There is no denying that this year has been incredibly tough for everyone amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Children across the globe have experienced disruption to many aspects of their lives. As with all schools, here at Alver Valley some children enjoyed being off school, while others really struggled, and there continues to be a great deal of uncertainty about further changes that we may all face. As a staff, we are all in agreement that it is critical now more than ever that we deliver a curriculum which supports children’s mental health and wellbeing; we all have an important role to play in helping learners to develop and manage their emotional as well as their physical well-being. A successful education during uncertain times can only be achieved with a curriculum that extends beyond academia.
Prior to Lockdown, we already had plans in place to re-design our Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum and to ensure it covered the now statutory elements of the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) guidance which can be found here. This re-vamping of the curriculum was well underway before lockdown hit in March 2020. We wanted to design and implement a bespoke curriculum which supported the needs of the children at our school so that they are not only equipped, but able to thrive within their adult lives. It was important to ensure that we were able to provide an education which would prepare our pupils for life and work in modern Britain.
Mental health was already high up on our agenda when designing the curriculum but when the country went in to lockdown, we knew that the curriculum needed further adjusting and re-shaping. Wellbeing had to be well and truly at the heart of it when children returned to school after the national lockdown brought about by Covid-19.
At Alver Valley Schools, we have always been aware that the culture, ethos and environment of a school influences the health and wellbeing of pupils and their readiness to learn. When the school ethos is right, pupils place a higher importance on education, learning and positive behaviour. This is why, over the past few years, the school has worked hard to embed the six strands learning behaviours to provide a clear, positive framework for developing the six key values of Respect, Resilience, Focus, Self-Regulation, Boundaries and Independence. These behaviours have become the values for our whole community and are woven through all aspects of school life (they are even reflected in our school logo). You can find out more about our six strands learning behaviours here.
When re-designing our PSHE curriculum, first we considered what was important to the pupils of Alver Valley Schools; what we wanted to achieve from our Personal Development curriculum; the strengths we already had and what we wanted to improve and develop.
Many aspects of personal development were already going well as highlighted by Ofsted in December 2019 who wrote, “Staff work effectively to promote pupils’ personal development. As a result, pupils thrive at Alver Valley,” (click here to see the full inspection report for the Infant and Nursery school). We all felt incredibly proud of a wide range of areas of personal development already taking place. However, we knew there were opportunities for areas to be further developed and linked in to one interwoven curriculum.
First we looked at the updated guidance for relationships education and cross-referenced this with the PSHE planning we already had in place. We decided to take this opportunity to use the PSHE association’s thematic model to ‘hang’ our new curriculum upon in order to ensure we were providing a comprehensive programme that integrates, but is not limited to, the statutory content laid out by the Department for Education for 2020. This approach allows different year groups to work on similar themes at the same time through differentiated, age-appropriate objectives, ultimately developing a wider sense of school community. The three core themes are: Relationships, Living in the wider world and Health and wellbeing. An overview of these themes can be found here.
Next we began the process of making this curriculum more bespoke to our school community. We started to plot broad links and overlaps within already successful areas of the personal development curriculum we had been delivering in school, such as our six strands values and our SMSC education, including British Values.
Once these links were plotted and we looked at our newly developing overview, it became evident that we wanted something additional to support the explicit teaching of mental health and wellbeing. All staff were in agreement that wellbeing is just as important as academic achievement and ultimately, pupils with better health and wellbeing are actually likely to achieve better academically too.
In order to have an immediate positive impact on the day-to-day wellbeing of our pupils we knew we needed something simple, memorable and proven to be effective. This is where the NHS’s ‘Five ways to wellbeing’ became a central driver to our wellbeing curriculum. The ‘Five ways to wellbeing’ were identified through expert opinion and extensive reviews of research. They are simple actions which anyone can do and there is substantial evidence to support their value in living well. Evidence highlights that making the five small changes this centres around can make a big difference leading to individuals feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives. The ‘Five ways to wellbeing’ can be remembered as CLANG (Connect, keep Learning, be Active, take Notice and Give). You can find out more about them here.
The further we got in to securing the planning stages, the bigger this curriculum was becoming. We quickly realised that the many separate elements we previously had were easily slotting together like a jigsaw so it made sense to develop this further so that all the elements we wanted were within one place. So that’s what we did as we moved in to the refining stage of curriculum development.
