Restore and Thrive: Curriculum Considerations
Restore and Thrive: Curriculum considerations for primary schools in September 2020
When schools were instructed to close on 23rd March to all but the most vulnerable children and those of key workers, it marked the start of a hiatus in education that few at the time could have predicted. For some of our pupils, by the time they return to the classroom, they will have been out of the routines and structures of school for almost 6 months. The experiences of our returning pupils will be extremely varied; from those whose parents have diligently supported them with the home learning provided and beyond to those who will have not engaged at all and those who may have experienced trauma and bereavement. In the early days of the closure, our schools rightly focused on the immediate task in hand – to ensure that those children at home were provided with appropriate learning activities and to that the systems and measures required for staff and pupils to be safe in school were implemented. However, since we opened our doors to more pupils from 1st June and with social distancing measures easing, we can now afford for our gaze to shift towards the future as we look to the possibility of returning to more ‘normal’ schooling in September.
As a group of headteachers, we asked ourselves the question ‘what should the curriculum offer be when the school reopens?’ The consensus was that we are going to need to ensure that the provision we put in place for our pupils is shaped to the experiences that they are returning to us with. With this in mind, this document aims to support schools in undertaking this process by:
- Sharing ideas and plans from schools across the primary hub
- Providing a suggested framework for planning
- Signposting leaders to useful resources and key reading
It is important that leaders take into account the individual contexts of their schools as well as the needs of the children who come through their doors. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to implementing a restorative curriculum – by its very nature it has to be highly personalised from one school to the next and indeed in some cases, one child to the next. Therefore, the principles, ideas and suggestions in this document can be adapted and developed as deemed suitable.
Establishing key priorities
As school leaders, we felt that the essential starting point in planning the curriculum provision in September was to have a clear vision about what the priorities are that underpin what we put in place. Much good work has already been undertaken in reviewing and establishing curriculum intent in our schools and this current scenario has given us the opportunity to reflect and develop these further. Whilst each school has a different context and therefore different overarching curriculum drivers, we felt that there is also commonality to be found in the way that we approach our restorative curriculum planning.
Professor Barry Carpenter identifies five ‘levers’ as a systematic, relationships-based approach to supporting children through the return to school following the pandemic. Theses levers are:
Lever 1: Relationships – we can’t expect our students to return joyfully, and many of the relationships that were thriving, may need to be invested in and restored. We need to plan for this to happen, not assume that it will. Reach out to greet them, use the relationships we build to cushion the discomfort of returning.
Lever 2: Community – we must recognise that curriculum will have been based in the community for a long period of time. We need to listen to what has happened in this time, understand the needs of our community and engage them in the transitioning of learning back into school.
Lever 3: Transparent Curriculum – all of our students will feel like they have lost time in learning and we must show them how we are addressing these gaps, consulting and co-constructing with our students to heal this sense of loss.
Lever 4: Metacognition – in different environments, students will have been learning in different ways. It is vital that we make the skills for learning in a school environment explicit to our students to reskill and rebuild their confidence as learners.
Lever 5: Space – to be, to rediscover self, and to find their voice on learning in this issue. It is only natural that we all work at an incredible pace to make sure this group of learners are not disadvantaged against their peers, providing opportunity and exploration alongside the intensity of our expectations.
(Taken from A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic, Barry Carpenter, April 2020)
As a group we felt that these levers resonated strongly with the direction we wish to see the curriculum implemented in September without ignoring the extensive work that has already been completed in our schools.
This document sets out key priorities for leaders to consider when curriculum planning for September 2020 and are influenced by Barry Carpenter’s five levers outlined above. These priorities are based on a holistic approach taking into account a wide range of elements and not solely focusing on teaching and learning. They emphasise the point that without these elements effectively in place, learning cannot happen.
The key priorities are:
- Reconnecting with the school environment
- Re-establishing relationships in school
- Re-connecting with parents
- Curriculum non-negotiables
- Effective assessment
- The role of PSHE and supporting mental health
Reconnecting with school environment
For some of our children, it will have been almost six months since they stepped foot inside the school building. Most of our children will have had a very limited experience of places that they have been to other than their own homes since the lockdown began. For some children, entering the school building may trigger feelings of anxiety, particularly if they struggled with this prior to the closure. For all of them, there will be a need to allow them time to explore, re-discover and connect with the learning environment again. It is also important that the children feel safe and secure in the school – the social distancing measures that they will have experienced in the wider community as well as those that are likely to still remain in place in September, could contribute to a feeling of concern for some children. The lessons we have learned during the partial opening in the summer term, will help us to understand how we can mitigate this for the children when they return.
