Rethinking the curriculum with Dorney School

Dorney School is an inclusive and ambitious primary school in Berkshire. Their curriculum is underpinned by the school’s core values of respect, collaboration and growth. Through professional agency and collective effort Dorney School aims to develop a curriculum for their children’s future, empowering and enabling them. But first they plan to empower and re-energise their staff. We caught up with visionary Headteacher Mrs Sharifah Lee to learn more about what inspired them to join the pilot year of the Rethinking Curriculum project funding by the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

When I noticed that applications for primary schools to collaborate with The Chartered College of Teaching in co-designing a bespoke primary curriculum was being announced, I became excited and jumped at the chance to apply. This exciting prospect took me back two decades when I started a professional learning community in one of my previous schools. Back then, we had the funding, the collegiate partnerships with local authorities, continuous professional development that was bespoke to teachers’ personal aspirations, and to the school’s local context. This was the sector that was becoming well informed, well-resourced, and ambitious for all children regardless of their needs. The education sector now is a world away from the one I have just described. 

The primary sector in education does not currently have voices loud enough to be heard by politicians and national leaders. Many policies and decisions cater and centre to a more secondary approach, including the Ofsted’s current Education Inspection Framework. I also believe the primary sector at times undermines itself – we are teaching ‘little children’, ‘we are jack of all trades, master of none’, ‘we are not subject specialist’ etc.

In fact, we are all those things, and so much more! However, a cramped curriculum, a congested school day, underfunding, a crisis in teacher recruitment, have all led us down a spiral of lethargy and stagnation. What we require is a collective effort to pick ourselves up, work together (at times against the odds) and take back professional agency, and the vision we once held for our children and their future. It is time and, we have little time to lose.

To do this, we must see ourselves as the professionals who must Re-think and Re-enact education. It is incumbent on us to work together to develop a curriculum for our children’s future, empowering and enabling them. By doing this, we also empower and re-energise ourselves.

Our school will be focussing on empowering our pupils through their voice. Their voices must help shape their curriculum. We will also be working on reducing the number of things we cover in every subject to make more time for our children to learn and gain knowledge in areas of the curriculum that will have medium-term and life-long impact. 

We are thrilled to have been selected, and at the prospect of working with the Chartered College in designing a bespoke set of principles that will shape our primary curriculum, which will be meaningful for other schools, and their communities too. This is something our school has been aiming to achieve and has been something I have set out to do for a very long time. We want a curriculum that inspires our children to be active, creative, passionate deep thinkers who will seek personal challenge whilst thinking about the wider world, not just through deeds but also through their voice. Our pupils deserve a curriculum that not only increases their knowledge; it will also empower them to lead better and healthier lives.

Mrs Sharifah Lee


Dorney School 

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