a mathematician is crucial.

This is what we know about learning:

  1. Memory matters. Learning is a change in the long-term memory.  (If you can’t remember it, you didn’t learn it.).  Memories are best stored when they are connected to many other ideas, when students have a variety of experiences new memories are related to (stories / pictures / experience) and when they are retrieved frequently. (PP 5,6)
  2. Knowledge is the pathway to skill. Knowing what to do is the starting point for being able to use knowledge in a range of contexts.  Developing the skill of applying knowledge in different contexts is hard, so much of the work of learning is to use knowledge in new contexts.
  3. Learning happens best when students are thinking really hard; memory is the residue of thought and so the starting point for effective teaching is to ensure that students are constantly challenged to think about and manipulate new ideas. Critical within this, is for students to be actively engaged with listening and talking about new ideas, so we promote purposeful talk and listening in class (PP 2, 3, 4)
  4. Practice which is focused on critically improving (purposeful practice) is essential to turning new knowledge into knowledge that can be applied. This idea rests on students critically assessing their own performance against a model of what better looks like and thinking hard about what they need to work on to improve. Active reflection is a key part of our teaching. (PP7 and 9)
  5. Responsive teaching makes the right memories. Good teaching needs to be based on the needs of learners, depending on what they have mastered and what they need to do next to take their learning forward. Learning happens fastest when the content is pitched at the level of desirable difficulty, ensuring students are working on the material that has the greatest impact on their progress rather than material they have already mastered or material that is too far beyond their range of their current understanding. (PP 1)
  6. Learning to read and write in a subject is a critical skill to developing an ability in a subject. For this reason, we use the idea of disciplinary literacy to develop student’s vocabulary and grammar and their abilities to read and write in each of our curriculum subjects (PP 8)
  7. Student motivation is critical to learning. We recognise the power of extrinsic motivation so we recognise and praise effort. We also recognise the greater impact of intrinsic motivation which comes with successful and purposeful learning in lessons. (additional)

 

All of the above determines our teaching sequence.  We do one thing at a time, we take our time on it and ensure we know whether students have mastered it before we move on.

We make our students think – they have to be ‘all in’, in our lessons all of the time – we set out to make their brains hurt.  We never leave a misconception unaddressed and we ensure mastery by making students apply the learning to new contexts.

Further, we constantly return to previous learning and make sure that it has embedded in long-term memory by retesting, revisiting and making students reflect back to what they know and use that knowledge – we do not offer things to them on a plate, we want them to have to think, recall and use what they know.

Our Key Stage 3 curriculum seeks to prepare our pupils for GCSE material, ensuring they have the core skills and knowledge they need to be successful in further study.  It also seeks to push on from the most rigorous Key Stage 2 teaching and where students come with gaps in the basics, we aim to address this outside of the timetabled curriculum for Maths and English at Key Stage 3 so that further gaps are not created for these pupils.