We believe in every child’s potential to be a knowledgeable, articulate and successful individual. Our rigorous, academic curriculum provides each pupil with a solid foundation for further study and preparation for university, and is underpinned by six core pillars:
Academic focus for all pupils
At Ark Pioneer, pupils study a traditional curriculum, with an academic focus from Key Stage 3 through to Sixth Form. In Years 7 to 9 we offer a rich and varied curriculum, designed to prepare pupils fully for GCSEs and the step up to Key Stage 4. We have a strong focus on English, mathematics and science, with generous allocations for these three core subjects. Each pupil also spends significant time studying both French and the humanities.
In addition to core disciplines, our pupils also experience a range of practical and expressive subjects including design technology, art, music, drama and PE every week. Computing skills are built in across our subject offer; our Values & Character programme and individual pillar days are enhanced by our Digital Strategy, ensuring our pupils are competent, creative users of information and communication technology. This balanced curriculum diet ensures they develop into rounded individuals, with a range of strengths and talents.
A rigorously planned seven-year journey
Each subject is planned ‘backwards’ from university study and includes a thorough base of content. The knowledge, conceptual understanding and skills needed in order to progress at each point in our pupils' journey are clearly defined in our curriculum maps, medium term plans and at a pupil level, as well as in subject knowledge organisers and supporting classroom resources. Our teachers have a detailed understanding of the curriculum structure and sequence, recognising how each lesson’s learning fits into the pupils’ broader development within the subject.
Each subject curriculum explores the big ideas underpinning that discipline. Teachers help each pupil develop a depth of understanding, ensuring they are well prepared for future study, and leaving no doors closed to pupils as they narrow their choices later in their education.
Extended school day facilitating depth and catch-up
We are lucky to have an extended school day which allows pupils to explore core subjects in depth and catch up where needed, in particular in reading, English and maths. We commit extra curriculum time to English and mathematics in every year group and train all teachers to be confident teachers of reading. This allows our pupils to quickly develop literacy and numeracy skills to a very high level, including improving their reading age, all of which increases their chances of being successful across every subject. Pupils who enter at below average levels of attainment and those with additional learning needs are supported to catch up, so they too can fully access, and be successful in, our curriculum.
Assessment informs teaching & planning
We use assessment to support our teaching. Regular low-stakes assessment allows us to identify misconceptions or gaps, and to plan appropriate ‘immediate’ interventions such as re-teaching specific content or addressing issues with individual pupils or groups. Rigorous, challenging and fair tests of each year's content allows us to gather accurate data, and understand where pupils are in relation to national expectations. Both inform our review and improvement of curriculum maps and medium-term plans in each subject.
Instilling values, character and self-discipline in every child
We devote significant time to instilling our school community values, and to building on each pupil’s character and habits to support their academic and personal development. Through our Values and Character Programme our pupils reflect on personal development and relationships, consider what it means to be a British citizen and explore national and global issues. They are taught specific skills they need to succeed both at university and in the workplace. This includes developing key dispositions such as debating and presenting, as well as embedding useful learning habits such as practice, repetition and recall through ‘copy, cover, check’. All of this is intertwined with teaching the value of self-discipline and developing a sense of responsibility in all of our pupils, supporting them to grow into thoughtful and engaged members of society, acting responsibly and making good decisions.
Built-in enrichment programme
We are proud that our extended school day includes two sessions of enrichment for our pupils in every year group. Every pupil is exposed to a variety of interests – whether sports, arts or academic – and has the chance to develop passions that will give them enjoyment throughout their lives. In addition, we subsidise instrumental lessons for all pupils and offer opportunities for our choir, band and instrumentalists to rehearse and perform regularly. Pupils play sports at lunchtime and our teams practise and compete regularly in local and network fixtures after school. Our pupils are encouraged to take part in school events and competitions – from UK Maths Trust to photography – throughout the year, ensuring opportunities for every child stretch well beyond the base curriculum offer.
We have considered carefully how our curriculum in every subject is designed, building on Ark network curriculum programmes and considering the principles below:
- Knowledge-rich: A rich and broad body of core knowledge is clearly specified for each subject discipline, selected for its power in developing expertise in the subject discipline. This empowers pupils to achieve in school and to live fulfilling lives, with the ability to understand, appreciate, critique and, if they desire, change the world in which they live. Skills are domain-specific and their development is intrinsically linked with acquisition of knowledge.
- Academically ambitious: The curriculum provides students with knowledge that they are unlikely to otherwise encounter or understand without a teacher’s support. The content selected is ambitious in order to challenge the most able and provide a rich and empowering education to all. It provides a broad and deep grounding in subjects, so that students have a framework within which they can situate future learning, regardless of whether they continue a subject beyond Key Stage 3 (or 4). We do not narrow the curriculum by selecting knowledge solely for its utility in preparing students for later exam success.
- Logically sequenced: The knowledge in our curriculum is ‘generative’ or ‘sticky'; pupils learn new ideas by reference to ideas they already know. The curriculum sets out a logical journey that students need to embark on to get better at a subject, pre-empting and addressing common misconceptions. As pupils progress through the curriculum, they grapple with greater complexity and develop both increasing conceptual understanding and disciplinary competency.
- Designed to support memory: Learning is a change in long-term memory. The curriculum is structured to help students remember, not simply encounter, the core knowledge they learn. In order to disrupt the forgetting curve, knowledge from previous units is interleaved in future units and revisited through frequent low-stakes retrieval practice. The points at which students apply knowledge from existing and previous units are explicitly stated.
- Diversity and Inclusion: Our highly inclusive curriculum reflects a diverse range of perspectives, helping pupils understand how they relate to the subjects they are studying, with the aim of widening participation and engagement with our subjects long after pupils have left school. We aim to build a diverse and inclusive organisation where everyone – staff and students – can do their best work and achieve their full potential.
Evaluating pupil progress and attainment
The key indicator of our curriculum's impact is the progress our pupils demonstrate over time. We run regular, diagnostic assessments coupled with termly formative and rigorous end of year assessments. This gives us a full picture of exactly what pupils have learnt and whether they are on track to meet/surpass national expectations. We review pupil progress by year, subject, group and at an individual level every term.
Read more about our assessment strategy
Evaluating and improving our curriculum provision
We are committed to continually improving our teaching and our curriculum, intelligently using data and our collective experience to achieve excellent outcomes for our pupils:
- Ark Pioneer curriculum model - annual review: Each spring term, our senior team come together to consider Ark Pioneer’s overall curriculum offer in light of the Ark Base Curriculum. The Ark Base Curriculum has been developed from an analysis of what the most successful Ark schools offer and provides a useful benchmark for the provision of each school in the Ark network.
- Curriculum review and re-planning cycle: We know that excellent planning forms the foundation for highly effective teaching and consequently, pupil learning. We review and refine our curriculum as part of a structured planning cycle, and use a shared Planning Feedback Tracker to record feedback and actions to improve the quality of planning and teaching for that subject.
- Collaborative Planning: Following co-planning meetings, teachers take notes for each year group and implement changes in their planning and teaching.