How our Curriculum has been modified to maximise learning during the COVID pandemic:
At Excelsior Academy, our curriculum focuses on the needs of the children in our school and providing all of our students with the broad and balanced educational experience that each individual is entitled to in order that they are able to achieve their full potential. Our curriculum is ambitious, aspirational and provides our students with opportunities to achieve academically, gaining a range of high-quality qualifications when they leave the school. Of equal, if not of greater importance, we also ensure that the personal qualities, employability skills and cultural capital that are so crucial to personal success, are built progressively throughout a seamless five-year educational experience across the secondary phase and within Excelsior College.
At Excelsior, we recognise it is through achievement in exams and securing outstanding development of their wider personal qualities that our students can fully realise their enormous potential. We have designed a curriculum that supports both of these aims in a multitude of ways and these are summarised below:
Thinking Skills: We have a curriculum founded on our core belief that it is our role as a school to support our young people to be able to think in depth and with independence. Our innovative approach to teaching and learning ensures that the progressive development of thinking skills is integral to the learning that takes place.
Literacy Development: We understand that the development of excellent literacy skills is a fundamental entitlement for all of our students. Without excellent literacy skills, children cannot fully access the curriculum or unlock and then achieve their full potential. Across our academy, all of our staff, irrespective of their subject area, recognise that they have a duty to embrace our whole school approach to literacy development. During their time at our academy, your child will develop strategies that will help them to read and decode complex texts with independence and verbally express their ideas with growing confidence and proficiency.
Appreciating and Engaging with the Wider World: We ensure that the curriculum our students follow reflects the reality of the modern world in which they are growing up and will support them to both understand and thrive within this. A comprehensive programme of enrichment activities such as educational visits and guest speakers is entwined with our curriculum delivery during lessons. As well as this, we help our students to think for themselves as they make connections between the learning that takes place across each academic year and also across the full range of subjects that they study.
What subjects are part of our curriculum?
As indicated in the introduction, our curriculum is ambitious and aspirational and this is the case for all of our young people. We believe that all young people have an entitlement to study a broad and balanced curriculum and that this should ultimately result in students
gaining high calibre and highly valued qualifications. Having achieved in subjects that are of such a standard, we know that our students leave us with the qualifications that will enable them to excel in the next stage of their educational journey and then on into their future lives.
Our curriculum does ensure most students have the opportunity to study subjects that would enable them to achieve the valued EBacc qualification by the time that they leave Y11. In addition to this, we also continue to offer a wide range of creative and practical subjects that enable us to realise the full potential of all of our young people. The arts are vibrant at Excelsior Academy and whilst our students rightly have the opportunity to study what might be considered traditionally academic subjects, this is never at the expense of creative and more practical subjects that are also of such profound importance.
Finally, in order to give our students, the capacity to thrive in the future, we appreciate that it is vital for them to understand the language of the digital world. All students are entitled to a curriculum that ensures this and therefore study ICT across Y7 to Y8, and iMedia from Y9-Y11 to ensure the digital skills they need are progressively developed.
How is our curriculum structured?
The educational journey of our students has started before their first day in Y7 at Excelsior Academy and will continue long after they leave us. During the years that we have the privilege to shape their education, we endeavour to make this a seamless experience, with students developing their knowledge and skills progressively from one year to the next. Some schools focus on an artificial division between what takes place in KS3 and KS4, but to ensure rapid and sustained student progress, we strongly believe that our approach is the right one.
When your children join us in Y7, our curriculum is designed to ensure that it both consolidates and rapidly moves beyond the curriculum that has been studied in their primary school. Where students need additional support, we provide this, but make sure that there is no possibility of a dip in learning as students move into their new school. By the end of Y8, we have ensured that the KS3 National Curriculum has been covered in depth and this allows us to use Y9 to go beyond the National Curriculum and ensure that your children leave KS3 in a position of enormous strength.
As indicated, our curriculum in Y7 and Y8 allows us to be innovative with our approach in Y9, providing our students with opportunities to flourish and avoiding limiting their progress. We build upon the foundations of the KS3 National Curriculum, going beyond this and are also able to introduce elements of the GCSE and other qualifications that students will study until they leave the school. Our approach ensures that there is genuine depth to the learning that takes place throughout the five years that our students spend at the school. Our young people develop a level of understanding that will allow them to apply this with sophistication in external examinations and more importantly, for the rest of their lives. One of the primary roles of education, if not the greatest role, is to increase the
opportunities afforded to young people, and ensuring excellent achievement enables us to fulfil this moral imperative.
