Knowledge-rich curriculum projects from Cornerstones

Gary Wood

Gary Wood

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Interested in taking a more knowledge-led approach without stifling young children’s engagement? Our sequenced, interconnected knowledge-rich curriculum projects could be just what you’re looking for. Here’s everything you need to know about the projects, including the rationale behind them and the benefits for primary children. 

Getting the balance right

Over the past few years, we’ve been keenly aware of the national debate around knowledge and skills, and have made new developments to our curriculum to help schools get the balance right. So, if you’re a school that wants to focus on knowledge acquisition while keeping things interconnected, rich and engaging, you’ll love our latest subject-driven, knowledge-rich curriculum projects. 

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, academic achievement 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, we’ve listed some references at the end of the blog. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some important features of teaching knowledge through the curriculum.

Interconnected 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 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 the Cornerstones Curriculum and have honed the approach further in our latest curriculum framework, Curriculum 22. Projects are mapped out in a termly sequence, with authentic connections made within and between subjects. As one teacher who uses the new projects says:  

“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 has 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. We’ve written more about big ideas here.  

So, with this in mind, let’s dive into the features and benefits of the sequenced curriculum projects from Cornerstones.  

A subject-driven, sequenced approach 

Forming a full, interconnected curriculum, the projects are ambitious and subject driven, and have been expertly designed to be taught in a correct sequence. Spanning Year 1 to Year 6, the projects offer full coverage for history, geography, art and design and design and technology, with science available over the next few months. Each term, a teacher has a main project with a history or geography focus, along with mini projects that cover the other foundation subjects (which have also been carefully mapped out in sequence). English coverage opportunities are provided through inspiring English packs, described later in this blog. The complete suite of projects offers you unrivalled curriculum sequencing and connectivity – perfect for learning impact and those Ofsted deep dives.  

‘A key area of development is our work on long term memory and retrieval practice. The knowledge-rich projects are really helping us with the sequencing and revisiting strategies and practices, including the use of knowledge organisers, questioning and the low stakes quizzing.’  Carrie Kiselis, Deputy Headteacher, Canon Sharples C of E Primary School and Nursery

Clear outcomes and progression 

The entire curriculum follows a rigorous knowledge and skills framework that provides clear progression, with skills and knowledge outcomes identified for every lesson. The framework behind this allows teachers and leaders to monitor progress easily over time, and to check coverage. At the end of each KS2 project, during the Express stage, short summative tests give you the opportunity to undertake a more focused assessment of children’s knowledge acquisition.  

Lesson series

The project lesson series are written in sequence and introduce knowledge in manageable chunks. This supports cognitive load theory and avoids overwhelming children with too much information at one time. Crucially, content and resources are sequenced so that children are not expected to perform a skill without first learning the key knowledge required. We’ve also included a focused ‘memorable experience’ at the beginning, with a suggested alternative school-based option if you wish to keep costs to a minimum. A new introductory knowledge lesson also helps teachers to equip children with key knowledge beforehand. 

Knowledge retrieval

To help children to 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. The practice frees up their working memory to learn new things. 

“Our children are now becoming knowledge rich, due to all the support that we’ve been given through the curriculum and Cornerstones. It’s been a fantastic resource for us, to make sure we have challenge in every lesson.’’ Hannah Brookes, Senior Leader, York

Knowledge-rich resources

The good news for teachers is that each project is fully supported by carefully researched, high-quality lesson resources. These include reading texts, videos, podcasts and stunning information packs. The resources have been designed to present instructions and information clearly, preventing too many sources of information from being given at the same time. As mentioned earlier, our resources enable children to learn the knowledge required to perform increasingly complex skills. Further resources in our projects 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 to learn the essential knowledge and extend their understanding. 
  • Low stakes quizzes to help children practice knowledge retrieval. 

English planning resources 

The curriculum projects offer you a flexible approach to the planning and delivery of English. As mentioned earlier, each project includes a special English pack. These packs provide you with high-quality resources activity ideas to help deliver English, with opportunities for children to read and explore stimulating texts while writing for different purposes across a range of genres.  

The thematic approach enables children to expand their subject and contextual knowledge further and to use their subject knowledge and vocabulary in their writing. Each English pack includes a model text, checklist, planning template and other useful resources.   

Reading opportunities 

We have also included a full class book list, plus a book or novel study to help you to develop children’s reading. Each study focuses on a carefully selected book that is closely linked to the project. It includes a book or novel organiser, which gives an overview of the author, context, characters and settings of the book. The pack also includes a comprehension question booklet to guide the children through the text, which is accompanied by a handy mark scheme. 


We know how important is to teach children correct subject vocabulary. Rather than a one-off approach, we’ve built consistent use of vocabulary across the projects, due to their connected themes. This consistency is built into the daily teacher planning and lesson resources on Maestro so that children encounter the same vocabulary used by teachers in the resource videos and in the written texts. 

“I absolutely love the level of detail in these projects.’’ Claire Wilkes, Teacher, Parkfield Primary School

Companion mini projects 

To help children broaden the context of their learning, we’ve also accompanied every main project with a mini art and design project or a design and technology project. These mini projects contain a series of four to seven lessons, which can be taught either at the end of or alongside the main project.  The Cornerstones Curriculum 22 also includes a series of essential knowledge and skills mini projects to ensure that children gain the smaller ‘component’ knowledge needed in each subject before they apply it in the main projects. 

Final word 

I hope that this blog has given you a flavour of these sequenced, subject-led, knowledge-rich projects and the rationale behind them. Some schools, particularly in the primary sector, are nervous about delivering a more knowledge-rich curriculum, but they needn’t be. With a curriculum like the Cornerstones Curriculum 22, that balances knowledge acquisition with engaging content and pedagogy, a knowledge-rich approach certainly doesn’t have to be dry or difficult to deliver. 

How do I get the curriculum projects?  

Cornerstones Curriculum 22 is available through Maestro, an all in one platform that helps schools design, teach, assess and manage their curriculum.  

Existing Maestro user? Access Curriculum 22 from ‘Design and lead’ in the menu, then ‘Design new curriculum’, and you can create a curriculum from there. We have single and mixed-aged models available for you.  

Still on the Cornerstones Hub? Contact us to move over to Maestro today.  

Curious to see what you get with Cornerstones?  Find out more about Curriculum Maestro and the Cornerstones Curriculum or contact our curriculum adviser team on 03333 20 8000 to discuss your curriculum needs. 

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