Review by Mary Myatt

8 Jul 2018, 5:00


Reclaiming the curriculum: Specialist and creative teaching in primary schools

By Bill Laar and Jackie Holderness


Crown House Publishing


It is good to have a new book that seeks to “reclaim the curriculum”.

However, the question has to be: does it do what it says on the tin? Well it doesn’t, actually. But what it does do is to showcase practice from a selection of primary schools that are making sure that their curriculum is not distorted by accountability measures. These schools are allocating time for subjects beyond English and maths and many are doing so in interesting ways.

There are examples that primary schools will find helpful as they revisit and refresh the curriculum in their own schools. The chapters that consider how teachers are developing their own practice are interesting, for example those teachers involved in the national writing project, in order to support the writing of children in their classes.

The sections on learning outside the classroom, including the chapter on learning with and through nature, are interesting and will help schools think about how they draw on their school grounds and the landscapes beyond, as part of the curriculum. There is some helpful advice for schools making use of external organisations including museums, libraries and other establishments. For example, one school has developed extensive links with schools in other countries, which serve to expand their pupils’ horizons.

One of the strengths of the book is that there are plenty of examples of pupils’ work being showcased or used for some public purpose. For example, the Goblin cars project, which resulted in pupils driving the car they had made at Goodwood Racecourse; a stained-glass window designed by pupils and created by an artist; several schools collaborating on art panels for display in Christ Church Cathedral; and an installation made of recycled materials by early years pupils, as part of a project on ‘responsible consumption and production.’

It is this element of the book that is most helpful and will prompt colleagues to think about the opportunities they create for children to showcase their work. At the moment, too much of pupils’ work is undertaken on low-quality worksheets, which privilege task completion rather than understanding. Producing work that has a real purpose does several things: it raises expectations, develops a sense of pride in pupils and allows others, including parents, carers and the local community to celebrate their achievements.

It is this element of the book that is most helpful and will prompt colleagues

The chapter on teaching French in primary is thorough and contains details of what the school covers across each year and how they ensure that all children are included and experience success. The school offers Latin for a small number of pupils who are considered competent in French, while the rest of the class continue with French so that they reach the ‘expected level of attainment’. I found this confusing – is there an expected level of French in year 6? And it also seems a pity that not all pupils were offered a taster of Latin, because the books available now are accessible to most pupils. This is not to detract from the school’s work in developing languages, which clearly they take seriously.

However, I think it highlights one of the issues about entitlement in the national curriculum and is likely to be a focus in forthcoming inspections: who decides what is taught and are some pupils denied opportunities which are given to others?

However, a book cannot state that it sets out to reclaim the curriculum if it leaves some subjects out – there were no examples of geography, of computing, of religious education and scant mention of science. There has been plenty of discussion in recent months about the likely focus of future inspections. Leaders are likely to be asked about the quality, breadth and depth of the curriculum they offer; how it is implemented and what its impact is. Ensuring that all the national curriculum subjects were discussed would have been a boon to schools.

More Reviews

Reading Lessons: The books we read at school, the conversations they spark and why they matter

Unlike any education book you've read, this one deserves to hit the mainstream for its mix of nostalgia and...

Find out more

The Conversation – with Rob Gasson

A falling out over research, ongoing controversy over Amanda Spielman's legacy and redefining school trusts as anchor institutions

Find out more

As we begin: Dispositions of mind, learning and the brain in early childhood

This passionate case for child-centred learning in the early years lacks realism about implementing its ideas

Find out more

The Conversation – with Sarah Gallagher

Setting, workload and pay, supporting TAs to work with pupils with SEND, and teaching consent

Find out more

Schools of thought: Lessons to learn from schools doing things differently

This book offers an enriching and varied tour of the best that schools around the globe have to offer

Find out more

The Conversation – with Zara Simpson

Ramadan, Women's History Month and British Science week

Find out more

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *