Knowledge-rich curriculum projects for primary schools

In this blog, Caroline Pudner introduces the new knowledge-rich curriculum projects from Cornerstones, explaining the rationale behind them and benefits for primary children.

In her speech at the NAHT conference in May, Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, told schools that they do not need to rush to redesign or change their curriculum in light of the new inspection framework and that ‘good curriculum planning and implementation take time’. This sensible advice is undoubtedly true for those of you already offering a broad and balanced curriculum like Cornerstones.

But there is always room to develop and refine your curriculum, and some primary schools are now looking to make knowledge acquisition more explicit. Over the past few years, we’ve been keenly aware of the national debate around knowledge and skills and have made exciting new developments to our curriculum, designed to help schools get the balance right.

New knowledge-rich projects

The Cornerstones Curriculum is already underpinned by a coherent skills and knowledge framework but for schools who want to really focus on knowledge, we are introducing a set of shorter, subject-driven, knowledge-rich projects (KRPs). The launch of six geography KRPs in October kick-starts this process.

Over the next two years, we will continue to develop further suites of subject-driven KRPs so that by September 2021, schools wishing to pursue this approach will be able to deliver a complete knowledge-rich curriculum.

Why is knowledge important?

Knowledge acquisition is crucial for all children. It builds their understanding of themselves and the world and helps them become more proficient learners. As Ofsted’s Sean Harford said: ‘Knowledge is sticky. The more you know, the more you can embed new knowledge.’ Teaching children both declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge (skills) gives them the tools to develop a deeper understanding of subjects and concepts.

Knowledge acquisition can also help narrow the gap for disadvantaged pupils who often benefit the most from what Professor Michael Young calls ‘powerful knowledge’, building their cultural awareness, specialised skills and wider understanding.

There is so much more to say about knowledge here, but if you’re interested in further reading around the topic and hearing different viewpoints, I’ve listed some links at the end of this blog.

Connecting knowledge

While it’s important to teach subject-specific knowledge, at Cornerstones we believe that children learn best through a broad and balanced curriculum that enables them to make purposeful connections between subjects. Again, as Sean Harford explains: ‘When connections are made, then knowledge sticks together. You learn things in context, then the story starts to cohere.’

We have seen this in practice over the past 10 years of schools using Cornerstones and use the same approach in our KRPs. Connections between subjects shouldn’t jar or distract children; they should be authentic if a project is to flow. As one teacher who trialled the KRPs said:

“The children’s geographical knowledge has definitely improved. It’s enabled us to go deeper into what a subject, like geography, is and they can see how it links to other areas of the curriculum. The project has flowed so well.’’

Katherine Birchall, Curriculum Lead at Reedness Primary School

To connect national curriculum subject aspects, knowledge and skills on an even larger scale, the Cornerstones Curriculum is underpinned by 10 ‘big ideas’ that thread throughout projects and develop children’s understanding over time. These themes and ‘larger concepts’ as Ofsted call them, lend coherence to the curriculum. Find out more about the big ideas and connectivity.

So, with this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the new KRPs.

Subject focus

Each KRP has a subject focus of either geography, history or science, and is accompanied by a mini art and design, or design and technology companion project (see below). English can be easily linked to the KRPs using our new English resource packs or taught discreetly. The projects follow the tried-and-tested Cornerstones’ pedagogy of Engage, Develop, Innovate and Express although they are shorter than the original Imaginative Learning Projects (ILPs). This allows for greater timetable flexibility and a more focused approach to the delivery of key knowledge.

Lesson sequence

Lessons in the KRPs are planned in series to be delivered in manageable chunks and in sequence so that maximum opportunity is given for children to build on prior knowledge. This approach supports cognitive load theory and avoids overwhelming children with too much knowledge at one time. We’ve also included a focused ‘memorable experience’, with a suggested alternative school-based option for those schools wishing to keep costs to a minimum. A new introductory knowledge lesson helps teachers to equip children with key knowledge beforehand.

