What is a recovery curriculum and how can primary schools implement it?

Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore

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The need for recovery

What is a recovery curriculum and how can primary schools implement it?

Last year, a think piece entitled A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic was published. In it, mental health expert, Professor Barry Carpenter recommends five sensible ‘levers’ that can help your school recover following a ‘systematic, relationships-based approach to reigniting the flame of learning in each child.’ So how can you put this into practice in your primary school?

Before I talk through each of the five levers, there are five main factors that I think will help you achieve them.

  1. Staff expertise
  2. Support from local community
  3. The right curriculum, tools and resources
  4. National provision
  5. Time

You may have 1, 2, 4 and 5 at the top of your list, but your curriculum has incredible influence over the recovery process, too. It has the power to inspire and rekindle curiosity. To reconnect and make sense of experience. To endow knowledge and broaden horizons.

Here’s how to make the curriculum your ally in recovery.


Lever 1: rebuild relationships

Positive relationships are vital for child development. Children may have experienced loss during the pandemic, including the loss of relationships with their peers. They will need help to re-establish friendships, reconnect with staff and work with others.

Using your curriculum to recover
  1. Implement a clear curriculum pedagogy. It transforms a child’s experience at school, provides structure and ensures you are delivering content in the most effective way. But it can also help rebuild relationships by fostering collaboration, empathy, confidence and self-expression.
  2. Plan projects into your curriculum that explore relationship themes. As is the case for any curriculum, ensure your content is well-sequenced so that children meaningfully revisit and build upon their knowledge, understanding and skills. Try to avoid ad hoc lessons and resources.
  3. Offer regular opportunities for children to work together on purposeful, absorbing and rewarding tasks. Provide challenge and allow them to innovate and find solutions.
  4. Identify overarching human concepts and themes that can run throughout your curriculum and deepen children’s understanding. At Cornerstones we thread 10 Big ideas, which include humankind and change, across subjects and year groups.
Understand the individual child and their community

Lever 2: understand the individual child and their community

Your curriculum principles will already be informed by your school’s values, aims and the needs of the community. Children from different communities may have experienced the pandemic in different ways. The curriculum can help children tell their stories, strengthen their sense of self, family, community, and place in the wider world.

Using your curriculum to recover
  1. Allow time for individual children and families to tell their stories. You can adapt curriculum content to reflect this or be flexible with delivery.
  2. Model good speaking and listening skills and empower children with the emotional vocabulary they need to express their thoughts and feelings.
  3. Enrich your curriculum with projects and regular PSHE sessions that cover themes such as identity, personal feelings, similarities and differences and community belonging. Our new School Days project enables pupils to explore the history of their school. In it, they can consider the significance of school closures as a significant moment in history.
  4. Engage children with high-quality resources, such as stories, games, songs, discussion prompts and videos. They should reflect cultures within and beyond your community.
  5. Interesting, relevant themes will also engage parents – something many schools teaching the Cornerstones projects often attest to.

Lever 3: know, acknowledge and address the gaps in learning through a transparent curriculum

Missed learning is a complex issue. Children’s needs will vary and not all gaps can – or should – be addressed immediately. However, if you have a curriculum in place with a sequenced knowledge and skills framework, you’re in a strong position to plan a flexible route to recovery.

Using your curriculum to recover
  1. Identify significant curriculum coverage that children have missed during the spring and summer terms. These include subject aspects and concepts that need embedding before children can move on, or that they are not likely to revisit in future projects.
  2. Your subject leaders can then see if and where this missed coverage is to be revisited in future projects. If not, add it to plans. If you use an online system like Curriculum Maestro that tracks actual coverage, identifying and reassigning gaps can be done very easily.
  3. Where and when appropriate, use ‘low stakes’ quizzing and child-friendly testing to assess where extra support for key skills, such as reading are needed.
  4. Consider doing less content in the short and medium-term, but in more depth. This will help children become more secure in their knowledge and skills. Our Curriculum 22 has been realistically designed to fit a busy school timetable and include shorter ‘mini’ projects.
‘Really enjoying spending time reviewing our curriculum, selecting core texts to support it and mapping out skills and knowledge. Gaps are reassigned, science weeks planned, and everything is coming together. Thanks, Cornerstones, for great tools to help with this!’

Kelly Hamilton, Headteacher, Basildon


Lever 4: metacognition – ensure the children continue to develop the skills for learning

Professor Carpenter states that ‘it is vital that we make the skills for learning in a school environment explicit’. If children are to get back on track and have self-efficacy, they will need to be aware of the skills they need to learn.

Using your curriculum to recover
  1. Offer a curriculum pedagogy that teaches and provides ample practice for metacognition strategies. These include planning, identifying how to solve problems, organisation, self-evaluation, analysis, adjusting and more.
  2. Include projects in your curriculum that explore positive models of human personal development, resilience, character, adapting to challenges and achievement.
  3. Share the bigger picture. Let children know about and have a say in the route their learning is taking them on. This will help to keep them motivated, give them hope, and provide a sense of purpose.
  4. Empower children with subject knowledge and highlight the learning approaches that are useful for specific subjects. For example, with older children, explain how geographical enquiry might look different from historical enquiry.
‘We keep building and providing as many opportunities as we can for children to give them skills and knowledge, but also to prepare them for the 21st century and show them as much as we can about the world around us.’

Christie Waite Acting Headteacher, York


Lever 5: a curriculum that engages and inspires, gives children the space to adjust and minimises any disadvantages

This is a crucial lever. Children deserve to experience joy and to be engaged if they are to feel secure and positive about being in school again. The pandemic restrictions may have been a narrow experience for them, but school can lift children’s spirits and provide welcome relief.

  1. Again, set a clear pedagogy that values and promotes curiosity, deep focus, innovation and self-expression. These are not just valuable for academic development – they are important for personal growth and fulfilment.
  2. Prioritise a love of, and the skills involved in, reading – it’s the essential tool for accessing a wide curriculum.
  3. Plan a rich curriculum that broadens children’s horizons and covers a wealth of topics and themes. Exciting subjects spark the imagination so choose projects that your children will enjoy and that build on their interests.
  4. Deliver shorter projects that cover the essential skills and knowledge needed for key topics and that are already fully resourced, like our new sequenced subject-driven projects.
  5. Provide resources that are high quality, pitched right, and enjoyable to use. Videos, stories, texts, physical resources and visitors – virtual or otherwise – will bring the curriculum to life for your children.
  6. Rekindle the joy in your teachers. Provide workload-saving curriculum tools, plans and resources that are flexible and need only minimal adaptation. These relieve pressure and free staff up to enjoy their teaching. And we know how infectious that is.

I hope this blog has shown how your curriculum will be a powerful ally in your recovery process.

This blog was last updated in July 2021.