The Aquinas Approach to Curriculum Design
The love of knowledge and truth should invite us to continue learning. The
love of others should compel us to teach.
Saint Augustine of Hippo (Answers to the Eight Questions of Dulcitius, 3)
The curriculum in each of our academies sets out the knowledge and skills our children and young people should know, understand and use, why we have chosen it, when pupils will encounter it and in what order. The knowledge we choose is ‘Life-Transforming-Learning’ in its purest sense; the beating heart of each academy. Our children and young people know more because they are part of our strong Trust - the curriculum always comes first. This document links closely to our ’Aquinas Core Teaching Principles’ document.
Who is our curriculum for? (Our Curriculum)
All our pupils deserve the very best taught and wider curriculum experience. When each academy plans their curriculum, they are acutely aware that:
• curriculum development is always ongoing;
• our pupils come from all backgrounds and start points;
• pupils possess a multitude of skills and talents;
• pupils have their own history and bring a unique viewpoint; and
• pupils learn at different rates and have differing educational needs.
Whilst the knowledge we teach is for all, we adapt and enhance our curricula to ensure the needs of all pupils are met.
Why is our curriculum so important? (Purpose)
Pupils who know and can use the knowledge we have chosen, will flourish and live life in all its fullness (John 10:10). It is important that pupils find a place and a voice in their future communities. They should:
• value knowledge and possess a thirst for new knowledge;
• be able to challenge existing knowledge;
• feel empowered to speak with a confident voice;
• be wise and virtuous;
• live well with others and respect and celebrate difference;
• have competence in literacy, articulacy, the correct use of standard English and mathematics; and
• gain success across a wide spectrum of specialist learning courses at school, in further and higher education and throughout their careers into the future.
What knowledge do we teach? (Curriculum Content)
Such knowledge that leaders, having listened to a range of different voices, judge to be the most powerful knowledge for children and young people to know.
Knowledge that is benchmarked to match the aspiration of the National Curriculum as a minimum, but enhanced within each academy to reflect local context, include all pupils, celebrate diversity and to reflect knowledge chosen from different viewpoints.
Each academy unlocks a broad ‘hinterland’ of knowledge and sparks curiosity for those things that are beyond the taught curriculum; they achieve this through careful choice of curriculum content, suggesting independent learning opportunities and the wider cocurricular programme on offer.
Primary schools prioritise the explicit teaching of phonics and reading. Regardless of phase, subject or setting, it is every teachers’ responsibility to teach the context and etymology of vocabulary deliberately and explicitly, to foster a continued love of reading and to teach literacy and oracy skills.
Teachers should ask:
• What vocabulary might pupils find it difficult to access here?
• What are the common misconceptions likely to be?
• Is my curriculum representative of the pupils in front of me?
Alongside substantive content knowledge sit a range of different skills and techniques that are inherent within each subject.
A key leader could ask:
• What teaching techniques do, for example, historians, geographers or scientists inherently use to teach children and young people?
• What skills do future historians, geographers and scientists always need to have?
• Does this always remain the same or does it change over time?
• How does my subject treat newly discovered, argued, or uncovered knowledge?
We deliberately link knowledge from different subject areas together so that pupils can build on previous knowledge and use it in different settings and in different ways.
Teachers and leaders should ask themselves:
• How does my subject link to others?
• Where else in the school curriculum do pupils learn about this concept?
• Do the pupils know this?
• Could and should techniques for learning this concept match across subjects, year groups or phases? e.g. handwriting taught in primary schools, mathematical techniques across different subjects such as science or geography?
When do we teach it? (Sequencing)
A subject curriculum spans the entirety of a pupil’s time with us. Therefore, sequencing and spacing the curriculum correctly is vital if children and young people are to build links, effectively recall, retain and apply knowledge and skills. Teachers and curriculum leaders should regularly ask:
• Why are we teaching this knowledge?
• Why are we teaching it now?
• How does it fit with what pupils have learned before?
• What will learning this knowledge now enable pupils to learn in the future?
• How often should we revisit this knowledge to embed it?
• When and how should we do that?
How do we know if our curriculum is effective? (Assessment)
An excerpt from the Trust’s Teaching, Learning and Assessment Policy states that assessment is…
a continuous process which allows pupils to achieve their full potential. We
believe that appropriate teaching, learning and assessment will help pupils to
lead happy and fulfilling lives.
Aquinas Teaching, Learning and Assessment policy 2021
Assessment is a fundamental part of the curriculum; therefore, it is very carefully planned, so much so, that the curriculum becomes our progress model. It impacts curriculum sequencing, future teaching and pupils’ secure understanding and application of the knowledge and skills they have learned. Teachers and leaders should ensure:
• a range of high and low stakes assessment techniques are used to ensure pupils can recall the knowledge they have been taught and to tackle common misconceptions;
• a range of assessments are deliberately planned to improve pupils’ skill and metacognition;
• pupils are encouraged to take ownership of assessment and are given strategies to improve and increase levels of independence over time;
• assessment allows pupils to demonstrate what they know and what they can do in different contexts, including extended writing or project work;
• assessment allows pupils to show scholastic excellence within subjects and a greater depth of understanding and mastery;
• the purpose of assessment is identified beforehand, leading to accurate diagnosis of gaps in achievement, attainment or learning technique which, in turn, informs curriculum re-assembly and future planning for targeted individuals, classes or cohorts; and
• highly inclusive assessment celebrates the knowledge and skill that has been taught for its own sake; it is not simply beholden to the examination mark scheme.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…and understand all
mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.
St Paul 1 Corinthians 13 NKJV
How do we measure the impact of our curriculum?
We have faith that what we choose to teach our children and young people during their time with us has real impact on their futures. Whilst not everything that adds value to our pupils can be measured easily, we:
• prioritise the continuous development and improvement of our curriculum;
• take time to watch the implementation of our curriculum in action;
• speak regularly with teachers and leaders;
• look carefully at the way in which our groups of pupils perform, particularly those who may be disadvantaged;
• listen carefully to pupil voice;
• look closely at the destinations of our pupils at 16 and 18 to continue their education, training and employment; and
• treasure following the successes that our pupils enjoy later in life.