Over 2100 schools across the UK use the Cornerstones Curriculum in a variety of unique and inspiring ways. In this blog, Caroline reports on one school’s remarkable journey with Cornerstones.
Lea Forest Primary Academy’s motto is #findyourremarkable – and for good reason. Situated on the outskirts of Birmingham, it is simultaneously in the top 10% of deprived areas in the country and the top 10% of the UK’s highest performing schools.
Many factors contribute to the school’s success, including how they prioritise their curriculum. Headteacher, Craig Clarke, took on the Cornerstones Curriculum in 2014 and uses it to widen children's horizons, raise standards and bring a real buzz to the school.
Clear curriculum intent
Lea Forest knows that a good curriculum starts with clear intent and a set of agreed principles. Their mission is to offer ‘an excellent education that launches children into remarkable lives’. To help deliver this, a strong curriculum is key. Natasha Oliver, Curriculum Lead, says they wanted an ‘enriched, broad and balanced curriculum that is both skills and knowledge-based’. They chose Cornerstones, as it was easy to adapt in order to implement these curriculum aims.
Craig particularly likes the flexibility offered by the curriculum: ‘What’s so good about Cornerstones is that the different topics are drawn out for you. We’re able to choose the right topics that meet our children. We tailor the curriculum to meet their needs and what means something to them’.
Implementing a rich curriculum
Interestingly, and in line with Ofsted’s current message, the school believes that depth is as important as breadth – at times, even more so. Children are therefore offered plenty of opportunities to deepen their understanding of ‘the basics’, subjects and concepts.
‘We build on the experiences outlined in the projects. We choose the strands of each subject that cater to the needs of the children. We then focus on linking those strands of geography, history and so on together, providing a breadth of study’. This, says Craig, is how different subjects come together to bring the curriculum to life in meaningful ways for the children.
While Lea Forest Primary Academy chooses to teach English and maths as discrete subjects, these core skills are then reapplied in the topics, allowing opportunities for mastery and learning in context. And, to further develop their foundation subject knowledge, many literacy lessons are linked to the topic, for example writing instructions for how to mummify a body in the ancient Egyptians project, Pharaohs. As Craig says ‘We’re applying and developing children’s skills across the curriculum; these link all the learning together.’
Overall, Craig is confident that subject knowledge and skills progress well across the school. ‘It’s really helpful that Cornerstones provides a tracker so you are able to ensure that there’s good coverage across the whole school. We use it to plan strategically.’
A central aim of the school’s curriculum is to widen children’s horizons, raise their expectations and aspirations. Lea Forest has prioritised making enriching experiences, such as trips and lessons that take children out of their normal frame of reference, part of their pupil offer. As Mark White, teacher and science lead says ‘Because our children don’t get these experiences in everyday lives, everything comes through the curriculum’. In fact, in one Year 5 class of 30, only two children had ever been to a beach. Craig feels it is crucial to provide these experiences for the children, to help them engage with a topic and for their knowledge and understanding to stick. ‘We plan strategically which memorable experiences we want our children to have. When they remember these experiences, they learn more and take on skills for lifelong learning.’
Quality of work
Presentation and high-quality work are a key focus at Lea Forest. Expectations are high and children know that their efforts are valued. The quality of learning is evident when you walk around the school and see the work on display and in classrooms. Followers of the school on social media will know that the teachers regularly share examples of children’s learning, particularly their stunning curriculum books. At the start of every project, every child is given a book featuring engaging templates and backgrounds for them to create a highly-presented record of their learning. The curriculum books have been a huge success in school and give children and teachers a real sense of achievement. And the children are very proud of the work they do, whatever the subject. As Mark says ‘not all children feel like they are great writers, but may excel in other subjects, like art’. The books also instil the children with an awareness of how far they have come and what they’ve learnt.
Knowing the impact of the curriculum
The school has seen a significant impact on both outcomes and well-being in school. Craig is impressed with how results have improved: ‘We feel there’s an equal balance between knowledge and skills and children are getting a really good deal. This has transferred to our results. For example, over the last three years, our SATs results are now above the national average, and our greater depth standard score has improved. Having enjoyable experiences really does have an impact on their learning.’
Staff have already felt a positive impact on their workload since using Cornerstones. In terms of planning, the project plans free teachers up to do what matters because, as Mark says, ‘You want most of your planning time to be used for your children’. The school have also found the Cornerstones resources to be a great starting point for teachers to add to or adapt, depending on the needs of their children.
Natasha Oliver, Curriculum Lead, also sees the potential long-term impact of the curriculum: ‘We want to equip children with lifelong skills and improve children's wellbeing. Children are also beginning to direct their own learning; they generate questions that direct the next line of enquiry.’ This active involvement, she says, is already helping learning ‘stick’.
Sharing and celebrating
The school has a real buzz about it with a strong teamwork culture. Staff support each other and live and breathe the school’s values and motto, always striving to create opportunities for children to be their ‘remarkable selves’. As anyone who follows Lea Forest on social media will know, the school regularly shares work and celebrates both the staff and children’s achievements. Craig has created Twitter accounts for each year group – even the curriculum has one! He says the use of social media is vital in sharing the achievements and outcomes of pupils with a range of audiences.
Lea Forest Primary Academy know what they want to achieve, and the journey they are on. The school is constantly evolving and makes excellent use of materials provided by Cornerstones, while drawing upon their expertise and the wider community, both online and in real life, to help make their school truly remarkable. Cornerstones are so proud to be part of their journey and wish them continued success and happiness.
About the school
Lea Forest Primary Academy, a large primary school of 480 children in the Kitts Green suburb of Birmingham. The school has a nursery and is a mixture of two to three form entry cohorts.