A bilingual school within England’s state system is rare. At Saint Jérôme Church of England Bilingual School in Harrow, English and French vocabulary is a massive focus. The children are taught French every day, with the opportunity to learn some of the content of the national curriculum in French. Janet Carroll has been their school adviser since they first invested with us in 2019 and was delighted to chat with their headteacher Reverend Daniel Norris following their recently successful Ofsted inspection.
Gaining clarity and structure
Saint Jérôme Church of England Bilingual School opened as a free school in 2016. We are proud to have worked with them since 2019. Daniel explained his main reasons for choosing Curriculum Maestro from Cornerstones. Their first Ofsted inspection in 2019 received an outcome of ‘requires improvement’. There were many reasons behind that outcome, but a lot was focused on their curriculum and the capacity to create one. They did not have a full existing curriculum, especially for the year groups who were not physically in school yet. As a new team, they simply did not have the people in place to write a curriculum structure. Daniel explained, ‘the initial thinking of bringing in Cornerstones was because it offered us a lot of resources, a lot of support and a lot of clarity about our expectations. We wanted something that was going to be challenging and vocabulary rich.’
Staff well-being and workload were also influencing factors for investing in Maestro. Daniel was conscious that it would put pressure upon new staff, all with varying previous experience, if he asked them to try and write a full curriculum for a newly created school.
Ofsted’s updated Education inspection framework makes specific reference to staff well-being and ensuring leaders provide adequate support. Inspectors will evaluate the extent to which ‘leaders engage with their staff and are aware and take account of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way that they manage staff, including their workload.’ (Ofsted, 2022).
As a leader, Daniel was very clear about what he wanted for his staff. ‘I wanted to make sure that teachers spent more time adapting and teaching to the needs of the children in their class, not spending hours creating resources.’
Sequencing and progression
Educators reading this will know that, although the national curriculum launched in 2014 remains unchanged, the Ofsted inspection framework has since shifted focus to looking for a sequenced curriculum that provides progressive knowledge and skills. Our team at Cornerstones responded by producing a curriculum model that is a subject-specific curriculum for history, geography, science, design & technology and art & design. Cornerstones’ move to a new curriculum structure initially offered some challenges for Saint Jérôme’s classroom practice. Staff had begun their journey with our imaginative learning projects, which were half-termly and cross-curricular. They were originally recording all learning in a single book but had to change back to discrete subject books because each project offers a clear sequence of lessons within one subject discipline. ‘It took the staff a while to get their heads round it,’ said Daniel, ‘but what I kept saying to them was, the key thing in this is the progression, and it is going to give us that.’ He also felt strongly that they needed to go with the structure and sequence fully and not just mix and match the content themselves.
Power of knowledge and vocabulary
The sequenced knowledge in the new Cornerstones’ subject-specific curriculum model answered what the school’s advisers had pinpointed as areas for improvement. Following the initial Ofsted inspection, the school was receiving lots of local authority and church support in the form of advisers visiting to observe teaching and learning. The common theme they were looking for was pace and challenge.
Once the teachers got into the flow of Cornerstones’ new curriculum model on Maestro, Daniel noticed a change, a sense of urgency in the teaching delivery, because there was so much for them to know. Daniel explained that ‘actually, all the way through, there has been this golden thread, and what’s been noticed now is the children’s vocabulary and the level of challenge.’
In the recent visit from Ofsted, the inspectors were very impressed with Year 2 learning to apply the Dawson model of significance through the history curriculum projects on Maestro because they had never heard of it. ‘I came across lots of stuff that I didn’t know too!’ Daniel confessed, adding that he also spends time reading the content of the projects.
Most importantly, the children are talking with confidence and depth of knowledge about their learning since using Cornerstones. Daniel says, ‘it has made a huge, huge difference.’
Hearing the children talk confidently is important for the school’s future inspections. Ofsted’s inspection framework has shifted in emphasis from measuring children’s progress through data to measuring based on what children know and can do. Hearing the children talk about their learning really is the only way to find this out. Daniel had to convince governors that graphs no longer demonstrated progress. Daniel explains that governors who were used to having data presented to them needed convincing: ‘They were originally asking, “what does it look like in a grid?” I had to say, “I can’t show you that way; you have to come and talk to children.”’
The Maestro online platform, which houses the curriculum materials, also allows teachers to track coverage of the lesson they have delivered in three simple clicks. They can also record attainments of knowledge and skills against individual children. For leaders like Daniel, this has proved invaluable when looking at evidence of learning in books. He feels this tracking also helps as a starting point for conversations with staff about how they have adapted the lessons they have delivered:
‘I can walk into a classroom, see what they are doing and then go back, and at the click of a button see that they are where they should be. It also means I can go in and ask the children the right questions.’
We would recommend using our carefully designed knowledge organisers as a great tool for this too.
Support from the Cornerstones team
When you have a licence for the Curriculum Maestro platform, it includes all online training and support from our expert advisers. We help with the onboarding and implementation process, supporting SLTs, subject leaders and teachers to make the most of all the revolutionary features. Daniel made it clear during our chat that investing in the curriculum was about a whole school change and approach. He was very complimentary about the way we helped him embed it in his school:
‘I think the support has been brilliant, from advisers coming into Zoom calls and catch-ups for any new features. The online chat has been really helpful, and we needed a lot of help in the beginning. People in your team have always responded to the feedback we’ve given.’