Deputy Head of Prep School, Joanna James, discusses the importance of strong foundations for learning in the Prep School, and the benefits of the through school model.
What do we mean by the Creative Curriculum?
It is a way of teaching traditional learning in subjects within a central theme for the term that can span across all subjects. It demonstrates and teaches the interconnectedness of the pupils’ subjects and aids their comprehension of those connections. The pupils can immerse themselves in that theme and can end up almost learning by stealth, enjoying the creative and fun approach taken which enables the learning to be more memorable and meaningful or purposeful.
The termly themes are chosen for the year by me and Nicky Black, Head of Prep School. Last year, ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ tied in with the Prep School play, Alice in Wonderland. The following term, we had ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’ as the theme; and the theme for the next term was ‘Onward Bound’, with a nod to preparations for next steps.
Within those broader themes, it is up to the class or the year group to teach a classic text which will be the pivot for the theme into the classroom experience. For example, on the current theme of ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’, Year 5 have chosen to focus on the Second World War in History lessons and we are reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit in English, whilst learning about Judaism in RE and building their own model Anderson Shelters in DT.
In Year 4, we are reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; so for instance, in a grammar lesson in English last week when looking at similes, I reference ‘as furry as a coat in the back of a wardrobe’ rather than something more generic. In Year 4 Art, they building model wardrobes, in History the Oxford Writers and so on. The whole educational experience becomes entirely immersive; it is not just an isolated lesson on the Bayeux Tapestry, they have studied it in History and Art, they have re-laid a replica in an Outdoor Learning lesson. At the Prep School age, it is enormously beneficial to their understanding to have those connections and that immersion.
Within this framework, we still have our Learning Ladder objectives and the milestones to meet but, provided these are being adhered to, we can craft the lesson plans from week-to-week and really take the pupils’ interests and lead the programme from there. In many respects, this makes the programme child led and creatively led, but the crux is that there is still that scaffolding to ensure those curriculum objectives are met.
You touched on the curriculum there, how does this approach stack up against the National Curriculum?
It is a quite simple measure, actually. We aim to be one year ahead of the National Curriculum in our objective setting for the year. That goes for the Reception Class right on through to Year 6. On our Learning Ladders, we have the flexibility to add additional objectives, and we focus these additional objectives to fulfil those of the year ahead.
We can achieve this because of both our approach and of our dedication to maintaining smaller class sizes. It is a bespoke package: we have that added breadth of offer for every pupil and the time and space afforded to tailor that understanding of the material to benefit the individual child and support them in that.
And how does this equate to the subjects taught?
As a School, within that available scope for crafting our own bespoke curriculum, we can also introduce subjects at our own pace. For instance, we begin teaching French from the Reception Class. By Year 4, they are learning Italian, and from Year 5 German, Latin and Spanish are introduced. Drama is taught separately to Music, with both having space on the timetable. Other areas that are often combined we keep separate: History and Geography are taught separately, we have two Science lessons per week, and, like the Senior School, we have a breadth of clubs and activities which are incorporated into our School day.
What are the Cokethorpe Characters and why do we use them?
There are seven Cokethorpe Characters, created specifically for the Prep School, with alliterative names to aid recall and comprehension. They were originally conceived of as a tool for the Pre-Prep to introduce morals, ethics and broader approaches to learning, but they proved so successful, and so popular, that they have continued up and throughout the Prep School. The traits of the characters are interwoven throughout the whole curriculum, rather than being reserved for PSHE lessons. The traits are synonymous with characteristics that are beneficial to the pupils’ development, and we look to embed them throughout. Whether encouraging a pupil to take a chance and try something new, or to show resolve and confidence in moving on to challenge themselves with the next few questions in a Maths exercise, there are countless other examples from our everyday. I have been teaching Medieval History in our History lessons, which touches on the Chivalric Code. Using the Cokethorpe Characters’ code in conjunction with the historic material helps make it much more relatable to the pupils. It is a core part of our approach and it becomes integral to School life.
The Characters have a particular focus on them at different times of the year as well; for instance, we have the Go for it Gorilla at the start of a bounding new academic year, and the Caring Camel arrives in the latter half of the Michaelmas Term, promoting the concepts of giving and empathy nearing Christmas. The Resilient Rockhopper is strategically placed mid-year and the academic year is rounded off with the Wise Old Owl reflecting on the year, with the Proud Peacock for those who have portrayed all the Character traits over the course of the year.
These characteristics form an important part of the foundations and preparations for pupils making that move up to the Senior School. I do not think it unreasonable to say that we in the Prep School feel that the Senior School are lucky to have our pupils: when they join the Senior School, they are already well-grounded, global citizens, and have a solid platform on which to further grow and develop their knowledge and understanding.
You mentioned earlier Outdoor Learning, what is it and what benefit does it bring?
I do not think it will be a surprise to anyone to hear that all of the pupils love to be outside, and with the space and grounds we have, we look to embrace and to harness that joy. Moreover, from a teacher’s perspective, the fabulous thing is that we have the space in the timetable to make the most of those opportunities. For instance, a trip outside on a pleasant day to look at clouds or a murmuration of birds provides an excellent introduction to metaphors. Year 2 recently ‘found’ an alien spacecraft planted in the woods, cordoned with police tape, which ignited an interest in their class text. We have that license to exercise some autonomy over our lessons and the way we provide our curriculum objectives. Experiential and kinetic learning is far more memorable for them than simply employing a more theoretical approach.
How does the through school setting benefit the pupils in the Prep School?
There are several factors here. First, there is the benefit of the additional facilities that being part of a larger school, and indeed a senior school, can provide. Science laboratories and Drama studios that are kitted out to support A Level experiments and lavish productions, for instance.
There is a sense of awe, ambition and excitement about being part of the School, and they look up to the pupils in the Senior School as those to emulate; they aspire to that next stage in their educational development.
Equally, there is that sense of security in making that transition to Senior School in an environment with which the pupils are already familiar. There is also a degree of cross-over with the Leadership Traits of the Senior School in the Cokethorpe Characters, and those traits are often referenced as themes in our Prep School assemblies. I think this also serves to provide continuity, a sense of belonging and familiarity when pupils move up to First Form.