Possible actions for leaders to take to support children in reconnecting with the school environment all as follows:
- If there is still a requirement to maintain one way systems around schools, alternative entry points to the building, or general social distancing practice that impacts on the look and feel of the school, it is helpful to provide the children returning with a picture guide so that they are prepared for different environment when they return.
- The children could create a piece of artwork over the summer holidays that could be displayed in the classroom in September to help develop a sense of ownership.
- Planning frequent opportunities for children to engage in outdoor learning throughout the week not only provide fun and exciting context for learning but can also contribute to the children’s sense of feeling safe as they are less restricted when outdoors. A list of suggested outdoor activities is included in the appendices of this document.
- Although it is unlikely that whole school assemblies will be able to take place when we return, utilising technology such as Teams or Google meet to facilitate virtual whole school assemblies can help with creating the sense of community that is so important to a school.
- Plan an activity or challenge for the whole school to participate in and connect over such as a pumpkin growing competition or setting physical challenges that the children can do at home and at school.
Re-establishing relationships in school
Strong relationships, with both peers and adults, are a fundamental part of ensuring that children have a positive school experience. During this crisis, many children have faced an extensive period of disruption in their social experience. For some, this has brought with it feelings of loss and confusion. In his think piece, Barry Carpenter states that
‘We can’t expect our students to return joyfully and many of the relationships that were thriving, may need to be invested in and restored. We need to plan for this to happen, not to assume that it will’.
Whilst some of our children will return to school feeling happy and positive, we cannot make the assumption that this will be the case for all our children. We need to ensure that we plan time into the curriculum to allow relationships to reestablish themselves and to flourish. We need to give children the opportunity to find out again who they are within the context of a wider social group and adjust to the behavioural and social norms that they have missed out on.
Approaches that schools can implement to reestablishing relationships could be as follows:
- Planning time into the weekly schedule for games and activities that encourage the children to connect with each other. Many of the ‘getting to know you’ games that teachers use with a new class are suitable for this. Additionally, card and board games help the children to learn and practice the skills of taking turns, sharing, listening and responding.
- Providing an ‘All about me’ transition booklet for children in all year groups to complete prior to returning so that teachers are able to have knowledge of key information about each child before they start to help them make a personal connection.
- Teachers being confident not to over plan each day in order to allow for time to talk to the children. Snack time taken in the classroom rather than during playtime is a good way to have informal conversations with the children and support them in conversing with their peers by modeling speaking and listening skills.
- Making use of cross curricular opportunities for children to work collaboratively together and including key skills of speaking and listening, turn taking, and teamwork.
- Using drama and role play to act out different situations. It could be practising how to ask others to join in the game or how to deal with a situation where someone is being unkind. Allowing the children the opportunity to role play social situations and rehearse their responses helps them to establish how they will handle those situations in future.
- The choice of texts used in the classroom can be a good way to explore social situations with children. Choosing a text where characters experience a social problem or dilemma provides the context for a discussion and asked the question what would you do in that situation? This is a good strategy to help children develop empathy skills.
- Teaching the Relationships unit within the Cambridgeshire PSHE curriculum (or similar) when returning in September (see below).
- Leaders of schools in Cambridgeshire are able to apply for a fully funded place on the mental health and relationships programme which is being run by the PSHE service in October 2020 until March 2021. The program enables schools to review and develop provision for all children in mental health and building skills for positive relationships schools will benefit from a one-day training session for a school leader call my tailored in school training for staff and teaching resources which will complement delivery of the relationships and health education curricula. Further information on this can be found by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
- Setting up Google Classroom for new classes before the summer holidays could provide a way for teachers and pupils to connect and to start building relationships through the class stream, providing some transition activities and the use of Google Meet. This would allow for some transition work to takes place prior to the summer Holidays.
