Imagine a day at school that consisted of five periods of Chemistry… every day. A school where the same lunch was served, day in, day out and the only extra-curricular activity was cross-country running. What if the only creative subject offered was music and the only piece taught was ‘Lord of all Hopefulness’… on the recorder! This is not at an attractive proposition and here at Shrewsbury High School our ‘Pupil Voice’ would be heard loud and clear – it would not be tolerated. And nor should it be. Schools and the curriculum they deliver are designed to provide breadth, balance and variety.
Different subjects are distributed throughout the timetable to allow for a more interesting school day for all of our students. It is well-documented that one of the most effective learning strategies is to interleave subject content and distribute study over a period of time. School timetables have evolved to allow for this method of delivery. The same principles apply when preparing for examinations and our pupils are taught the most effective ways to revise as they approach high stakes examinations.
The content of a school curriculum is just as important as how it is structured and delivered. With the demands of GCSE and A Level specifications and the need to teach all of the necessary content, as well as practise examination techniques and develop mastery of the subject, curriculum time is fairly limited. In addition, most GCSE and A Level specifications change their content around every five years (yes – it won’t be long before we start all over again) but in reality, the content is fairly static.
Yet, the world we live in, the society our children are being prepared for, is changing at an astonishing rate. We, as a school and a community, need to react to the external forces that are influencing the world around us. It is vital that what we teach in schools provides skills, opportunities and experiences, as well as intellectual challenge and creativity, to allow children and young women to make the transition from school to higher education and employment, as smoothly as possible. You will read all sorts of statistics that the jobs our current students are being prepared for don’t even exist yet, which, I am sure is true. In my opinion, we shouldn’t worry about that right now – other than keeping an eye on what is happening in the workplace.
Where we need to focus our attention is on the curriculum we create that allows our students to be fully prepared for whatever their futures throw at them. It is my hope that when our Sixth Form Year 13s leave us after their A Levels, they can stride out of school, into higher education or the world of work and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their contemporaries, fully equipped with a utility belt of skills, characteristics and knowledge that allows them to be highly successful in whatever field they choose. We want to remove any barriers to success by providing a safe and secure environment in which our students can practise the skills they want to develop. Sometimes they might not succeed on the first occasion but that is ok – we will help them to deal with that and get it right next time. Schools are for learning – obvious and simple and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.
So what do we need to introduce to our curriculum and co-curriculum programme?
Well, this is the problem. What students need now, might be different in two years’ time. A fixed curriculum can be out of date within months of schools deciding what is to be taught. I imagine teachers of History and Politics are adapting their schemes of learning on a regular basis to reflect the interesting times in which we find ourselves. Here at Shrewsbury High School, we recognise that providing a curriculum that is dynamic, that changes to reflect the world around us and that meets the needs of our students is vital as we move forwards.
It is so important to us that from September 2020, we will introduce a lesson to the timetable of every student in our Prep and Senior School, called Period X. This is a working name for the programme but it reflects this purpose of this lesson well. X is the unknown in many maths problems, the x factor (not the TV show) is a special talent or quality, something that cannot be exactly defined. Period X will be just this – it will vary, it will change and it will be unique. Period X will be a time in the week when we can focus on all of the important skills, ideas, activities that we cannot cover in normal academic lessons. One week students might be learning how to organise their finances for when they leave school, understanding about mortgages and credit ratings, the next week they might be designing and cooking a nutritious meal on a tight budget.
If there are important exams on the horizon, we may be looking at coping with the pressure and stress of GCSEs or A Levels by learning some relaxation techniques through mindfulness. Maybe students want to learn about artificial intelligence or politics or how to become a better public speaker. The content of Period X will change from year to year and we will adapt what we do to what is going on in the world. Period X will be dynamic and will be at the core of our timetable in the future. We are excited about this development as it will give everybody an opportunity to have a more balanced timetable so that as a community, we all do better because we feel better.
All year groups will be timetabled at the same time on both sites. This will allow for different year groups to work together and collaborate on longer projects or within shorter sessions. As a one-school community, we need to create opportunities to bring prep school aged children and older, senior school students together on a more regular basis. The content of the programme will be determined by our students, our teaching and support staff as well as taking into account the thoughts of our parents. I am sure there are parents and former students who will have a great deal to offer our programme and who might be able to contribute along the way.
It is our aim to develop a distinctive and bespoke curriculum for Shrewsbury High School where high levels of achievement, regardless of an individual’s starting point are complemented by a well-balanced, dynamic and skills-rich programme that is delivered through Period X. We will share more details along the way but I am confident that by September 2020, we will have a very exciting, fun and vital addition to our already excellent curriculum.
Deputy Head Academic