A Route to Curriculum Success

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Outstanding school of the year in the 2009 League Tables of English Primary Schools  was Hampstead Norreys CE Primary School in West Berkshire. Headteacher Alex Butler credits the school’s adoption of the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) for the achievement. Here she talks to Teaching Times about the school’s route to success.

“I came to Hampstead Norreys in 2006 from a school in Slough with 500 children. I came expecting these children in rural Berkshire to be engaged, on-task, active learners. But I was wrong. The children were not focused, behaviour was questionable and, although there were some good teachers, the teaching itself was very didactic.

Making a New Curriculum Choice
I’d seen and heard a lot about the International Primary Curriculum before I did anything about it. I spent six months looking at different options and felt the approach of the IPC was right for us. I wanted us to be aspirational. I wanted a strong focus on learning and liked the focus on a variety of learning styles and the development of life skills within the IPC. The school is in a rural area and there is no cultural mix here so the international aspect of the IPC was very important too. In addition, the staff were desperate to get more connected learning and the IPC core themes were exactly what we were looking for.

Making a Curriculum Change
The transition to the IPC for all our foundation subjects took place in April 2008 and was not hard to do. I have a young, ambitious staff who are willing to take risks so, once they’d been well briefed as to why we were making the change, the introduction was not a problem. The IPC provides you with a very clear teaching framework to follow and that was, and remains so helpful but we don’t follow it exactly; we personalise it to the needs of our children in our locality.

Some people have said it’s an off-the-shelf option but that’s not true; there’s huge depth to the learning process, a real understanding of what ignites children’s interest, true expertise of community and international-mindedness, a very careful balance of knowledge and skills in every unit, and some really creative ideas for teaching and for learning with a flexibility to make it your own.

The Impact on our Children
The biggest change since introducing the IPC has been in the way the children learn. Their learning now is so practical and so active, with lots of sharing of learning between the children and between different classes, that there’s total engagement. The learning has come alive for the children and that translates at home to more research, more reading around the theme, and more conversations related to their learning within the family. Each new IPC theme (which lasts about six weeks) starts with an exciting Entry Point which grabs the children’s attention and interest. And we always end each unit with an Exit Point which involves the parents coming into school to see what learning has taken place.

The Impact on Special Needs and Gifted and Talented Children
The IPC is absolutely suiting every child, whatever their ability. In fact, the IPC is easy for everyone because it’s quite fluid, dynamic and it’s not content-led The children build their learning off each other; working collaboratively, testing and adapting ideas, speaking and listening, sharing thoughts and developing creative solutions. There’s lots of learning without always having to put pen to paper, instead the children are using video and camera to record much of their learning. We have 25% of our children with special educational needs and the IPC is suiting every one of them.

The Impact on our Teachers
My teachers love the IPC! They are totally engaged. They are seeing the impact it’s having on the children and that’s inspiring them to be even more creative towards helping our children learn. We’re doing more learning-focused trips and having many more visitors into school to help to bring the learning to life. For example, with the Circus unit we had a circus practitioner come into the school to teach a variety of balance skills. With the Airports unit the children spent a day at Heathrow Airport learning about connections within a journey. For the Governments unit we are going to the Houses of Parliament. And for the Chocolate unit a parent who works in PR came in and helped the children with promotional ideas for selling their own designed chocolate bars.

We are a small school and so we’re juggling lots of responsibilities at the same time so for us it’s particularly important to plan ahead. The teachers and learning support assistants need to know what IPC themes are coming up so that they can look out for resources and develop some of the ideas. This has been very beneficial for building teamwork as they’re all regularly bouncing ideas off each other now for future units.

The Impact on our Parents
Our parents love it; they absolutely love it! Following our trial of the IPC I held a VIP meeting for parents and asked them what they thought of the new curriculum. There was a big consensus that children were talking more about their learning at home and wanting to do more learning outside the classroom. The parents are responding really well to this For example, with the Holiday unit, part of the history element asks children to research information about family holidays in the past. There were such great responses. It was evident that some significant quality time had been going on with families talking and looking back through photo albums about their holidays from years ago. Here was a subject that everyone in the family could contribute to and enjoy in some way. This is very typical of many of the tasks in the IPC; the identifying of relevant, engaging, embracing ways for children to learn and to make connections in their learning.

The Impact on Ofsted
We had an Ofsted Inspection in October 2008, just six months after introducing the IPC when we were still at the beginning stage so it was make-or-break time for us. The inspectors saw quite a range of IPC units including the Mission to Mars unit where they saw some fabulous science-based learning going on and evidence of some really good science fiction writing linked to the unit. In addition, the children talked enthusiastically with the inspectors about their learning with the IPC. Ofsted really gave us a grilling in terms of the learning. Previously, the school had a 2 for learning but that improved to a 1 and overall the inspectors were very happy with the IPC, giving very good feedback in the inspection report.

Community Cohesion
Hampstead Norreys is part of a pilot Community Cohesion project this school year with ten schools in Berkshire. Without realising it, we’re streaks ahead of everyone else because of the natural threads within the units of the IPC. Community cohesion – both local and global - has happened naturally for our children through the IPC. Every unit involves links with the local community as well as globally so the children are learning about a theme as it relates to their immediate vicinity and also how it relates to other parts of the world. This approach makes it very easy for the children to understand.

Achieving number one in the League Tables
Because of doing something quite innovative such as the IPC, everyone is watching you! Our success in the League Tables and the Ofsted inspection have proved to our Local Authority and to other schools that the IPC really is making a difference for us. It’s particularly down to the engagement and to the focus on learning. The IPC’s themes make a huge impact, and the learning approach that each unit takes (launching with an Entry Point, then generating a Knowledge Harvest, moving on to a range of learning tasks and ending with an Exit Point for every single unit) is very powerful. It’s exactly what we were looking for.”

The International Primary Curriculum is now the curriculum choice of over 650 primary schools in England and Wales who join schools in 58 countries around the world learning through the IPC. To visit an IPC school in your area call the IPC at 0207-7531-9696 or visit www .internationalprimarycurriculum.com