Curriculum Matters

Here at Durrington, we have been thinking a great deal about how curriculum, teaching and assessment should not be seen as separate entities, but are interwoven and dependent on each other.  You can read about our work on this here.  Our work on an evidence-informed approach to teaching is well embedded and our work on assessment is well underway. So this year, we are taking a good look at curriculum. Dylan Wiliam explains why this is so important here:

“A collection of learning materials is no more a curriculum than a pile of bricks is a house. What our students need are carefully organised, sequential, structured introductions to school subjects”

Dylan Wiliam

To support our Curriculum Leaders with this, we have set them a series of questions to prompt some thinking about curriculum development.  Like any review, the intention is that this will help leaders to identify areas of curriculum development within their curriculum area. The work of Christine Counsell has been invaluable in shaping our thinking around this.  The questions we have used in this review are organised in six sections and are laid out below.

The school curriculum and the place of your subject in it

  • How do you think our school curriculum reflects our school vision/ethos?
  • How does the curriculum seek to address our local context?
  • What does the school want the students to learn and why?
  • Does our curriculum stay as broad as possible for as long as possible?
  • What part does your subject play in this?

Coherence – how does the curriculum stick together?

  • How does your curriculum ensure that knowledge and skills are linked and developed through Y7-11?
  • How does your KS3 curriculum prepare students for KS4?
  • How does your curriculum ensure there is the opportunity to revisit and embed key knowledge?
  • How does your curriculum ensure students embed and use knowledge fluently and develop their understanding and not just memorise disconnected facts?

Rigour – how do you ensure challenge?

  • How do your content choices ensure high challenge through KS3 and 4.
  • What ideas/topics are fundamental to your curriculum?
  • Is your curriculum built around explicit key questions that students need to be able to answer?
  • How do you use what we know about how students learn, to ensure that students embed these key ideas?
  • How do you build the level of challenge through the years?
  • How does assessment support the teaching of the curriculum?

Sequencing – why do you teach what you teach, when you teach it?

  • What is your rationale for the order of what is taught through the years?
  • How have you ensured that useful content has been identified and taught in a logical progression?
  • How well do your team know the KS2 and 5 curriculum?
  • How do teachers in your team elicit and build upon prior knowledge?
  • Is teaching so that new knowledge builds upon what has been taught before and pupils can work towards clearly defined end points?
  • How do your teachers know that students are secure in their knowledge before moving on?
  • How do you ensure that students remember content long-term?

Removing barriers to learning

  • How does your curriculum ensure teachers explicitly teach tier 2 and 3 vocabulary?
  • How is this developed from Y7-11?
  • How is this reflected in assessments?
  • How do you ensure that vocabulary from previous units is revisited and therefore not forgotten?
  • How do you ensure that opportunities to develop metacognition are woven into the curriculum?

How secure are teachers in your team of your curriculum rationale?

  • How do you know how effectively the curriculum is implemented for all students in your subject?
  • Can your teachers explain how the curriculum links together?
  • How frequently do you review your curriculum and how?
  • How is CPD used to develop the consistent implementation of your curriculum?
  • Do your teachers have more than a superficial understanding of the research that underpins curriculum design? e.g. spaced practice, cognitive load theory, retrieval practice.
  • Do your teachers have expert subject knowledge? How do you develop this?
  • How is the curriculum in your subject area quality assured?

Shaun Allison

Posted in General Teaching | Leave a comment

Curriculum Coherence – Case Study

There is a real buzz in the educational world at the moment when it comes to curriculum.  The words rigour, sequencing and coherence are often directly linked to the vast entity that is curriculum. A curriculum is the units or aspects that comprise a course of study in a school or college and coherence means quite literally ‘to stick together’. This suggest that curriculum coherence is how the units or aspects stick together. This blog aims to provide some useful questions in understanding how to ensure your curriculum can be, in fact, a coherent one.

At Durrington High School, based on the work of Christine Counsell,  all curriculum areas have completed a curriculum review,  framed  around  these questions from Christine:

The review comprises several different sections including rigour, coherence, sequencing, barriers and teachers understanding of rationale. Each section has a general self-judgement system of strong, developing or weak followed by questions exploring the key element and finally a section on how to move forward (action points to develop the aspect). In our Physical Education coherence section we have highlighted the ways in which we feel our curriculum ‘sticks together’.


