Reclaiming the Curriculum

Specialist and creative teaching in primary schools

By: Jackie Holderness , Bill Laar


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Pages : 304
ISBN : 9781785833069
Format: Paperback
Published: June 2018
Size: 246 x 189mm

Bill Laar and Jackie Holderness’ Reclaiming the Curriculum examines the nature of a broad-ranging, content-rich primary school curriculum and presents case studies that exemplify how it can be effectively delivered.

Many schools believe that the value of their work is undermined by a test-driven agenda that limits the breadth of the education they provide – and who can blame them? In Reclaiming the Curriculum Bill and Jackie inspire teachers to escape such narrow confines by unearthing a rich seam of case study examples from schools who are broadening their provision with specialist content that transcends the core curriculum: taking pupils into the realms of exploration and enquiry while also providing for higher attainment in the core subjects.

Featuring a variety of exciting initiatives, ranging from the development of an IT-enabled collaborative learning space to the artful application of storytelling across the curriculum, this book will embolden primary schools to identify and enhance their own creative practice and more effectively prepare pupils for the tests of life, not a life of tests. The 18 case studies – written by a diverse line-up of contributors including school leaders, teachers and special­ist coaches – are sourced from a mixture of different settings and offer detailed descriptions of the initiatives’ unique backgrounds: their genesis and inspiration, their underpinning aims and objectives, and the ways in which they were resourced, realised and, eventually, evaluated.

At the beginning of each chapter, Bill and Jackie briefly summarise the educa­tional value of each example of curriculum development, the significance of specific aspects and the ways in which they are likely to help maintain full and relevant learning. Each case study then presents the contributors’ first-hand perspectives as they:

  • describe in detail the structure that underpins the provision – including the number of staff involved and the time and resources allocated
  • share interesting insights into the level of pupil involvement and, where relevant, the extent of parental and community participation
  • paint a vivid picture of how the initiatives have been made compatible with their school’s wider educational programme
  • provide practical guidance, useful links and relevant resources to aid readers’ own pursuit of curriculum development.

Suitable for primary school teachers and leaders.

Chapters include:

1. Learning With and Through Nature

2. The Window

3. A STEAM Curriculum Initiative

4. The Broad and Balanced Curriculum Enriched by IT

5. An Enriched and International Curriculum

6. Learning Outside the Classroom

7. Partnership Enrichment Through Shared Stories, Creativity
and Gardening

8. Languages in the Primary Curriculum

9. Role Play and Stories

10. Creating a Community of Learners

11. Writing Reclaimed

12. Dance and Music in the Classroom

13. Drama Across the Primary Curriculum

14. Chess in the Curriculum

15. Building Goblin Cars

16. A Creative Approach to History in the Curriculum

17. Artists in School: Specialist Teaching in the Arts

18. The Reclaimed Curriculum

Picture for author Jackie Holderness

Jackie Holderness

Having worked for nearly 15 years as a senior lecturer in education at Oxford Brookes University, Jackie Holderness is now the education officer at Christ Church Cathedral. She is also involved in several local initiatives which focus on the creative arts.

Picture for author Bill Laar

Bill Laar

A former primary school head teacher, Bill Laar has been a local authority inspector in Birmingham, Oxfordshire and London, where he was deputy director of education. He was patron of National Primary Heads (NPH) and is a well-known speaker. He has written for school leaders and teachers on inspection, learning, literacy and leadership.


  1. This text is valuable in going beyond Foundation and making students aware of possibilities across the primary age range. The way that it has a curriculum focus as well as an "approach" focus in different chapters is especially useful, with its emphasis on creative teaching across all subject areas. 

    The introduction provides a very useful context to the current situation and helps to make links to the many early years pioneers and approaches which sadly seem to be consigned to nursery in many schools . The challenge to maintain a curiosity approach and provide provocations at all stages in Primary is refreshing! 

