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CORE KNOWLEDGE: THE CURRICULUM CHANGER

Maple Walk School is flourishing under the Headship of Sarah Gillam, which could be linked to the introduction of the Core Knowledge curriculum in September 2014. Here she tells Mark Kebble why they were attracted to its teaching approach – and how the principles were already very much a part of Maple Walk School life

How has the launch of Core Knowledge gone so far?

We are really thrilled by how it’s gone. The whole school is taking part in Core Knowledge and we are working very closely with other schools and Civitas to ensure the curriculum we develop is really good, so I am very pleased.

It originated from research in the US by E.D Hirsch – what was the appeal of implementing the ideas here?

It was set up in America to give children a basic knowledge in sciences and arts to build upon in later years. So that when it comes to expressing an opinion, it’s based on an underlying factual knowledge. The idea is we can impart that knowledge so they have got a foundation point.

What is wrong with the National Curriculum in your opinion?

When the school was set up in 2004, at that time there were an awful lot of changes going on in the National Curriculum. The founders of the school deliberately wanted to have a knowledge based curriculum because they felt the National Curriculum was going astray and everyone was doing their own thing a little bit, but ironically the new National Curriculum from September 2014 is based around Hirsch, based around a knowledge based curriculum. In a way the founders were ahead of their time. We have got the flexibility to deliver National Curriculum plus, that’s the beauty about where we are.

How have you adapted the principles to align with your vision and values?

The whole thing is, to be honest, the vision of Maple Walk, and New Model Schools as a company is very much about strong values, understanding and knowledge based – so it enhances our own values.

Can you give an overview of how Core Knowledge starts here?

Core Knowledge itself is from Year One, but we follow a knowledge based curriculum at Reception. You will find in Reception next term that they will be doing some things on Kings and Queens, and learning a bit about the Magna Carta. Our Year 3s the other week were learning about Thomas Beckett. So big facts, but if you ask a handful of children they would know a little about Thomas Beckett and about the impact of Henry II. You don’t expect every child to remember everything, but many will. We had four children who did an amazing assembly on Henry VIII recently, featuring lots of facts but done in a very creative, dynamic way.

How does it develop through the age groups?

It builds on previous learning, revisiting areas of knowledge. History is taught chronologically, and each academic year begins with a recap of the previous historical period, so it’s literally understanding upon understanding.

How does the extra-curricular fit in?

I am very keen Maple Walk retains its creative flair. We are a very creative school. The Core Knowledge is extremely important, but it forms about 60% – the rest of the time is music, dance, drama, additional subjects like PE that are not part of Core Knowledge. To me those are vital, I am looking at the whole child. We should enable each child to develop their potential. We want a well-rounded child that leaves here.

Can you define a Maple Walk School pupil?

For me, a Maple Walk child is confident, articulate, proud to be a member of Maple Walk and they are confident in themselves. I would hope that every child leaves feeling they have achieved personal success: it might be academic, or it might be on the sporting front – that’s important.

My aim for the school is very much we become an outstanding beacon school for Core Knowledge, but not just for that – in every area and aspect of school life. To aim for outstanding in all areas, which we are on the way to definitely. We are building on the skills that were already here when I came in, and making sure we are competitive as well as inclusive.

How do you define success?

The children leave confident. We are a small school and the children are, in the main, going to much bigger schools and they can fit in. As a Head I have to look at the schools they are going to – the majority of parents at Year 3 are concerned with where they are going next. I have to look at that. However, Maple Walk is a unique Prep school in the sense that 30% will go into the state sector, so success is for them is they reach their potential and they feel confident in their ability and skill. Success is a child who wants to come to school. There is a very unique atmosphere here. My background is traditional Prep school, and I want to get the results of a traditional Prep school, but retain that creativity.

Maple Walk School, 62A Crownhill Road NW10 4EB; 020 8693 3890; maplewalkschool.co.uk

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