The Curriculum Won't Wait...

sationary and a notebook laid out on a desk with a facemask on the top of them

At Lexonik, when it comes to intervention programmes, one of the things we discuss a lot, is the speed at which we must ensure the interventions work. Our tag line is “literacy at the speed of sound” which is a huge statement of intent as to the rapid nature of our intervention programmes.

We can’t wait because the curriculum doesn’t wait!

As a teacher, I’m all too familiar with the demands of, and necessity for, differentiation but also acutely aware of the time frame we all work within. Regardless about our preference for and theory of differentiation and intervention, there are huge hinge points in students’ progress that we all must align with, along with endpoint assessments set at DfE level. In other words, intervention is vital because the curriculum doesn’t stop, but the speed and connectivity of that intervention to whole class teaching is vital and never more so post-lockdown.

As post-Covid approaches, we are all thinking about schools reopening and students actively engaging in structured education again. So, we have to think about what that curriculum will look, sound and feel like. Diagnostic assessment will be crucial, but with successful diagnostic assessment comes a flexible, reactive curriculum. An adaptive curriculum that reacts to the needs of the gaps our students present, and plan and teach from this point forward, whilst also having a keen eye on the necessary endpoints and teaching backwards from that point. Teaching backwards and forwards and closing unprecedented gaps sounds like a mapping conundrum that Captain Cook would have been enviable of!

If I’m honest, all of this comes with a bit of a heavy heart because we speak of the fact that the curriculum won’t wait in a time which really could do with the curriculum waiting. We could do with taking a huge deep breath and pause. Give ourselves thinking time to focus on what our students and what our children really need from school over the coming months.

My daughter, Amy, is 11 and in Year 6. She has been in her primary school since she was two. In fact, she’s been with some of her classmates since she was 12 weeks old thanks to Sure Start and baby massage classes! Along the way, Amy’s upbringing has been helped by her peers and associated adults. A group of people who have taught her and shown her how to be the person she is. There’s a teaching assistant with Amy, who’s been with her and her class since reception, so this person has become an aunty to my daughter. She’s incredibly professional and never crosses the boundaries but her importance in shaping Amy’s character is tangible. So, when my Amy is finally able to get back to school, she needs to be focusing on the fact that she can’t lose this last bit of precious time. Psychologically, she has to end Year 6 properly. The rites of passage need to be in place, and the curriculum needs to shift and adapt to the needs of year 6 pupils like Amy. Yes, transition is essential, but closure is even more essential so the first breather and responsive action our curriculums need to take, is to allow our children to socialise again and remind themselves how to play; how to talk to one another; remember patience and empathy and what an alarm clock is!

However, the academic curriculum needs to kick in soon. I am fortunate that my daughter is literate. Amy learned phonics programmes at the age-related appropriate time. My husband and I are both teachers, so she is surrounded by books and academic language, so she doesn’t need any of those gaps closing. But just cast your thoughts for a minute to the number of students that this might not be the case for….

I live, work and educate my child in Middlesbrough, a wonderful community, but one of social disadvantage, disengagement and deprivation. Therefore, I wish to project my thoughts onto a child different from Amy. Someone, in my community, who may have English as an additional language. Who, during these past months, has potentially lived in a community surrounded by people who speak very little English. That child was progressing quite nicely before lockdown but now they’re being plunged back into an environment and to a language that is familiar and recognisable, but one they’re not confident in it.

In this case, the curriculum will have to wait! The curriculum, or should I see those controlling it, have to say, “Hang on. What’s important here?”

What’s essential for this child, in order to not increase the gaps of their development any further, is a focus on their vocabulary and oral literacy development. We should be letting the usual curriculum take a gap so that children such as this have the time, systems and intervention programmes in place to begin the necessary catch up. Immerse that child in a world of language and explicit teaching of the vocabulary and repetition of phonics instruction, where necessary.

A diagnostic curriculum with timely interventions and the space to explore what really matters to our children, in order to minimise the impact of lockdown on the academic development and ensure the gaps don’t increase, will be essential.

I’ve been fortunate to be leading numerous webinars over this pandemic period and I’ve been listening to what teachers have been telling me, and the fact over 500 teachers have signed up, in their own time, to do webinars on explicit teaching of vocabulary and then invested their own time again to follow up webinars on how to embed vocabulary within the curriculum, tells me the teachers get it. Our teachers understand the importance of making sure we have a flexible, adaptive vocabulary-rich, post-lockdown curriculum that gives students the space and time to listen and practise their words again.

In reality, the curriculum doesn’t wait! For many of our students, the curriculum will be and will have to be as pacy as it’s always been. For others, maybe we need to identify the gap and focus on vocabulary in order to ultimately close the gap.

Sarah Ledger
Lexonik • CEO