Curriculum sequencing for primary and secondary

Ark Schools have the privilege of working across hundreds of schools and several large multi-academy trusts. As a result we’ve gained insight into the challenges teachers and pupils are facing during the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Most pupils were educated remotely from March 2020, and curriculum content may not, in certain cases, have been effectively learnt, resulting in lost education. These unidentified gaps in pupils’ knowledge can lead to the potential pitfalls of:

  • over-testing pupils to diagnose every possible gap
  • spending too much time recovering lost knowledge at the expense of future knowledge

Working across the Ark network, and with our partner schools, we’ve tried to be as clear as possible about which is the most essential knowledge, and to maximise the impact of diagnostic assessment.

School closures and the ongoing challenges and uncertainties have made it more important than ever to have a coherent curriculum. Our cumulative, coherent curriculum is designed to constantly look forwards and backwards, and to provide opportunities for:

  • retention of knowledge
  • subject-appropriate application of knowledge and recall

Booster units

We’ve found that pupils have mostly been excited to get back to school, but many have lacked confidence. Rather than redoing or reviewing summer units, we’ve designed short, booster units to recap lost knowledge and practise its fluent application.

We’ve used comprehensive, diagnostic assessments to identify and close key gaps, and strived to take a proportionate response between identifying and addressing any missed education opportunities and looking forwards.

Year 8 English

The baseline diagnostic for English, for example, confirmed that many year 8 pupils could not identify the structure of a metaphor. Nor could they expand their analysis of the impact of a writer’s words upon a reader.

Although pupils revisit and consolidate the use of metaphor throughout key stage 3 – for example, when studying Sherlock Holmes in year 8 – these units have been designed to build upon pupils’ understanding of metaphor from the poetry unit. We know there has been a lack of equity in pupils’ experience of this unit, so we designed a condensed, 2-week poetry booster unit that focussed on this core knowledge.

A boost in knowledge and confidence

Teachers found the booster units had an impact on both pupils’ knowledge and confidence. A subject leader explained:

All our pupils made progress in the 2 weeks. When we retested the poetry section of the baseline assessment, they could all do it. It made pupils feel much calmer, their anxieties were allayed – perhaps that closure in March hadn’t impacted them as much as they had thought. They saw for themselves that they had caught up. They could analyse the metaphor. One Friday at period 5, my year 8s forgot to leave because they were so busy reciting poetry to each other!

A senior leader explained, “the mastery response has not only addressed gaps in knowledge – the pupils have fallen back in love with reading and with words.”

Careful sequencing of opportunities to address missed education

While some core knowledge has been identified as a vital prerequisite for the year ahead – and addressed through booster units – to reteach all the core knowledge from the summer term in the autumn would clearly leave pupils further behind.

We therefore mapped all the remaining core knowledge from the summer term – as well as some learning from the previous autumn and spring terms that would usually have been consolidated in the summer – against the year ahead.

This means that teachers can look ahead to the most appropriate opportunities to revisit or reteach problem content. We’ve also identified key exposition and practice resources from the summer and mapped these into the curriculum for the year ahead, so teachers can access high-impact resources precisely at the moment pupils most need them.

Year 5 maths

Let’s take the example of year 5 maths. In the summer term of year 4, pupils would usually study 3D shape, position and direction, and reasoning with patterns and sequences. They would also spend 3 weeks solving measure and money problems, and 3 weeks studying shape and space.

Short, daily sessions of engaging consolidation and practice are an established component of our mathematics programme – we call these Maths Meetings. We’ve determined that much of the 3D-shape and position and direction content that sits in our year 4 summer-term programme can be effectively taught through Maths Meetings.

However, we’ve added an extra week focussed on shape to the end of the autumn term for year 5 this year. This is because we think the amount of new 2D shape knowledge in year 4 is too great to teach through Maths Meetings. A lot of important shape language is introduced in year 4, such as regular, irregular, parallelogram, isosceles, scalene.

We’ll teach year 4 content in the autumn term of year 5 this year, a while before the year 5 shape unit in summer term. This will allow time for consolidation of vocabulary, which will be built upon in the summer.

In our year 4 maths unit on solving measure and money problems, and reasoning with patterns and sequences, there are many lessons aimed at developing problem solving and mathematical thinking. Whilst missing these lessons should not create a direct barrier to any year 5 learning, we’ve identified specific lessons from these units that we recommend teaching throughout year 5, both as a revision of the conceptual content and to develop problem solving and mathematical thinking.

In our planning we’re expecting that, by the end of this year, our pupils will have learnt all the content we’d expect, so they are prepared to meet or exceed the expectations for their age.

Diagnostic assessments

We make comprehensive use of 4 different diagnostic assessment types:

  • baseline assessments
  • termly tests
  • fortnightly quizzes
  • lesson exit tickets

This really helps to embed knowledge. For example, pupils will learn a word like ‘corrupt’ during the Oliver Twist unit at the start of year 7. They’ll see the word in a lesson exit ticket, and a fortnight later it will come up in a quiz to help them embed it.

Afterwards, the word will appear in their end of term test and again when they study Animal Farm in year 8. As well as embedding and using ‘corrupt’ throughout the unit, they’ll come across it in the start- of-unit quiz.

So, the diagnostic assessment is looking both forwards and backwards. Pupils constantly refer to core content from previous years, whilst also moving forwards. Teachers have multiple opportunities to identify and close gaps. Key knowledge is reviewed and mastered throughout the key stage.

Our baseline diagnostic assessments are carefully mapped forward in the curriculum so that teachers can look ahead to the most appropriate opportunities to revisit or reteach problem content. Teachers are then able to plan each sequence of lessons to meet the needs of their class.

What’s taught in year 7 anticipates what will be taught in year 9. The year 9 curriculum reflects on and revisits key knowledge from years 7 and 8. In terms of reteaching, rather than try and close all of the gaps in that moment, we pinpoint when in the upcoming curriculum those gaps can be closed.

So, when reviewing a class set of assessments, the teacher is supported by a table that shows, for each question that pupils might have struggled with, where in the scheme of learning there will be an opportunity to reteach.

We’ve written pre-unit quizzes for each unit to assess relevant prior learning with particular emphasis on topics which were scheduled to be taught during the lockdown period.

Linking with home

We make sure that the curriculum we provide for pupils at home is fully aligned with the in-school curriculum. Every pupil matters.


For subjects including English, science and geography, we have developed pupil workbooks that have been designed for easy setting of work remotely, especially for students without IT facilities.

A teacher exposition section presents new information in clear and unambiguous language, and addresses key misconceptions. We interspersed the text with short tasks to help pupils stay on track whilst at home. We also included a formative assessment element with pupils guided to complete various ‘fix-it’ activities depending on the exit-ticket answer they give.

These workbooks increase consistency for both the students and the teachers. During time at home, pupils can follow the lessons in the booklet, and when they return to school they can return almost seamlessly to education as usual with their teacher. Our teachers are finding that, since introducing the workbooks, the quality of work that pupils are producing at home is significantly improved.

Ark has also launched Spark, an online education platform for pupils. Additionally, we point our pupils to Oak National Academy to achieve fully-aligned home education.

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