Cormac Murphy is Headteacher at New Horizons Children’s Academy in Medway, Kent. It is part of a successful academy chain, The Thinking Schools Academy Trust, with two hubs based in Medway and Portsmouth. We spoke to Cormac about his curriculum journey so far, which has involved working with Cornerstones at two schools within the MAT.
Strong Starting Point
Cormac joined TSAT in its earliest days as a Trust Deputy based at New Horizons in 2015. At that point, the school only had 120 children (it now has over 600 on roll). ‘’It was clear quite quickly that the school needed a more structured curriculum which is why we researched and then implemented Cornerstones.” He acknowledges that even though academies do not need to offer the national curriculum, it “would be foolish to ignore the content in there and Cornerstones gave us a starting point and a clear structure that we could build from.”
The impact on children’s engagement was immediately apparent, and the enthusiasm from the teachers, including Cormac himself, was clear from the outset. At that point, Cormac was also involved in planning and delivering teaching to Year 6. Particularly successful were the opening stages of the themes, the “wow” starts, or as we refer to them in our pedagogical structure, the Memorable Experiences, offered in the Engage stage of learning.
Flexibility and Autonomy
The flexibility of the online platform, Maestro, has allowed New Horizons to create clear learning across year groups, Key Stages and the whole school while evolving their own curriculum over the years. Maestro “offers our teachers plenty of autonomy in what they plan and deliver,” Cormac said.
New Setting, New Curriculum
In 2016, Cormac was asked by the trust to become acting headteacher of All Faiths Academy and he implemented Cornerstones Curriculum there too. As he became substantive head at All Faiths, they made the decision to move towards a more knowledge-based approach with Cornerstones Knowledge Rich projects. It was a smooth transition, as many themes were similar to the original Imaginative Learning Projects from 2014. Inevitably though, as with any change, curriculum challenges presented themselves. Some areas of the national curriculum had been repositioned by the new projects e.g., Greeks moved year groups. All Faiths overcame these with some careful, strategic long-term planning, using Maestro facilitated the construction of a two-year transition curriculum to prevent repetition. Cormac said “the knowledge rich projects work well with our ethos at the Thinking Schools Trust because we place a strong emphasis on the acquisition and retention of knowledge.”
Mapping Coverage with Curriculum Maestro
Cormac found that Maestro really helped them to map ALL their learning opportunities at All Faiths. “We really liked being able to add in one off events that were unique to us and that meant we had a really clear picture of coverage,” he said. Ensuring that coverage of learning objectives and larger concepts are revisited is vital, especially for the new inspection framework, and “subject leaders found Maestro a quick and easy tool to use to check on that.”
In January 2020, All Faiths Primary successfully navigated the new framework, moving the school from Requires Improvement to Good, and they are rightfully proud of the Outstanding grade awarded for Personal Development. Cormac confirmed that the inspectors were very much focussed on retention of knowledge as well as sequencing of learning, “One inspector even took one of the knowledge organisers from Year 4 into Year 5 and used it to ask questions to check what the children could remember from the previous year.”
Investing in a whole new curriculum and online platform is a big decision with strategic choices to be made about aspects such as timings of the implementation and staff buy-in. Dealing with change needs to be handled carefully and Cormac says, “support from Cornerstones has always been good, it’s very easy to get in touch and get help.”
Now that Cormac is back as substantive headteacher at New Horizons he is going to be looking at how to implement the new sequenced Curriculum ‘22, and of course we will be there to help with that!