Students Co-constructing the Curriculum
Our work in school is often limited by what the poet Blake called ‘mind forged manacles’. We allow our thinking to run down conventional tramlines instead of asking the question: why are we doing things this way?
We have found one of the most powerful ways of breaking the mind forged manacles is to give students an ever greater say in the decision making process within the school. Not only do they bring with them a freshness of thinking and a blissful unawareness of how things are conventionally done, they also have the clearest sense of the strengths and weaknesses of current structures within the school, since they are on the receiving end of most of them.
For some years the school has made use of students when interviewing new members of staff. By now this approach is fairly common, but we continue to find that the perceptiveness and directness of student panels means that they are at least as likely to identify the best candidate for the job as the adults are. Having used student panels for over ten years we also find that it is no longer necessary to provide the questions for them or to have a member of staff observing the interview to make sure that they do not step out of line. Broadly, the more we have trusted them, the better they have become.
In the light of this experience, we thought that we should try to develop the principle that greater trust leads to greater impact. For some years we had been operating work trawls with subject leaders, examining books to see how effective marking was and where strengths and weaknesses lay within the department. The process was solid, but we were not convinced that it always provided the full story of what was going on within departments. Surely this was an area where students could make a contribution.
Work trawls are attend by the Head, Deputy and students. The subject leaders do not take part at this stage in order to ensure that students feel able to talk openly. Student selection is made on the basis of the following criteria:
- All key stages are represented,
- Pupils taught by all teaching staff within the department are represented,
- All year groups are represented.
As a result, up to 30 students can be involved in each work trawl, providing a broad and rich set of views. In departments such as Business Studies, where not all key stages are relevant, a minimum number of 10 students is set so that any potential issues of personality do not dominate the findings. Selection is made by a member of the admin staff, not by subject leaders so that the sample is random. Students bring their own books or folders with them and these are passed around amongst the whole group, so that all key stages can have an input into the discussions. By not asking staff to self select the sample we get to see how assessment really works rather than being given a model set of books.
Discussions revolve around a pro-forma made up of the following questions:
- Comment on the range of assessment tasks.
- How regularly is work marked? Comment on the developmental nature of the marking.
- How detailed is marking within the department?
- Does the sample suggest that work set is sufficiently varied and challenging?
- In summary, what are the main strengths and weakness of marking within the department?
Feedback is then summarised and read back to the students to ensure that they agree it reflects what they are saying. Inevitably, conversations broaden out to include other issues of concern and in this way we get to hear a very direct version of what is going on within the classroom. Feedback to subject leaders then takes place at a separate meeting that is not attended by students.
As end users of the system, students have tremendous insights to offer. The more we can shake off the ‘mind forged manacles’ that limit their contribution to the state of the toilets or how chips are served, the greater the impact they can have upon raising standards within schools. We have not found this use of student voice to be a threat to teaching staff - quite the reverse: students are extremely anxious to identify and celebrate the good practice of their teachers. However, if we are serious about a continuous cycle of improvement within our schools, then listening to what the students have to say about teaching, learning and assessment is surely one of the most important things that we can do.
At Lawrence Sheriff the school curriculum offers breadth, depth and challenge for all students throughout all Key Stages. Academic excellence is strived for; whilst the range of enrichment activities and teaching styles foster an environment of participation, inquisitiveness and creativity.
In order to stretch and challenge our students, and allow them greater freedom of choice in what they study, we complete Key Stage 3 in years 7 and 8. This gives students the time and flexibility in years 9-11 to pursue both the core subjects and an increased number of optional subjects.
In addition to offering the full range of academic subjects all students participate in 2 timetabled enrichment activities each week. Activities can involve students from all year groups or may target particular age groups. The opportunities on offer reflect a diverse range of interests, and include ‘The rock n roll years’, Astronomy, Lego, DJ mixing and Latin - there really is something for everyone!
Key Stage 3
The subjects studied, in both year 7and 8, are Mathematics, English, Science, Citizenship, Computing, Design Technology, Food Technology, Art, Computing Geography, History, French, German, Music, Physical Education and Religious Education. In addition they complete a course designed to develop their study skills in year 7, and then they complete a Higher Project in year 8.
Key Stage 4
Students study the core subjects of English Language and English Literature, GCSE Mathematics and either Statistics or Additional Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, a Modern Foreign Language, Religious Studies and PE. They then choose a further three optional subjects from Geography, History, a second MFL, Art & Design, DT, Music, Computing, and Extended Project. However the flexibility of completing Key Stage 4 over 3 years means some students can gain additional qualifications and mix and match subjects.
A total of 25 A Level subjects are on offer at Lawrence Sheriff Sixth Form with an additional 8 offered via Rugby High School.
For more information about the curriculum at Key Stage 3 and 4 please refer to specific department information, and for Post 16 studies please follow the links for the Sixth Form Prospectus.