Prefer to listen? Enjoy the full interview in this podcast.
Starting with Cornerstones
Jade and her team began looking at Cornerstones in 2014 after they identified that there were gaps within their school curriculum. Jade explains: ‘We did a lot of research looking at various projects that would be innovative, meet the needs of our children and be exciting to teach, and Cornerstones came up.’ Straight away, the children and families really enjoyed the topics. The staff have adapted the projects over the years, to meet the needs of their learners, and Jade reports that teachers have become ‘more confident and creative with them’.
The school were introduced to the online curriculum platform, Maestro, in the summer of 2020. Jade says ‘We made the move in September and it’s going really, really well. SLT met in the summer term; then we had Zoom training delivered by Nicola.’
With the new Curriculum for Wales requirements firmly on the horizon, Jade wanted to get a strong start on curriculum design, without overwhelming staff (2020 being the year of the Covid-19 pandemic). She says: ‘With the new curriculum approaching us, change was inevitable, and we had to make a move. So, first INSET day back in September, we informed the staff that we were changing the way that our planning was going to take place.’
Cornerstones’ dedicated Wales curriculum adviser, Sandra Jones, helped to set up Jade and her staff on Maestro. Jade explains: ‘Sandra took the staff through the portal very gently, introducing what it did and what it was capable of.
Impact on staff
After their initial training, the staff have explored Maestro’s functions and tools in more depth. Jade is happy to report that ‘what everybody absolutely loves is everything being in one place. Whereas before we would have our planning documents, our assessment folders, our DCF, which we would track, and our Literacy and Numeracy Framework, we can now track it all as it’s in one place and online.’
Being online has its advantages, says Jade, particularly during the lockdown period. ‘It can be accessed anywhere, and especially with many members of staff working from home in the distance learning period, that was absolutely key.’ The staff at Pembroke are also reporting that Maestro is ‘saving them so much time’.
Jade also feels that the shared timetable function on Maestro has brought the staff together even more. ‘It’s been fabulous because people have said ‘Oh, I’ve seen you’ve just done a new project. How did it go?’ It’s another form of communication, actually.’
As well as accessing over 100 projects, teachers have been ‘incredibly excited’ that they can design their own projects on Maestro. Jade also relishes the workload reducing benefits: ‘The teaching resources were one of the reasons why we decided to go with Cornerstones in the first place. We can spend hours and hours sitting in front of Google, searching for relevant lesson plans, activities, PowerPoints and things like that. So, the fact that they’re in one place for us has reduced the time that the staff have to spend on creating those themselves.’
Another aspect of Maestro that staff are excited about is the interactive Memorable Experiences map. ‘Looking at what was around us within our local area to support our learners with their projects was absolutely fantastic’.
Impact on leadership and Curriculum for Wales planning
As Deputy Headteacher, Jade is relishing the ability to get a clear overview of her school’s curriculum. ‘I can just log in and have a look at people’s timetables, and I know what’s going on around the school’.
Jade and her staff have already started to use Maestro to meet the new Curriculum for Wales requirements:
‘We started off introducing the four purposes and embedding them throughout the school. Authentic learning activities were relevant for us last year, and that’s something we really focused on.
The fact that the statements of what matters are all in one place within the Cwricwlwm Maestro portal has also been a massive help for us. We can go through and look at different groups for differentiation and we can check coverage and identify where the gaps are. Obviously, it’s early days and they aren’t showing gaps, but we’re hitting a lot of what matters statements.
So, for me as a leader, to go in and check that what is being covered has been really reassuring. And I’m not sure how I would have been able to do that without this portal. It’s helping us get our head around the requirements of the new curriculum.’
Impact on the children
The children at Pembroke Primary are keen learners, and Jade has already seen progress and better engagement in school since using Cornerstones: ‘They’ve become a lot more creative and able to use and link those areas of learning and experience.’ The school allow children and their families to vote for the projects they’d like to cover, which Jade feels has ‘already engaged them’. Over the year, staff have found that ‘there’s always something that suits every single child’. The children are also excited to work on the home learning ideas included with each project
Assessing the curriculum
Jade and her team are pleased that assessment is made quick, informed and accurate on Maestro. ‘We have the opportunity to assess the children against the statements of what matters, against the DCF and the progression steps. So that’s been a bit of a godsend for us. Whereas some schools were developing their own plans, once again, that was time-consuming, and we didn’t want to spend an awful lot of time devising something that might not be to the requirements of the Welsh government. We now have all our assessment opportunities on Maestro.’
Teachers assess the children at the end of each lesson. This is made quick and easy on Maestro with the ‘lesson taught’ button and the ability to note next steps teaching points: ‘We ask staff if children aren’t meeting those what matters statements to just note what they’re going to do next for that, pop in their differentiation and their teaching assistant plans within that too’.
Jade again appreciates the paperless, live set up of Maestro for planning and assessment: ‘Whereas before, we had planning folders, assessment folders, our tracking folders of the DCF, we don’t need that anymore. It’s all in one place and it’s all online now.’
Jade and her team are excited to explore the features on Maestro: ‘We spotted that the RE objectives are now integrated on the system, which is really useful’. They also feel ready to adapt content around the needs of the children and look forward to continuing to work with the Cornerstones Wales advisers, Nicola and Sandra. ‘Staff have developed very friendly relationships with whoever is on the other end of the Live Chat button as well!’ says Jade.
We wish Jade and the staff, children and families at Pembroke Primary all the very best for the future.
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