An Ideal Prep School Curriculum
Assistant Head, Mrs Sharon Maher, shares what she considers to be the ideal Prep School curriculum. One that Greenfield pupils already take full advantage of.
When we think about the people we want our children to grow up to be, most of us imagine well-rounded individuals who are confident, well-adjusted and respected among their peers. We want them to be enthusiastic, to excel at the things they are passionate about and to relish challenges and adventure.
It is difficult to imagine how a school can expect a child to achieve all that by only teaching them Maths, English and Science. In my opinion, an ideal Prep School curriculum should provide an experience that promotes and facilitates the development of characteristics, as well as grades. So, what do we need in our schools?
Independent Thought and Initiative
Gone are the days when intelligence alone was enough to land you your dream job. Children at school today need to be given a progressive and forward thinking timetable, including subjects that encourage independent thought and promote initiative as well as knowledge. A timetable where lessons are at the optimum length for learning is essential. Lessons must be of a good pace and learning needs to be focused.
Subjects that encourage the consideration of opposing views, social skills, and confidence will impact on future decisions and ensure that our children are best prepared for the world of work. At Greenfield, we introduced a subject called “Understanding the World”, which includes philosophy, current affairs and debating, to ensure our pupils have a grasp on the reality of the world outside the classroom, but from the security within.
Learning About Others
Religious Education and Physical Social and Health Education are subjects that encourage children to show respect, tolerance, consideration of others and to appreciate spiritual values. A good understanding in these areas encourages children to learn more about the world and local environment, as well as building an awareness of those less fortunate than themselves.
Enjoyment of Learning
The enjoyment of learning is key to getting the best out of any child. If it isn’t enjoyable, why would we push ourselves to learn more?
One of our new subjects is Art Carousel. In addition to Art, this subject includes art appreciation, the study of artists, set design, photography and architecture. Subjects that promote creativity and facilitate the enjoyment of learning, they also give pupils an understanding of the world around them; a world many of them may travel extensively in years to come.
Learning for a New World
In today’s world we must prioritise the teaching of Computing. Children must be allowed to build on mental development outside of Mathematics and away from Word documents and Spreadsheets. Rather than teaching children how to use the tools that we need to do our job, we must show them the possibilities for their future. This includes coding, programming and an understanding of the possibilities of modern computer technology and where it may end up.
Drama is a lesson that is so important for building confidence and creativity. The opportunity to perform on stage is a big part of it, but school productions also provide opportunities for children to get involved in other ways; helping with sounds and lighting (computing) and set design (linked at Art Carousel).
Each of us has different skills and showcasing the talent in each of us requires a much broader curriculum than just Maths, English and Science.
Ensuring that pupils have access to competition is crucial to the development of grit and determination. Whether a child longs to be racing around the sports track, tackling a tricky piece of algebra, singing their heart out for the choir or memorising historical facts, they will benefit from competition. Whether inter-house, inter-school or international, competition teaches children perseverance, grit, determination and resilience as well as an understanding of pride, ambition and goal-setting. We learn best when we experience failure for ourselves.
In providing an outstanding academic framework it is important to ensure that, where needed, children are given the extra support in English and Maths to help them to access a rich curriculum. This should be achieved through the use of intervention and targeted support. A cohesive working environment between class and subject teachers and a Learning Enrichment department will begin to tackle lack of confidence and low esteem often seen with children who require support. It will help to instil the importance of perseverance and begin to foster the enjoyment of learning and encourage mental development.
It is important to ensure the more able are challenged and given plenty of opportunity to develop, acquiring breadth and depth in their learning and skills.
Outside the Classroom
Extra-curricular activities is a term we hear a lot in education, and it has become the rubber stamp of excellence. But an extra-curricular programme is only as enriching as the amount of variety and opportunity that it contains. A broad range of clubs, including Judo, Journalism, Magic, Card Games, Music, Debating, Sport, Chess and Dance, allow pupils explore new interests and practice skills in different disciplines. It builds their confidence to try new activities and shows children that it is good to take a step out of their comfort zone.
A wide variety of residential, day trips and visitors into school should be designed and planned to show progression as children grow and learn. These opportunities will enhance and deepen learning in the classroom. Children will build their physical strength, demonstrate good work attitudes and discover the importance of perseverance in an entirely different way when outside the classroom. It is so valuable for children to be able to apply their learning in different environments; this is how it is when we leave education after all.
The introduction of whole-school initiatives where the entire school works together has endless benefits. Children can be split into different houses and work on a theme throughout the day, or groups of similar aged children can be set problem-solving tasks that allow them to share ideas. Along with the application of knowledge, this allows children to work with other year groups and the children are required to show consideration of others. It builds an awareness of what is going on in the world around them.
Always Learning — and wanting to learn
Getting the best out of children requires a creative approach to homework, as well as lessons. We have found that allowing children to follow their interests, rather than completing homework for homework’s sake, is key. We encourage our teachers to consider the opportunity for creativity and higher order thinking in the homework they set.
The ideal way to learn is to not realise we are learning at all, and the skills pupils reaffirm when completing homework have a noticeable and long-term effect on their progress in school.
By using Blooms Taxonomy, we are challenging the children with high ceiling, low threshold assignments. Implementing a choice for the children across all subjects, except Maths, English and Science, has seen the quality of the homework produced by our pupils increase dramatically. So much so, it was highlighted as an area for specific praise in our last ISI Inspection.
In summary, the aim of an ideal curriculum should be to provide an experience that promotes and facilitates all the characteristics highlighted throughout the sections above.
In order to achieve this, an ideal Prep School co-curriculum should include some or all of the key points mentioned. It is not an exhaustive list, but includes support, a varied and rich timetable, clubs, residential trips and competition.
In my experience, developing teachers through training and sharing best practice stimulates an environment where teachers make suggestions to improve the curriculum. It is not down to the Senior Leadership team to always come up with the ideas, but fostering a creative environment is! We must continue to re-evaluate the outcomes for our children and ensure we are providing them with an education that will serve them for life.
At Greenfield our philosophy for the curriculum is simple — never stand still.