- Adrian Bethune talks about the idea of tribal classrooms in his book ‘Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom’. The idea behind this is to tap into children’s primitive social instincts and create a safe and secure learning environment where children feel they belong and are able to take risks play and explore. Teachers can create a sense of tribe in their classrooms by discussing the values and attributes of good team and making their own class flag. Further information and suggested activities on Tribal Classrooms can be found in the book.
- Ensuring that the day starts with positive greeting and ending even if behaviour has been challenging.
- Some children will benefit from more targeted support to help them develop and manage their social interaction skills. Using the ‘Roots and Fruits’ tool from the STEPS programme is a useful tool to assess children’s emerging or known needs.
Reconnecting with parents
Whilst some parents may feel positive about children returning to school in September, for others it will provoke feelings of anxiety. They will be seeking reassurances on the protective measures that we are putting in place as well as how we will support the children to assimilate back into school and help them to make gains in their learning where it may have stalled. Schools are very experienced in working to create positive partnerships with parents and will need to ensure that as well as the usual approaches they take to achieve this, they could also consider the following:
Supporting parents and carers with the return to school
- Be clear in communication with parents about what is happening and how. Follow up with phone calls to parents who may find it harder to access written information.
- Consider increasing the frequency of communication leading up to and at the start of school re-opening as a way of reassuring parents about safety measures in place and to remind them of the role they play in the partnership to keep everyone safe
- Encourage parents to establish good sleep routines prior to the return to school and share with them the impact that this has on children’s mental health and subsequently, learning.
- Try to ensure that as far as possible, consistency of arrangements is maintained e.g. if staggered start and end times are in place, don’t change these unless in exceptional circumstances.
- Seek an opportunity for a parent / teacher meeting early in the new term – this may have to be done virtually or via the telephone for parents who are unable to access the necessary IT.
- Talking about what has happened won’t make things worse but will help children and adults to understand ‘togetherness’ – try not to dismiss worries; instead embrace but don’t dwell
- Be clear that the welfare of pupils and staff comes first and that this needs to be in place for learning to happen
Encouraging parents to bring back anxious children:
- Ensure staff welcome children back with confidence- staff will need to feel supported with their own well-being in order to be able to do this
- All concerns are real; it’s important that we embrace them and not dismiss them
- Leaders need to ensure that they stay ahead with all government guidance so that they can support parents with accurate information. Parents should be discouraged from accessing information from social media unless it’s from an official source or the school media site.
- Seek ways to support children and families with anxiety to prepare for the return to school such as creating a virtual tour or a photo book of the school and adults who will be working with them. This approach can also be used to support children with additional needs such as ASD, emotional difficulties and anxiety.
- Identify and signpost to support networks.
- It will be helpful to remember that this is ‘a marathon not a sprint’ – children will return at different stages and we shouldn’t push, only encourage.
Keeping parents engaged:
- Keep parents at the center of support for their child- engage them fully and encourage them to use strategies at home that may be being used at school such as mindfulness techniques.
- Consider offering drop-in support which could be virtual or via phone- don’t focus this just on vulnerable parents, offer to all. This could be informal – it may be that just a quick chat is all that is needed but it will help to identify those families where further intervention would be beneficial.
- Maximise opportunities to share learning with parents and frequently celebrate the children’s successes is with them. Parents may feel detached from what their child is doing in school – using the school’s newsletter, website and social media to share what has been happening in school is a good way to help them feel connected.
A great deal has been written recently on the subject of ‘lost learning’ and there has been much debate as to whether schools should focus on a ‘catch up curriculum’ or whether to continue with the offer as planned and seek to address significant gaps as and when they are identified. We felt that there is a middle ground to be had within this discussion. That is to say, children should not be denied access to the wider curriculum offer but that at the same time teachers will need to carefully focus teaching in core subjects on those key skills which need to be established and embedded before moving on. Initially, there will need to be a pairing down of objectives within English and Maths with a focus on non-negotiables in the early weeks of returning in September in order to create a baseline and provide sufficient evidence and context for assessment
In English, this will focus on:
- Reading – Including guided groups, individual 1:1 reading and more frequent opportunities for pupils to listen to the teacher reading to the class
- Speaking and listening skills including the development of vocabulary
- Pencil control and letter formation
- Writing stamina
- Sentence construction
- Basic punctuation
In Maths, teaching at the start of the autumn term would focus on:
- Place value
- Times tables
Whilst there may be a small number of pupils who would benefit from individualised and targeted intervention support in order to catch up, it will be important to recognise that many children will have accessed and benefitted from home learning. Teachers and leaders will need to evaluate the value of relying on quality first teaching to support pupils to catch up as opposed to a number of intervention programmes which may not fill the gaps that quality first teaching could.