    I will certainly be adding it to the core reading list for my Y2 students on the BA (Hons) Childhood Studies for their Enriching Learning module. This module seeks to support students to recognise aspects of practice which enrich children's learning experiences within and outside the classroom and this text is particularly accessible. I have also shared it with colleague who teach on our primary ITT degrees in the School too.
  2. In the current climate of political, economic and educational chaos Reclaiming the Curriculum gives many insights into the innovative ways that children can be enthused and encouraged to enjoy and succeed within the constraints of a narrow and often prescriptive core curriculum. Children who are fed a diet of Core subjects in order to achieve high SATs results are deprived of a broad and balanced curriculum. This excellent book illustrates just how schools can reclaim the curriculum by thinking outside the box. With the many examples of differing circumstances and socio economic backgrounds, children can enthuse and enjoy the learning process. This book is a Road to Damascus revelation and shows how head teachers who have the courage of their convictions can attain the highest outcomes for their children. Not to be missed! Should be in every staffroom.
  3. I've been reading, with much interest, Reclaiming the Curriculum, a collection of case studies of schools providing -˜specialist and creative teaching in Primary Schools'.

    Each chapter features a different primary school (many, but not all in Oxfordshire) which has enhanced its curriculum by going beyond the traditional primary school subjects.

    My attention was drawn to a chapter on Chess in the Curriculum, written by Ed Read, the head teacher of Cumnor CE Primary School, situated in a village just outside Oxford. The provides a paradigm of how to introduce chess in primary schools. All children in Yrs 3-6 (aged 7-11) have one lesson of chess a fortnight. The head teacher himself, a chess enthusiast, teaches the younger and less experienced children, while Andrew Varney, a professional chess tutor (who also contributes to the chapter), teaches the older and stronger players. There's also an after-school club where the really keen players are prepared for serious competitive chess.

    It's clear that this model is very successful. The children enjoy learning and playing chess, and several children from the school have gone on to represent their county

    Let's consider some of the reasons for its success:
    All children are taught chess, provision is made for social chess, and there's a club for those children wanting to play competitively.
    The whole school is involved, from the head teacher downwards. Putting chess on the curriculum will be a lot less successful if the school isn't really interested and the class teacher just sits there doing her marking rather than taking part in the lesson.
    They employ an excellent professional chess tutor to teach more advanced skills to the stronger children and prepare the top players for competitions.

    In recent years primary schools here in the UK have been very much tied down to the National Curriculum, and to their children's test results. These are now, quite rightly in my opinion, becoming less important, giving schools more time and opportunity to broaden the curriculum in a wide variety of imaginative ways.

    Other chapters of this book, for instance, deal with art, dance, drama, music, gardening, languages, history and much else. How should schools decide which to choose? A further chapter in the book features St Joseph's Catholic Primary School in Oxford, a school where 70% of the children are from ethnic minorities, goes some way towards answering this question. They are a chess school (Andrew Varney also teaches there) and have been very successful in competitions against other schools, but they have a wide range of other curriculum options as well.

    The whole book is an inspiring read for anyone interested in primary years education, whether as a teacher or a parent. If you're involved in primary years chess education, you should also read it - and pass the message on to schools in your area.
  4. In Reclaiming the Curriculum Bill Laar and Jackie Holderness have produced a compendium of examples of quality practice from a range of primary schools to exhibit successful strategies which extend the learning beyond a narrow curriculum. The case studies clearly illustrate how learning is enhanced and how the enthusiasm for knowledge and understanding is promoted.

    The range of practice described within the book will inspire the reader to reflect upon and consider extending their current practice. I particularly enjoyed reading about the projects based on sustainability, on building Goblin cars and on learning outside of the classroom. Readers will also gain from the authors' discussion of their ideas regarding creativity in the curriculum, particularly around the development of personal skills which enable creativity to blossom in learners of all ages.

