Leadership programme

Curriculum K: Giving children the best possible start

Ben Levinson

Director for School and Trust Development & Executive Head Teacher

Kensington Primary

Why we needed to change

Stressed, anxious, tired, unfocused children will not learn.

At Kensington, when we started to look at why children were struggling, so often the reasons were health-related. Combine this with a mental and physical health pandemic for our young people and we knew that something needed to change.

Our ‘Curriculum K’ (for Kensington) prioritises children’s physical and emotional health. We knew that if we could improve these, children would learn more effectively and be more able to retain what they had learnt. We also knew that by focusing on these and building the foundations, we would be starting them on the road to healthier, happier lives.

Whilst health was a key driver, it wasn’t the only one. Everywhere we looked and everyone we spoke to identified challenges. Whether it was mental health, obesity, the ability to communicate, or the gaps between different sectors of society. Not to mention climate change, the changing political landscape, and rapid advances in technology. The world was challenging and it seemed that our children were not adequately prepared to cope.

We were also really aware that the world around us was changing, and fast. Despite this, the fundamental curriculum hasn’t changed since the Victorians first introduced it 150 years ago.

Our solution

Curriculum K is the result of a two year research project into what our children need from a 21st century education. Focused on the burgeoning opportunities, aware of the challenges, and determined to address some of the entrenched issues, we set out to create a curriculum that delivered for our children, community and team. The result – Curriculum K – is based around four key areas: Academic, Health, Communication and Culture.

Timetables are flexible and balanced. We invest significantly more time in physical and emotional health as well as communication and culture. This means fewer maths and English lessons in particular as they traditionally dominate the primary school timetable. It also means morning lessons are just as likely to be physical health or culture as they are English or maths. There are only so many hours in the day, so this required stripping out content that wasn’t as important. With unlimited time and resources we’d teach children everything, but this isn’t reality so we had to make some difficult decisions.

A key focus: Health

Our Physical Health curriculum focuses on just that: health. Lessons are split into ‘Fitness’ and ‘Skills for Life’. Fitness lessons get children moving and their heart rates up. In Year One this might be playing, ‘Stuck in the mud’ whereas Year Six might be using MyZone heart rate monitors to better understand when they are working hard and when they need to increase/decrease effort. Skills for Life builds flexibility, strength, agility, coordination. It’s all about building the physical literacy needed for a healthy life. This means less time on sports skills. We love sport but we believe this builds the foundations our children need more effectively.

To support this our children wear tracksuits and trainers every day. It increases time to be active and children are more incidentally active during the day as well. They also do regular active lessons using the TeachActive resources for English and maths and have regular active breaks to get them up and moving, improving focus and helping them to regulate.

Our Emotional Health curriculum is a progressive curriculum that builds the skills and knowledge children need to understand and regulate their emotions. Children develop a rich emotional vocabulary, understand the importance of experiencing a wide-range of emotions, build strategies for coping with strong emotions, and learn about the biological and chemical processes behind their emotions. This is part of a wider ethos where, ‘behaviour’ is recognised as the communication that it is and children are supported in learning how to regulate this rather than rewarded and sanctioned.

The impact

It is still early in the implementation of the curriculum. Plus it is challenging to effectively measure physical or emotional health. Nevertheless, the measurements we have both quantitative and qualitative indicate an improvement in our children’s health. We have far fewer children needing referrals to our counsellor or CAMHS. In a recent trial, the vast majority of our children were getting 60 active minutes per day compared to a national average of 47%. Nearly 90% of children believe they are fitter, faster and stronger as a result of the curriculum and teachers and parents agree. Roughly the same percentage have strategies for effectively regulating their emotions.

There is work to do but we are increasingly confident our children are getting a better start thanks to Curriculum K.

Ben Levinson, Director for School and Trust Development & Executive Head Teacher, Kensington Primary

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