How does your curriculum ensure that knowledge and skills are linked and developed through Y7-11?

  • Practical activities in year 7 are designed to develop the key skills of the activity (passing, shooting, tackling etc) coupled with transferable components developed across all activities (cardio-vascular endurance, power, agility etc).
  • In year 8 the key skills are developed further, however they are linked to the principles of the activity and the tactical elements underpinning them e.g. attacking with width in football whilst developing passing, crossing and finishing alongside awareness and decision making.
  • The GCSE grading descriptors are then used to assess skills and the full context throughout year 9, in line with the AQA specification we use during key stage 4.
  • Alongside this we introduce tier 2 and 3 vocabulary on a half termly rotation (monitored through lesson pop ins and half termly vocabulary quizzing) at year 7 we focus on definitions, year 8 applying the vocabulary to a variety of sporting situations and in year 9 analysing the vocabulary in a range of different contexts.
  • Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary is then embedded and developed through exam questions which are organised systematically through knowledge organisers in key stage four.


How does your KS3 curriculum prepare students for KS4? (include any recent changes you have implemented – with a focus on building incremental knowledge)

  • The embedding, consistent delivery and methodical half termly monitoring of tier 2 and 3 vocabulary.
  • Through the use of GCSE level lessons/task and assessment criteria being used throughout year 9.
  • Command words used in line with GCSE specification from year 7 and progressively throughout year 8 and 9.
  • Key skills taught in year 7, developed as well as introducing the full context in year 8 and then embedded and developed further in year 9.
  • GCSE standard practical lessons are taught through year 9.
  • Fitness unit is used to introduce and develop the unit of training and its complexity at year 8 and further embedded and progressively used in year 9.


How does your curriculum ensure there is the opportunity to revisit and embed key knowledge/skills?

  • The same practical activities are taught and knowledge and skills built on incrementally in year 7, 8, 9 and 10/11.
  • Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary is taught progressively from year 7 -9.
  • Cumulative vocabulary assessments.
  • Retrieval practice tasks are linked to the previous fortnight’s topic areas throughout GCSE years.
  • Homework in year 11 focuses on the topics taught in year 10.
  • Year 10 homework after the first half term is centred on the previous half terms topic areas.
  • Exam questions are used in lessons to create links across topics.
  • Consistent use of metacognitive strategies alongside scaffolds used during more complex areas (planned and linked to subject development planning sessions). The time allocated to develop the metacognition allows students to build on skills that will be revisited throughout key stage four.
  • Incremental summative assessments.
  • Formative assessments used to inform teaching practice and are built into the curriculum design to support learning over performance.
  • Metacognitive strategies are built in to support students when planning, monitoring and evaluating to develop reflective learners (Perkins levels of metacognitive learners).


How does your curriculum ensure students embed and use knowledge fluently and develop their understanding, and not simply memorise disconnected facts?

  • Longer answer exam questions are used to link key concepts and entwine topic areas.
  • Collaborative planning across all schemes of work assessing concepts and problem solving.
  • Interleaving of previously taught topics to strengthen students understanding of the links whilst developing their wider awareness of the entirety of the subject area.
  • Application of tier 3 vocabulary across practical activities and year groups.
  • Previous knowledge is built upon incrementally throughout key stage four e.g. components of fitness – fitness testing – training types – training zones – principles of training – seasonal aspects – application to a range of sports.


The questions discussed above provide a very useful place to start when exploring curriculum coherence and can be used across all subject areas and educational settings.


James Crane

Posted in General Teaching | Leave a comment

Five ways to rejuvenate behaviour management in your classroom

By Andy Tharby

Now that the interminably long autumn term feels like a distant memory, we can turn our rested minds to a new and brighter term ahead. Experienced teachers are well-attuned to the ever-shifting rhythms of the school year – the times to dig in and hold on for dear life, and the times for change and rejuvenation. Once the shock of return fades away into the January fog, the weeks ahead will provide a welcome opportunity for such renewal.

A good way to start the new term is by taking some time to reflect on the behaviour of the students in your classes. Where are things going well? Whose behaviour slipped towards the end of last term? Which classes and which students will need more support this term? Naturally, there is only so much that an individual classroom teacher can do to improve student behaviour; whole-school approaches and systems must be coherent and consistent for this to happen at a meaningful level. Nevertheless, excellent behaviour is most likely to occur when effective strategies are in place both across the school and in the classroom.

The EEF guidance report Improving Behaviour in Schools provides a wealth of evidence-informed approaches to effective behaviour management. The report makes six specific recommendations for schools:

•  Know and understand your students and their influences.
•  Teach learning behaviours alongside managing misbehaviour.
•  Use simple approaches as part of your regular routine.
•  Use targeted approaches to meet the needs of individuals in your school.
•  Use classroom management strategies to support good classroom behaviour.
•  Create consistency and coherency on a whole-school level.

Below are five very useful and simple strategies taken from the report that every teacher, regardless of experience, can put into place tomorrow morning. Each strategy is supported by evidence (all page references below are from the report).

1. Put some extra time into building relationships.

Evidence shows that ‘teachers knowing their students well can have a positive impact on classroom behaviour’ (8). Perhaps choose two or three students to concentrate on and then aim to have regular and intentional conversations – targeted ‘small talk’ – with these students. This need not take long and could focus on the student’s interests or what they did at the weekend.

2. Praise a student’s effort rather than the person.

This is still the most useful advice for teachers wishing to develop a ‘growth mindset’ in students. This is especially effective when the praise is focussed on a specific strategy the child is using rather than a generalised comment about their level of effort.

3. Greet each student at the door.

Playing the gracious host is a simple tweak that is supported by recent research conducted with 11-14 year-olds that shows that it can improve pupil behaviour: ‘When delivered consistently, greeting pupils at the classroom door can help teachers to positively and personally connect with each student, deliver ‘pre-corrective’ statements to remind students of class expectations, and deliver behaviour-specific praise’ (25).

4. Increase the use of behaviour specific praise.

The ‘magic 5:1 ratio’ of positive-to-negative interactions is also supported by evidence: ‘for every criticism or complaint the teacher issues, they should aim to give five specific compliments, approval statements and positive comments or non-verbal gestures’ (25). Over one two-month study, students were shown to increase their on-task behaviour by 12 minutes per hour when their teachers employed this approach. Interestingly, the 5:1 ratio has also been shown to be a key factor in long-lasting marriages!

5. Work with parents.

The start of a new term is also a perfect opportunity to make a phone call home and begin to involve parents and carers. Promising evidence-informed approaches to working with parents involve setting shared goals, agreeing strategies that can be implemented at school and at home and responding consistently to behaviour.

As with all aspects of education, there is no magic bullet when it comes to managing behaviour. What works well with one student, may be ineffective or counterproductive with another. And, once again, these strategies are likely to prove more effective in those schools with supportive and consistent approaches to behaviour management already in place. Nevertheless, they are useful reminders to teachers in all contexts that can help us to start the new term as we mean to go on.

Posted in General Teaching | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Best of 2019

As the year draws to a close, it’s traditional to look back over the year at some of the best blogs we have shared.  For each month, we will share one blog from classteaching and one blog of the week.

Many thanks to all the bloggers out there who use their own time to write these blogs and in doing so, share such great insights and ideas.

Have a great Christmas and all the very best for 2020.


Explanation Made Easy‘ by Fran Haynes – 7 strategies we can all use to make our explanations more effective.

This much I know about…how to use research evidence to improve both my teaching and my students’ outcomes’ by John Tomsett – a brilliant exploration of how John has reflected on his own classroom practice and used research evidence to develop it.


The Importance of Questioning‘ by Ben Crockett – Ben offers 5 strategies to reflect on, in order to make our questioning more effective.

Modelling: The 4th Dimension‘ by Paul Moss – Paul shares his thoughts on the ‘I,we,you’ approach to modelling.


The highs and lows of spaced practice’ by Andy Tharby – 9 suggestions for how spaced practice can be integrated into our day to day teaching and curriculum design.

Ofsted and deeper learning: it’s like learning, but deeper‘ by David Didau – no list of edublogs would be complete without an entry from David.  Here he makes us think about what we might mean by ‘deep learning’.