How is our curriculum responding to the challenges posed by the extended school closure linked to COVID-19?
We recognise that the extended school closure linked to COVID-19 has the potential to have a significant negative impact on the learning of our young people. As a consequence of this, we have ensured that a robust ‘recovery plan’ is in place that is designed to meet the specific needs of all of our young people and support them to realise their full potential. This plan will be reviewed regularly throughout 20-21 as we provide the support that our young people need and deserve.
Our recovery plan is organised around three stages:
- Re-engage: Our aim is to support students to return to a school experience that is as close to normality as is possible, providing support and reassurance to enable them to do so. Our approach to remote learning during the lockdown has been designed to support us with this.
- Review: We need to review progress that students are making as they re-engage with day to day education in school – as well as establishing the learning that has been lost, there needs to be a focus on assessing the speed with which students are ‘catching up’. We also need to closely monitor the wellbeing of all students, ensuring all who require additional support are able to receive this.
- Recover: Once students have successfully been re-engaged with day to day education in schools and we have reviewed their progress, more significant curriculum and other changes will be made as appropriate. At all times, the best interests of each young person will be at the heart of any alterations made. We also need to consider longer term measures that will help to support the wellbeing of all students and where appropriate, provide increasingly intensive support to the most vulnerable students who face the greatest challenges in successfully returning to school.
Among the key elements of our recovery plan are the following:
Curriculum focus on vital content: Our starting point is to ensure that the core curriculum lesson time that we have with our students has the maximum impact. Extensive work has taken place to review the curriculum in each subject to ensure our teachers have been able to identify the knowledge and skills that will be vital to the success of their students. As a consequence of this, we can be confident that the learning that takes place focuses precisely upon this.
Digital strategy: The academy developed an approach to setting remote learning that was successful during the extended closure of schools from March to July 2020. As a consequence of this approach, high numbers of students were regularly accessing learning throughout this period. Whilst we appreciate that there is no substitute to young people
being in a classroom with their teacher, our approach helped us to reduce the learning deficit and place us in a strong position to recover.
In 20-21, we are using lessons learnt about how technology can ensure rapid progress within our day to day teaching practice. As well as this, we continue to use technology in sophisticated ways that help us to blur the boundaries between learning in school and at home. Furthermore, we have detailed contingency plans in place that mean we are confident that we will be able to respond effectively in the event of any partial or total closure of schools in the future.
Further literacy development: Whilst literacy development is already identified as a key priority for the academy, there is now an even greater focus upon this as a consequence of the loss of learning time. Adaptations to teacher planning provides additional literacy support. For students identified as requiring further intervention, this is provided through a comprehensive support programme.
Focused and high impact intervention: Even though we are ensuring excellent delivery in lessons, the loss of learning time means that it is important for schools to look at where additional time may be found. As a school, we have and will achieve this in a variety of ways including extending the school day and intervention sessions that take place outside of curriculum time. Crucially, all intervention that takes place is carefully coordinated to ensure it will have a significant impact on precisely identified areas of lost learning. In this way, we are confident that our approach will ensure our young people are supported to fulfil their enormous potential.
As indicated above, we have extended our core school learning hours to provide capacity to carry high quality intervention. As well as lessons that have been scheduled at the end of our regular school day, carefully planned holiday intervention programmes also take place, targeting individual students who are identified as requiring this approach.
Supplementing the high quality intervention that is delivered by our existing teaching staff, the school has also developed a programme of one to one intervention staffed by intervention tutors who have been specifically employed for this role, using the dedicated funding from government allocated to this purpose. Our intervention tutors work with a range of students, focusing particularly on those in Y11 and Y13 who need additional support to prepare them for their external examinations this summer. Utilising our team of intervention tutors to work with disadvantaged students and those with weak literacy skills, we ensure that all of our students are given an opportunity to maximise their potential.
Supporting the social and emotional needs of all pupils: Ultimately, our priority as a school is to support our young people to thrive and they can only do so when they are happy and secure. We recognise that our young people have had many different experiences over recent months and that we must provide a wide variety of support to ensure a positive return to day to day education. Thinking about the needs of all students and the specific needs of individuals is at the heart of our recovery approach and the school has extensive pastoral and welfare support in place to afford this.
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