Knowledge retrieval

To help children learn and remember new knowledge, each project has built-in opportunities for recapping and knowledge retrieval, including a mixture of low stakes quizzing, independent application of knowledge and effective questioning. Research shows that regular retrieval can help children to store knowledge in their long-term memory and recall it more easily. This frees up their working memory to learn new things.

Clear outcomes and progression

All KRPs are constructed around a rigorous knowledge and skills framework that provides clear progression and learning outcomes. In the image below, you’ll see that we’ve identified both skills (procedural knowledge) and declarative knowledge statements for every lesson. The framework allows teachers to monitor progress easily over time and check coverage. At the end of each KS2 project, during the Express stage, short summative tests provide opportunities for more focused assessment of knowledge acquisition.

Knowledge-rich resources

Coastline knowledge rich project spread

As with all Cornerstones projects, each KRP is supported by bespoke, well-researched lesson resources such as reading texts, videos and information cards. These have been designed to present instructions and information clearly, preventing too many sources of information being given at the same time. Further resources in our KRPs include:

  • An Innovate journal for the Innovate stage (where children recall and apply their knowledge independently). The Innovate journal provides a scaffold for children to record their thinking and present their learning.
  • A comprehensive, child-friendly knowledge organiser to help children learn the essential knowledge and extend their understanding.
  • Low stakes quizzes to help children practice knowledge retrieval.

Companion projects

We’ve also included an authentically linked mini art and design project or a mini design and technology project for each KRP to help children widen the context of their learning. These mini projects contain a series of six lessons, which can be taught either at the end of a KRP or alongside it. The mini-projects enable schools to make choices about how they design and deliver their curriculum, either through a more subject-specific or integrated approach.

How do I get the KRPs?

If you currently use Cornerstones, integrating the new KRPs into your existing curriculum is easy. You’ll find them on Curriculum Maestro™, our new online system. Simply begin by adding the six new geography KRPs into your curriculum plans from October half term. You should use the coverage checker to identify any gaps arising in other subjects, as with current practice.

If you don’t currently use the Cornerstones Curriculum or Curriculum Maestro™, contact our curriculum advisers on 03333 20 8000 and they can show you how to access the KRPs to best suit your school’s needs. It only takes a few minutes and you can be up and running immediately.

KRPs available in October 2019

Y1 Bright Lights, Big City
Y2 Coastline
Y3 Rocks, Relics and Rumbles
Y4 Misty Mountain, Winding River
Y5 Sow, Grow and Farm
Y6 Frozen Kingdoms

Final word

I hope this blog has given you a flavour of the new knowledge-rich projects and the rationale behind them. Some schools, particularly in the primary sector, are nervous about delivering a knowledge-rich curriculum, but they needn’t be. With projects like the new KRPs that balance knowledge-acquisition with engaging content and pedagogy, a knowledge-rich curriculum certainly doesn’t have to be dry or difficult to deliver.

To find out how to enhance your curriculum using the new KRPs please contact our curriculum adviser team on 03333 20 8000.

Curriculum Maestro™

Curriculum Maestro™ is a comprehensive curriculum design, delivery and management system. Created to help primary schools complete and manage complex curriculum tasks with ease and with maximum time-saving efficiency. Pre-populated with fully editable and coherently sequenced early years and primary content, Curriculum Maestro™ supports the process of curriculum design, that begins with the articulation and creation of curriculum intent to the daily detail of individual teacher timetabling and lesson planning. Linked assessment and the ability to monitor real-time curriculum coverage enables all staff to ensure that plans are taught and assessed. A magnitude of teaching resources, a whole-school skills and knowledge framework and the ability to generate and publish bespoke curriculum projects makes Curriculum Maestro™ a must-have tool for all primary schools.

Curriculum Maestro find out more


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Caroline Pudner

Caroline is a Curriculum Developer at Cornerstones. She writes curriculum materials, teaching resources and blogs. Caroline has 10 years primary teaching experience and has worked in both museums and galleries education and adult education.

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