Rethinking Curriculum presents: Riverhead Infants School

We caught up with Riverhead Infants School leadership team to learn more about what inspired them to join the pilot year of the Rethinking Curriculum project funding by the Helen Hamlyn Trust and what their vision for the future of the school is.

As a new Headteacher in September 2022, the first question everyone wanted me to answer was, ‘what are you going to change?’ or ‘how will things be different?’

To be entirely truthful, I didn’t know.

Riverhead Infants’ is a wonderful school with amazing children, beautiful surroundings and a fantastic and committed staff team. Children’s achievement has always been of a high standard and (six months after I started) Ofsted declared the school to be ‘Good’, in its’ first inspection since 2009.

However, as Bob Dylan sang, ‘the times they are a-changing’ and the feeling here was that the profile of our youngest learners was not what it once was. This was also something that I had started to notice towards the end of my time at my previous school and I wanted to understand more. So, I and the SLT began speaking to colleagues from a range of settings and contexts across the country. In doing so, it started to become clear that the needs of children in EYFS and KS1 nationally have changed significantly over the last decade. Furthermore, the focus on this has become sharper since returning to school full-time following the pandemic.

The College have also been central to linking us up with experts and institutions that share some of the values we do.

Once, it would be extremely rare to have a child enter school from Nursery or pre-school with an EHCP and most additional needs may have been considered ‘developmental’ or associated with ‘age and stage’.  But now the landscape has completely shifted around us and we are experiencing an explosion in our youngest learners presenting with increasingly complex needs and levels of SEMH issues previously more typical in KS2 upwards.

The struggle in schools to meet these needs within mainstream education, combined with a significant lack of strategic financial support, is real. For us, this has made us turn our attention to the curriculum and how we choose to deliver it. Our aim is always to ensure our curriculum most effectively meets the needs of all learners; but to do so, many of us are now having to re-evaluate what we do to ensure practice is firmly rooted in an understanding and appreciation of all aspects of a child’s physical, mental and emotional development.

Schools are community assets

Like the other pilot schools, we jumped at the chance to work with the Chartered College and use their support, alongside leading experts, to help us sculpt a fresh vision for what teaching and learning can look. Central to what we want to achieve is to place our school squarely at the very heart of the community and to immerse children’s earliest stages of learning in the area immediately around them. This makes learning real, relatable and tangible as they are able to see it all-around them and it is part of their day-today interactions. Schools are community assets and therefore pupils should conversely become assets to their community by learning to experience, understand and look after their surroundings and the people and things within it.

A key element of this work is also to consistently plan opportunities to enhance children’s experiential learning by allowing time for children to research and problem solve both independently and in collaboration with their peers.

We want to develop more of our practice around precision teaching to allow teacher/pupil interactions to be more purposeful and thus allow children greater scope to take ownership of their own learning.

The Chartered College are helping us to plan what the next steps of this journey will look like and how to move forward carefully so we ensure that the changes we make are considered, purposeful and will remain sustainable for future generations. The College have also been central to linking us up with experts and institutions that share some of the values we do and will feed directly into the decisions we make. This has been a very reassuring element of this work, as it alerts us to the fact that we are not alone in the desire to see change and helps us to work more collaboratively with others to achieve some of our shared goals.

When people ask me about change now, I talk to them about our vision for the future and how we hope to achieve it.

Riverhead will be different, of that I have no doubt, but the world is different, and it is the job of education and schools to meet the needs of children where they are at now.

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