The Cyfarthfa Cluster comprises of one secondary school and five primary schools within the county of Merthyr Tydfil – Cyfarthfa High School, Caedraw Primary, Coed Y Dderwen Primary, Cyfarthfa Park Primary, Heolgerrig Community School and Twynyhodyn Primary.
Development of the New Curriculum is a task all schools are facing. As a cluster, we felt this was an opportune time to tackle this as a group of schools, pooling our professional development and staff together to support one another on the journey.
Cluster heads met in the summer of 2021 to discuss how our staff could work together to create a non-negotiable based curriculum for the cluster that would be the starting point of each school’s curriculum design. We wanted to ensure there was a consistency in terms of the holistic approach and the experiences and opportunities every child would have, regardless of what school in the cluster they came from when transferring to high school.
Professional development needs, that were consistent across all of our schools, were identified and linked to our school development plans. Following this, cluster INSET days were arranged and external training was brokered for all staff linked to the professional development needs of our schools and all closely linked to the New Curriculum and pedagogy.
In addition, a programme was put together for the autumn term whereby all AOLE leads from all schools could come together to share their professional learning and work collaboratively to generate a workable non-negotiable based cluster curriculum. We recognised that the New Curriculum would be unique and bespoke to our own schools and contexts, but a thread needed to run through this, starting with the cluster context.
Staff were given time to familiarise themselves with key documents linked to the curriculum before getting together, and support from the Central South Consortium was brokered for the initial session for each AOLE to set the scene, provide support and guidance, to share any research and to cascade good practice from the region. AOLE leads then worked together to commence the curriculum documents, with a Headteacher or lead practitioner from one of the cluster schools being present to help facilitate each meeting.
The cluster has a long-established history of successful collaborative working and Headteachers meet weekly to discuss pertinent issues. After each AOLE meeting took place, heads would collate feedback and discuss any modifications needed to the direction of travel. The working documents were reflected upon regularly and where needed additional professional development time was factored in for further collaborative work. This is by no means a finished product and the approach to working together is planned to continue for some time to come.
The leads have started developing a collaborative professional development document to share the expertise available in each school so that cluster-based training and support can be brokered moving forward. For example, identifying experts who could help other schools in respect of teaching dance, drama, or a modern foreign language. The cluster also agreed to put forward staff for external professional development opportunities linked to curriculum design so that at least one person from the cluster will have the training to cascade with the rest of the schools. Equally, all heads have embarked on leadership training with the local authority linked to curriculum design to further our own professional learning and to show that we are all learning together.
Our schools are all very different and there are many different approaches to what we do and what is needed in our individual schools, but we feel that strength lies in the collaborative approach we have to professional development and recognising the thread that binds us all together, which is wanting the very best for our children and staff regardless of what school they come from. Our non-negotiable curriculum is the backbone of our curriculum as a cluster.
Staff have had the opportunity to develop professionally, supported by colleagues with similar curriculum backgrounds and experiences as well as from external support. This has resulted in greater staff confidence to develop the approaches to the new curriculum at cluster and school level. It has also resulted in the cluster being able to share workload – working together rather than in isolation.
From the professional development and shared INSET, impact has already been seen across schools in terms of the pedagogy of reading and numeracy and the standards and progress of pupils, although we are still early on in this journey.