Explaining through Dual Coding‘ by Chris Runeckles – 5 ways in which teachers can make slight adjustments to how they present information to students.

Whole class feedback: improve the curriculum, not just the pupil‘ by Daisy Christodoulou – a fabulous exploration of the benefits of whole class feedback.


Thinking About Teaching’ by Shaun Allison –  a look at the research evidence that sits behind the 6 pedagogical principles used at Durrington.

The follies of yoof: mistakes I made so you don’t have to’ by Adam Robbins – Adam is quickly establishing himself as one of the best new bloggers out there.  Here’s an example of why!


Improving behaviour – strategies for teachers‘ by Chris Runeckles – 2019 has seen a number of excellent guidance reports coming from the EEF. In this post, Chris explores how teachers can mobilise the evidence from the behaviour guidance report.

What we already know determines what, how and how well we learn‘ by Paul Kirschner and Mirjam Neelen – a brilliant blog that pulls together a number of key threads from cognitive science.


Improving secondary literacy – ideas from the EEF guidance report’ by Ben Crockett – another month, another EEF guidance report! This time Ben explores how his team have used the literacy report.

Supporting Working Memory in the English Classroom‘ by Zoe Enser – one of the great things about blogging, is that it allows you into the minds and classrooms of teachers up and down the country.  This is a great example of that.


On holiday!


Metacognitive Learners‘ by James Crane – an interesting look at the different types of metacognitive learners within our school.

Working with a bottom set year 11; how do I do it?‘ by Adam Boxer – an incredibly useful blog, written by one of the sharpest teachers out there.


October was a bumper month for blogging, so here are two from classteaching:

An introduction to cognitive load theory for teachers’ by Andy Tharby.

Thinking about formative assessment’ by Deb Friis – this was Deb’s first blog on classteaching and it’s a great one!

‘The #1 problem/weakness in teaching and how to address it’ by Tom Sherrington – a barnstorming blog by Tom…as is often the case!


Five ways that the implementation of evidence-informed practice can go wrong‘ by Andy Tharby – another blog inspired by an EEF guidance report.  This time it’s the implementation guidance report.

The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (A) curriculum as narrative’ by Christine Counsell – lots of people are talking about curriculum at the moment.  Very few do so with the clarity of Christine Counsell though. A must read for leaders.


Hinge questions in humanities‘ by Chris Runeckles – Chris rounds off his blogging year with a description of how he is using hinge questions as a history teacher.

Typicality in G007′ by Michael Chiles – there seems to have been a theme running through this selection, teachers opening the doors of their classrooms and revealing their day to day practice.  Here’s another great example of this.


Posted in General Teaching | Leave a comment

Hinge questions in humanities

Multiple-choice questions take a wide variety of forms, and the evidence is that, done properly, they can allow teachers to make solid and useful inferences about students’ learning.  They are a method of assessment that allow us not only to check knowledge but also to uncover misconceptions, and can be used both summatively and formatively in humanities.  If they are to work they need carefully thought and planning, but the investment is likely to pay back in the long run.  One interesting iteration of multiple choice questions are hinge questions.

Hinge questions are a way of checking whether students have properly understood something before moving on to the next chuck of learning. They can be a useful way to avoid injecting undue pace into our teaching and to resist the urge to plough through the content without checking whether students have mastered it. The multi-choice element of hinge questions works through correct answers sitting alongside some that are clearly wrong and some that are more subtly wrong.  When designed correctly the accurate answers are achieved through genuine comprehension of the material, with guesswork highly unlikely to play a significant part across a even a relatively small sample size. Thereby, the hinge question reveals to the teacher whether students can move on with the confidence that students have understood the concepts or not.

Beware, as they are tricky to implement and also, in line with the need to prioritise deep learning over performance, we must be careful not to confuse confidence within the confines of a lesson with long-term learning. Harry Fletcher-Wood has written extensively about how hinge questions can be incorporated into history teaching and the difficulties he has found with this.

Among the reasons for this difficulty are the degree of judgement required in humanities subjects, and the fact that we encounter ideas that are true across multiple topics, both of which mean absolutes are harder to find in humanities than in perhaps science or maths. Fletcher-Wood has shared examples of hinge questions he created to test understanding of the key features of societies his students had studied.  As I’m a history teacher, I followed this approach to create a set to use at the end of a unit on the Cold War at Key Stage 3.