With regard to the wider curriculum offer, there is a strong consensus that pupils should not be denied the opportunity to access the foundation subjects when we return in September 2020 and that a narrowing of the curriculum to focus only on the core subjects should be avoided.
Effective Assessment – how and when?
The consensus amongst the group was unanimously in favour of allowing pupils time to re-assimilate back into school before launching into formal assessments. We felt that there is much to learn from Early Years colleagues in their approach to assessing pupils on entry at the start of the year and teachers need to be given the freedom and encouragement to use assessment for learning approaches in order to ascertain effectively where children are in their learning. Moving away from the long term plan for the start of the autumn term and allowing teachers to plan lessons which give them the opportunity to observe and assess pupils informally will help to support this.
It will be essential to have a clear understanding of which pupils have received high quality provision at home and those where there have been challenges. Leaders will find having a process to capture this information prior to the summer holidays will be an important part of helping teachers to accurately collect this data. This can be taken from an evaluation of engagement with work via the online learning platform and through discussions with parents. For those children for whom there have been barriers in place to them accessing learning at home, it is likely to be necessary to plan additional targeted intervention support. Having advanced knowledge of who these pupils are, will help teachers to be more prepared for their return.
The use of NFER assessment materials was agreed to be an effective way to undertake gap analysis on pupils’ knowledge and to provide a baseline measurement in order to track progress. The delivery of these tests will need to be scheduled to suit the needs of each school population and leaders will need to allow for flexibility where it is deemed that pupils are not yet ready for more formal assessments. In order for teachers to be able to plan in a way that is more accurately matched to the needs of their pupils, these assessments would need to be completed before the October half term. Clearly, where teachers feel that pupils are further ahead in their learning than expected and/or have adjusted to the return to school more rapidly, earlier use of the NFER tests would be appropriate. Teachers will need to use the information that they have gained in the initial return to school to ascertain whether there are some pupils who would benefit from accessing a test from the previous year group in order to get a more accurate picture of where they are. It would be up to leaders of individual schools to designate when the most appropriate time to do this would be.
Many of our schools use White Rose for teaching the Maths curriculum and it was felt that the assessment materials which are produced as part of this would also be a helpful way to find out what the children’s starting points are.
The use of the ‘Spirals of Inquiry’ approach would be an effective way for teachers to develop a deep understanding of the experiences of pupils and gain insight into how they are developing their metacognition and self-regulations skills. It also provides further opportunity to develop relationships between teachers and pupils.
The use of phonics assessments, not only across KS1 but also in Y3 and beyond will be a useful tool to help teachers and leaders identify if there is a need to implement the continued teaching of phonics into Y3 and other KS 2 year groups for the Autumn term. This will be particularly relevant for any children who were due to retake the Phonics Check in Y2 but were unable to.
The role of PSHE and supporting mental health
The main driver behind the work from Barry Carpenter is the impact that the pandemic will have had on the mental health and wellbeing of children. Whilst this may not be the case for all pupils, we cannot make assumptions that they will return to us as resilient and positive as they were when they were last in school. Indeed, for those children who already struggled with their mental health, the experience of isolation may have exacerbated it further. Additionally, the initial excitement of returning to school and seeing friends may mask deeper anxieties in pupils that will then surface in the weeks and months after they are back in school. Researchers in New Zealand found this to be the case following the earthquake in Christchurch where children’s PTSD only became apparent a significant time after the event.
The teaching of PSHE will need to form a core part of the curriculum offer that we make for pupils. It is important that this is not a tokenistic add-on but instead features daily in teachers planning schedules to provide ongoing support for pupils’ mental health. Most of our schools use the Cambridgeshire PHSE scheme and this will ensure that the explicit teaching of high quality PSHE takes place. Rearranging units may be helpful in order to meet the needs of the returning pupils e.g. teaching managing feelings or friendships at the start of the term. In addition to the PSHE scheme, there are other approaches that can be used by teachers to ensure that there is a continuing theme of PSHE throughout the day:
- Ensure that there is a clear and familiar structure to the school day – use a visual timetable to help the children know what is happening and when.
