Helen Boyle, AST and lead teacher for Opening Minds, Campion School, describes the school’s successful development of a competency based curriculum with L2L at its heart
Campion School is a large, successful 11-18 comprehensive school in the heart of Northamptonshire. Campion has had Learning to Learn (L2L) lessons since 1999 and the SLT wanted to extend the impact and raise standards at KS3. Developing a competency-based curriculum with L2L at its heart seemed an excellent way forward. However, in a school with long-serving subject staff, major curriculum change needed to be approached with caution. This needed to be radical transformation of the way teachers teach and students learn. In September 2004, the school made the decision to implement the Opening Minds RSA curriculum as part of a pilot scheme to evaluate the impact on transition (from KS2 to KS3) and investigate the benefits of delivering an integrated curriculum to Year 7. Two groups from an eight-form intake were randomly selected to take part in the pilot. Curriculum time was taken from English, citizenship, geography, history, religious studies, ICT and PSHE to create the Opening Minds (OM) pilot programme. Students were taught ‘L2L through Opening Minds’ in mixed-ability form groups for six one-hour sessions a week.
Six months into the pilot, the benefits of teaching in this way were becoming apparent. Students involved with the OM programme appeared to settle in much faster and easier, with increased confidence and more independence than other students. The teachers involved discovered that they were in a far better position to deliver personalised learning to their students, with differentiation and extension activities becoming more naturally embedded and assessment becoming easier and more purposeful. Students themselves were extremely positive about OM and although it is difficult to compare this to their performance in a non-OM environment, we could clearly see that students were extremely engaged with the projects and have produced work of a high standard, compared to non-OM students with a similar profile. Parents have also found the experience very positive and at a recent performance review day, all parents from each of the two pilot groups expressed how beneficial OM has been to their child’s secondary education experience. Two months into the pilot, in October 2004, Campion received a full inspection from Ofsted, whose comments were very positive and encouraging: ‘The inspection provided strong evidence that innovative elements in the curriculum, such as… the Opening Minds scheme… were having the desired effect on boosting learning skills and attitudes to learning.’ The main challenges for the pilot came from concerns from departments about losing curriculum time and how subject content could be covered through the topic-based approach. Joint planning/assessment meetings were held with departments to try and alleviate such fears. In addition we invited the head of history to teach OM in the second year of the pilot and give his opinion of the impact of the OM project approach on the subject. His response after the first month was: ‘It’s awesome, teaching OM is amazing because everything connects!’
Making it work
Following two years of pilots the full competency curriculum was introduced to all Year 7 students in September 2006, with a team of teachers from a wide variety of subjects delivering OM. Six cross-curricular-based projects with titles such as: Smart Brain (the first project and based around Learning to Learn), Breaking News, Global Affairs, It’s Not Fair and Time have been implemented to engage and enthuse students with their learning. The projects are under constant student and staff scrutiny and have been well received to date. Assessment is formative with self and peer assessment playing a major role. National Curriculum levels are not used and final reports are qualitative comments by the OM teacher who knows the students well. Students have been offered the opportunity to lease laptops so that access to technology is always available to enhance the projects. ICT is no longer a discrete subject at Year 7; it has become a tool for learning. The future for OM at Campion is to develop two more strands for projects that embrace all the other subjects apart from PE and MFL. The Year 7 curriculum will then be 80% Opening Minds and the remaining 20% focused on core subjects and their essential skills. The progress made by students studying Opening Minds has been remarkable. When students in the pilot were given the optional SATs tests in English the value added was higher in the OM groups – even though they had less subject specific lessons. This suggests that a competency approach can impact on literacy levels. The crucial element of making this type of project work is teamwork and resources. Meetings for the OM team must be scheduled into the calendar to ensure consistency in delivery and assessment. Creating projects is time consuming so it is also crucial that time is given to plan the schemes of work and develop essential resources.
Moving forward, many students have asked for the OM approach to continue into Year 8; this could mean creating a plan for the whole key stage. At Campion, we have managed to create a Year 8 OM course that involves Year 8s teaching the new Year 7 all about the competencies as well as engaging in REAL (research extended autonomous learning) projects, which builds on the Year 7 competence experience. As we roll out our curriculum plan, REAL projects will become part of the learning experiences in Year 9 too. This is a new way of teaching at KS3 and it is rooted in the principles of L2L. One thing is certain: teachers involved feel invigorated and inspired. We feel we are involved in delivering something exciting and relevant for our 21st-century learners; our minds have been opened ready for new thinking about the KS3 curriculum. Schools have an opportunity to create their own bespoke competency-based curriculum that will bring sustainable change in the way children learn.