Knowledge sits at the heart of our curriculum; we make no apologies for this. Whilst we, like all schools, want our students to leave our care with a strong set of academic qualifications, it is equally important to us that our students are culturally literate. To this end, our curriculum is designed to ensure that our students have access to a body of knowledge that they might otherwise be denied.
We advocate a broadly traditional curriculum in terms of the subjects offered in our schools. We believe in the specificity of individual subjects and the importance of teaching to rigorous standards for each. Consequently, our curriculum is designed to be challenging and aspirational and, as such, it is the truest reflection of the high aspirations we hold for our students and the most powerful tool we have available in our efforts to help them achieve those aspirations.
Knowledge sits at the heart of our curriculum
Within each subject we prioritise transmitting both the substantive and conceptual knowledge required to think and communicate within the discipline, understanding that the latter can never be taught in isolation but rather as an organic product of the former. For instance, in order to teach the concept of both figurative and literal language, our teachers integrate these concepts into the study of the whole text. For example, we believe that an English curriculum should consist of the teaching of texts, and not a series of dissociate, disparate concepts (such as the isolated study of ‘metaphor’). In order to teach metaphor or semantics, our teachers instead utilise an example from the text being studied to deconstruct and exemplify the concept, rather than attempting to teach it in abstraction. Similarly, when teaching history, we do so chronologically and focus first on developing students’ substantive knowledge of each given period, before focussing on ‘historical skills’ such as source-analysis.
Central to this approach is our understanding that the culture of critical thinking, whilst an admirable end goal of education, is not something that can be taught in isolation. In order to think critically, one must know something to begin with. We believe, therefore, that inquiry should not drive the curriculum, but rather test its efficacy.
Our Curriculum Centre
Our work focuses on the development of new, high-quality curriculum programmes for our schools to use. This work initially began with Pimlico Academy in 2012 and has continued to grow as our Trust has grown. In recent years, our work has focused on supporting our hub of primary schools in Pimlico, creating a common curriculum in Ancient History, British History, English, Latin, and Geography. As more secondary schools join the Trust, we are focusing on developing new Key Stage 3 curriculum programmes, as well as broadening our subject expertise.
Our Trust, and by extension our curriculum, is built on a belief in imparting knowledge to our students that will empower them, with the importance of memory and retention in mind, by teachers that are experts in their fields. Our work is also driven by a desire to reduce unnecessary workload for our teachers by providing them with long- and medium-term planning documents accompanied by classroom-ready resources to support a complete, coherent and challenging curriculum programme.
A common curriculum across the Trust also offers practical benefits to our schools: enabling them to access high-quality and cost-effective resources for all teachers to use; to collaborate during assessment moderation, which is especially important at Key Stage 3; to share best practice from our classrooms; to exchange ideas and expertise on curriculum content; and to provide career development opportunities for our staff in curriculum design and leadership. For each curriculum programme, we appoint a Lead who is an expert in their field and can oversee the development of the curriculum, working with school subject leads and their departments.
Too often schools and teachers chase examination grades, planning lessons backwards from A-Level and GCSE specifications (or in the primary sector, SATs) in an effort to make students ‘exam-ready’. This kind of practice holds little regard for the breadth of a child’s knowledge and understanding and, therefore, this kind of teaching and curriculum management is not practised at Future Academies, where we value subject expertise in our teachers and subject specificity in our curriculum.
We place a premium on the subject knowledge of our teachers. With this in mind, the primary function of our lessons is to facilitate the eventual transfer of their knowledge to students. We do not teach one particular ‘type’ of lesson, understanding that any effort to reduce teaching to an identikit lesson framework is reductive; however, there are a number of common features that our classrooms share.
Our Curriculum Centre is gradually developing a bespoke curriculum, based on our curricular and pedagogic principles, for the use of all of our schools. As we move towards this more fully-resourced common curriculum, teachers will use the textbooks provided as the core teaching material. The textbooks will provide teachers with the outline for what to teach in a given subject.
Whilst we recognise that success in external assessments is important to both schools and their students, we also hold firmly to the belief that this success emerges organically from a curriculum that provides breadth and challenge and that is delivered in a rigorous and consistent manner. We teach to the subject, not to the test.