- As far as possible, prepare children for changes to the routine and talk about what it will be like, for example, if the arrangements for lunch are different.
- Plan for daily PSHE sessions, for example starting or ending each day with Circle Time.
- Choose texts to use in English or share at story time that have a strong PSHE focus. Consider the use of more challenging picture books with KS2 to explore more complex feelings and issues. A list of suggested picture books for younger children is included in the appendices of this document.
- Teach the children explicitly about how to keep themselves mentally healthy – using the 10 Keys to Happiness from ‘Action for Happiness’ is a good approach to this. This could also form the theme for whole school assemblies each week.
- Promote a safe space for discussion- pupils of all ages will have questions about the changes in school and the global situation. Not all children will have felt able to ask these questions at home or through the online learning platform. It will be important to set aside some specific allocated time to discuss their questions and this can help to prevent pupils becoming overwhelmed.
- Planning a regular session of mindfulness in class e.g. after returning from lunch
- Ensuring that the children participate in physical activity each day such as the Daily Mile or daily PE lessons.
- Breaking lessons into smaller chunks in order to take into account where pupils are finding it harder to concentrate for longer periods of time.
- Encourage flexibility over break times – teachers taking children outside when they feel it would be most beneficial. Additionally, considering having staggered playtimes for fewer classes at a time to avoid children feeling overwhelmed on the playground.
- Providing the children with more structured support during break and lunch times through the use of either their own or a class pack of resources to use outside.
- Ensuring that all children have a water bottle on their table throughout the day and have a high carbohydrate snack mid-morning. Researchers in New Zealand found that these were two very simple but effective strategies to support children’s concentration and behaviour. Children need to be encouraged to drink regularly and even when they are not thirsty to remain hydrated. The snack will ensure that blood sugar levels remain high throughout the morning which improves concentration and behaviour. Examples of snacks include carrot sticks and hummus, popcorn, fruit, cheese sticks and yogurt.
- Where pupils are having more significant challenges with their mental health and wellbeing, providing them with support from an ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) can be very effective as can seeking further advice and support from the Emotional Wellbeing Team and CHUMS.
Further questions to consider:
How will we:
- For those children moving into Y1, is there flexibility to provide them with a more Early Years-style curriculum for the first term to support transition and enable them to further develop relationships?
- Facilitate the opportunity for Y6 teachers to meet with Y7 Maths and English teachers to help understand what key skills we need to ensure are embedded by the end of the year to support the move the secondary next year?
- Review which support and training will staff benefit from in order to be able to effectively support the children when they return?
- Prioritise staff wellbeing in September?
- Implement strategies to gather views and feedback from parents?
- Ensure that pupil voice is heard as part of the restorative process?
Useful resources and recommended reading:
- Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom – Adrian Bethune
- 50 Ways to Feel Happy – Vanessa King
- Emotional Wellbeing – An introductory Handbook for Schools – Gillian Shotton and Sheila Burton
- You are Awesome – Matthew Syed
- The Simple Guide to Attachment Difficulties in Children – Betsy de Theirry
- The Simple Guide to Child Trauma – Betsy de Theirry
- The Blurt Foundation. They will provide training and resources to provide lessons on all sorts of mental health areas https://www.blurtitout.org/the-blurt-peer-project/
- The Anna Freud Centre – a wealth of resources on supporting children, parents and staff with mental health and wellbeing relating to coronvirus and more generally https://www.annafreud.org/coronavirus-support/coronavirus/
- Evidence for Learning – The Recovery Curriculum (including podcasts with Barry Carpenter) https://www.evidenceforlearning.net/recoverycurriculum/
- The Embark Federation Recovery Curriculum resources – a huge range of planning and resources to support schools in bringing children back in
- Bounce Resilience Programme https://www.bounceback-program.com/
Rachael Johnston, Headteacher, Bottisham Community Primary School
Alison Weir, Acting Headteacher, Howard Community Primary School
Nichola Connor, Headteacher, The Meadow Primary School
Mark Askew, Headteacher, Fen Ditton Community Primary School