Students select what they think are the correct options from this list:

  1. The USSR was communist.
  2. The USA and the USSR fought directly against each other in armed conflict.
  3. Nuclear weapons were developed by both sides.
  4. Both sides competed over developments in space exploration.
  5. Several smaller wars were fought because of the Cold War.
  6. The Cuban missile crisis was a turning point in the Cold War.
  7. The Berlin Wall was built.
  8. One of the main ideas in capitalism is that all people should be equal.
  9. Communism disappeared after the Cold War.
  10. Roosevelt was an important Cold War leader.

This second list reveals the inaccurate responses:

  1. The USSR was communist.
  2. The USA and the USSR fought directly against each other in armed conflict. 
  3. Nuclear weapons were developed by both sides.
  4. Both sides completed over developments in space exploration.
  5. Several smaller wars were fought because of the Cold War.
  6. The Cuban missile crisis was a turning point in the Cold War.
  7. The Berlin Wall was built.
  8. One of the main ideas in capitalism is that all people should be equal. 
  9. Communism disappeared after the Cold War. 
  10. Roosevelt was an important Cold War leader. 

Students’ responses can be shared using a show of hands, mini-whiteboards or sticky notes, which would then reveal the level of understanding in the class.  This information would then help me understand where students were in terms of their fundamental understanding of the some of the core concepts of the Cold Wart.  That would in turn allow me to direct my teaching to either moving on to new material or re-teaching chunks of knowledge where there was common misconception.

This is of a course a history example, but the principle could be applied in any humanities subject.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

Posted in General Teaching | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bright Spots – 4th December 2019

Today James Crane and I walked around the school and saw some fantastic practice going on in our classrooms.  Here is a summary.

In science Fahim Rahman was starting his lesson with a retrieval quiz that included questions on their current topic, but also what they did earlier in the year and last year.  He also had the section of the content checklist displayed up on the board, for students to see where this lesson sat in the whole topic – which really supports their self-regulation.

In English Paul Sluman was exploring ‘A Christmas Carol’ with his Y10 class.  Paul was skilfully using elaborative questioning to encourage his students to think more deeply about the characters e.g. ‘Who is Fan’s son?  What’s he like?  What does this tell you about him?

Up in history, Emily Hitchcock was using a Y8 assessment as a great opportunity for whole class feedback.  Having marked the students’ work, it was clear that they were missing marks because when the question asked them to make inferences, they were making inferences, but not linked directly to what the question was asking them – ‘Infer from source A how slaves were treated once they arrived in the Americas‘. So this was a great opportunity for Emily to model what they needed to do in order to address this common mistake.

Art NQT Helen Kingwell had done some fantastic planning with Y7 in previous lessons, in terms of designing a Matisse shoe.  As a result of this thorough preparation, the students were able to work with confidence and independence this lesson, preparing the paper templates for their designs.  A great example of a sequence of lessons progressing effectively.

In the hall Y7 were enjoying a dance lesson with Paul McCafferty.  Working in pairs, they were able to develop and improve their performance, because Paul had provided them with a ‘pre-flight checklist’ on the board, that told them what they had to do to improve in terms of action, space and dynamic e.g. use a different body part to perform an action.  Students understood the purpose of this checklist and were using it well in their pairings.

In maths, Sara Stevens was doing a great job of live modelling how to find the ‘nth term’.  Whilst modelling the strategy, she was also sharing out loud the metacognitive strategies she was using to solve the problem.   By the end of this, students then had a worked example in their books, that they could then use to solve a similar problem – a great way to reduce the cognitive load.

Finally in geography, Sam Atkins had just been having a great discussion with Y11 on managing water pollution.  The students were then asked to discuss the issue in pairs, but this was really well structured by Sam.  Rather than just a loose discussion between the pairs, Sam gave them three topics to discuss and told them that each pair had to have two bullet points for each topic, after 5 minutes.  This created a far more purposeful discussion.

It was fantastic to see so many examples of our teacher threshold concepts being mobilised so effectively during this lesson.  No gimmicks, no fuss – just really strong, evidence informed teaching.