We now had a clear overview of what we wanted the curriculum to look like. We were happy that we had full coverage of the PSHE association objectives and the statutory RSE guidance and now wanted to clearly embed the links to other areas which we had at this point, only roughly plotted in.
First, our six strands learning values were interwoven throughout our increasingly bespoke curriculum, next the ‘Five ways to wellbeing’ were linked in to every single learning unit to provide consistent support for children’s health and wellbeing. To develop pupil’s understanding of the fundamental British Values of democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and mutual respect and tolerance, we knew our children needed to see the links between those of Britain and those of our school. To do this, we planned opportunities to deliver this regularly through the curriculum and during assemblies, so that children develop a secure understanding of what these mean in order to fully prepare our pupils for life in modern Britain. This meant that through this, and other curriculum areas such as R.E, history and computing, we had addressed the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) issues that form an intrinsic part of growing up.
We felt happy that our curriculum met some of the ’aims and wishes’ we had set ourselves before we began designing it. Children are growing up in a world that is constantly changing and it is crucial that we teach them how to navigate through life safely, happily and healthily. We teach children about relationships, emotions, reproduction and health, as well as transferable skills to help with life. To support the pupils of Alver Valley Schools, we also wanted a curriculum which could deliver the following:
- Reduce or remove barriers to learning, such as bullying, low self-esteem, unhealthy/risky behaviours
- Promote British values, including democracy, and prepare students to become an active member of society
- Promote equality and diversity so that students respect others, as well as promoting tolerance and understanding of different religious and cultural beliefs
- Develop essential employability skills for the 21st Century
It was important to us that a whole school approach should be taken towards the implementation of this curriculum, something that cannot be underestimated. This goes beyond the learning and teaching in the classroom to pervade all aspects of school life in order to support the development of physically, emotionally and socially healthy young people. We feel this is the duty of all the staff at school in partnership with the parents.
Personal Development is both a subject and an ethos and is reflected in our school values of respect, resilience, focus, boundaries, independence and self-regulation. Every interaction with another child or an adult in school is a learning experience.
At Alver Valley Schools Philosophy for Children (P4C) is already embedded across the school. P4C helps children to develop into effective, critical and creative thinkers and to take responsibility for their own learning in a caring and collaborative way. This is done by providing practical ways of developing good thinking, questioning and communication skills. It is a pedagogy we wanted to adopt to inform the teaching of the Personal Development Curriculum.
Alver Valley Schools teach personal development in a wide range of ways throughout the children’s school lives, for example:
- It is taught both in discrete lessons and intertwined with other subjects, such as PE, RE, Computing and English
- Staff members consistently model how to be a good citizen who upholds the school values
- We have discussions in assemblies
- We celebrate positive learning attributes with weekly certificates
- School clubs develop personal development
- We focus on mental as well as physical health using outside agencies to support the delivery of this
- We elect members of the school council who are involved in making decisions about the school
Now that the curriculum has been implemented across the school, as Personal Development leaders, our next steps are to monitor the early impact so that we can further develop and reshape the curriculum as needed. As mentioned earlier in this article, one of the visions we have for this subject is that P4C should inform the pedagogy of this curriculum. This is something we plan to further review and develop. We also plan to monitor the effectiveness of both whole school and class assemblies amidst a global pandemic. Assemblies are a key element when developing a school sense of community and reinforce the ethos and values of a school. Despite not currently being able to congregate together physically, we want to ensure assemblies are still having a positive impact on these crucial elements of being part of a school.
We take every opportunity to teach key messages from our curriculum through whole school events. Some of those the school community have already been involved with this academic year include Walktober, Clean Air Day, Remembrance, Children In Need and Odd socks day. Keep an eye on the Personal Development page of our school website for updates to the curriculum and the variety of ways this is developed and reinforced.
During what is a challenging time for everyone globally, our Personal Development curriculum is more crucial than ever as is the ability to reflect, adapt and respond to the needs of our school community. That is why our curriculum is, and will continue to be, ever growing and ever changing.
Deputy SENDCo Alver Valley Schools
If you are interested in finding out more about Alver Valley Schools go to www.alvervalleyschools.co.uk
To read more about the approach at Alver Valley Schools check out our articles on the school website in Spotlight on Alver Valley.