Posted in Bright Spots, General Teaching | Leave a comment

Collaborative Planning: Thoughts from the Maths Hub Shanghai Teacher Exchange – Part 2

Natasha Corrigan has just spent two weeks in Shanghai taking part in the NCETM Teacher Exchange. She has travelled along with a group of other primary and secondary maths teachers to observe teaching in a range of Shanghai schools. Following on from her thoughts after week 1, here are her reflections after planning and teaching a lesson to the Chinese students.

In my second week in Shanghai I have visited a different middle school and another primary school. I have observed 6 lessons and taught one lesson. The highlight of my time at the middle school has to be the collaboratively planning, discussion of the lesson and then teaching it. I am going to talk in detail about this as I feel I have learnt the most from this during my second week. Throughout my time in Shanghai the detail and effort put into the questions during lessons has stood out. Every question is there for a reason and the level of challenge and variation helps move students on whilst also supporting them in initially grasping the concept.

We were given the topic of multiplying and dividing algebraic fractions. We were also given the textbook. We started by designing questions to draw out misconceptions and key learning points of the lesson. At no point did we look online, this actually made the designing quicker and more precise in what we wanted to achieve. The key points we identified were 1) multiplication and division of algebraic fractions generalisation from fraction generalisation 2) cancel common factors to simplify answers 3) factorise first if possible to help identify common factors. We used the textbook to guide us and make sure we had all variations of questions including the difference of two squares, knowing that x – 3 = -1(3 + x), using monomials and polynomials. We discussed the misconceptions we have seen previously and designed true or false exercises and diagnostic questions to include these within. We also only included 7 practice questions in the whole lesson but cleverly designed them so there was a reason for each one. We ended up with a very clear lesson that we felt covered all properties of multiplying and dividing algebraic fractions.

We then joined all of the maths teachers for a lesson discussion meeting. They called this the secret to efficient teaching. In this meeting teachers present on lessons for the following week and teachers question and critique the lessons before they are edited and then taught to their classes. I’m not going to lie I was nervous about presenting our lesson but once I started explaining, I felt confident about our chosen tasks and questions. We explained why each question was there and how we would assess students throughout the lesson. The feedback we had was to include cancelling common factors before multiplication (something we hadn’t realised was encouraged due to examples in the textbook) and to conclude at points when a new idea has been discovered. For example, cancel common factors to simplify algebraic fractions. After their first example of this, we concluded as a class before moving on. This is something I definitely will do more of in my teaching from now on, nothing is assumed, we must generalise and conclude throughout all learning. The examples we used were praised and we felt a lot better going home that day. The idea of this type of presenting lessons ahead of teaching is a really good one. At my school we have shown collaboratively planned lessons in meetings but I wonder whether we have asked for critiques in the same way and made sure they are edited before everyone teaches. We can also let admin take up time in meetings meaning this discussion doesn’t happen. Here they have this meeting separately, maybe this is a way to protect this time.

Tash Shanghai

I felt nervous in the morning of the lesson even though I knew we had planned a good lesson. As soon as we started however, it was amazing. The students were fantastic and didn’t make nearly as many mistakes as we would expect in our own classrooms, perhaps because of a combination of revisiting topics regularly and having better knowledge (from lots of practice). They did however make a few and by using mini-whiteboards we were able to identify these and use students to explain and correct. The work we did in the lesson was minimal and the students were working hard throughout. I’ve always heard people say that the students should be working harder than us but have never felt as if I’d mastered it; today it felt like they were. The hard work has gone into the planning of the lesson. The delivery is just fun!

What an amazing experience. To have gone through this process of planning, discussing and teaching in a truly efficient way I have learnt so much. Best CPD I have ever taken part in. I hope we can improve our own collaborative model of planning in my school and continue to design better lessons for our students.

Natasha Corrigan is an Assistant Principle at Sir Robert Woodard Academy, Lancing and a Maths Secondary Mastery Specialist. She is @tashawidmer on Twitter.

The teachers from Shanghai that Natasha visited will be returning to teach at Sir Robert Woodard Academy in March 2020 – look out for Sussex Maths Hub Open Classroom events at and @SEMathsHub

Deb Friis


Posted in General Teaching | Leave a comment