    Reclaiming the Curriculum is a thoroughly enjoyable, stimulating and thought-provoking read, written with a strong emphasis on enthusing and involving learners as active participants in their learning - and on allowing them to visually experience the results of their endeavours. The book is like a good walking guide, and should serve as a handy compass with which to explore new ideas in primary schools.
  5. This generally inspirational collection of accounts in which educational practitioners have demonstrated the possibility for thinking outside the curriculum box should act as a starting point for those wishing to forge a new direction in their own practice. The relentless deluge of targets, standards in education and snap inspections could easily prove enough to overwhelm those engaged with learning at the point of delivery. This book shows that if you consider curriculum from the learner's perspective then it looks profoundly different from any view taken from the mountain top of guidelines and best practice initiatives.

    Time and again the accounts given reinforce the notion that at the base of learning is the idea that the learner must have an appropriate problem to solve. Without a problem there is little need to learn anything and instead of being a feeder of facts educators are here encouraged to think of themselves as facilitator and mentor. Deliverers of learning thereby recede from the role of pedagogue and instead adopt the position of fellow traveller, or provider of learning experiences likely to challenge and engage learners. 

    Teacher creativity is espoused throughout the book. At its core is a subtle subtext containing a big philosophical idea: that the learner is the creator and setter of curriculum and that without these having primacy arguably learning itself might become a pallid endeavour indeed. What is being reclaimed then is the power of the teacher and learner together to create the very agenda for learning. All the tools, the systems, the educational strategies, the directives and so on become within this context the resources for learning rather than its bureacratic goal.
  6. It is good to have a new book that seeks to “reclaim the curriculum”.

    However, the question has to be: does it do what it says on the tin? Well it doesn't, actually. But what it does do is to showcase practice from a selection of primary schools that are making sure that their curriculum is not distorted by accountability measures. These schools are allocating time for subjects beyond English and maths and many are doing so in interesting ways.

    There are examples that primary schools will find helpful as they revisit and refresh the curriculum in their own schools. The chapters that consider how teachers are developing their own practice are interesting, for example those teachers involved in the national writing project, in order to support the writing of children in their classes.

    The sections on learning outside the classroom, including the chapter on learning with and through nature, are interesting and will help schools think about how they draw on their school grounds and the landscapes beyond, as part of the curriculum. There is some helpful advice for schools making use of external organisations including museums, libraries and other establishments. For example, one school has developed extensive links with schools in other countries, which serve to expand their pupils' horizons.

    One of the strengths of the book is that there are plenty of examples of pupils' work being showcased or used for some public purpose. For example, the Goblin cars project, which resulted in pupils driving the car they had made at Goodwood Racecourse; a stained-glass window designed by pupils and created by an artist; several schools collaborating on art panels for display in Christ Church Cathedral; and an installation made of recycled materials by early years pupils, as part of a project on -˜responsible consumption and production.'

    It is this element of the book that is most helpful and will prompt colleagues to think about the opportunities they create for children to showcase their work. At the moment, too much of pupils' work is undertaken on low-quality worksheets, which privilege task completion rather than understanding. Producing work that has a real purpose does several things: it raises expectations, develops a sense of pride in pupils and allows others, including parents, carers and the local community to celebrate their achievements.

    The chapter on teaching French in primary is thorough and contains details of what the school covers across each year and how they ensure that all children are included and experience success. The school offers Latin for a small number of pupils who are considered competent in French, while the rest of the class continue with French so that they reach the -˜expected level of attainment'. I found this confusing - is there an expected level of French in year 6? And it also seems a pity that not all pupils were offered a taster of Latin, because the books available now are accessible to most pupils. This is not to detract from the school's work in developing languages, which clearly they take seriously.

    However, I think it highlights one of the issues about entitlement in the national curriculum and is likely to be a focus in forthcoming inspections: who decides what is taught and are some pupils denied opportunities which are given to others?

    However, a book cannot state that it sets out to reclaim the curriculum if it leaves some subjects out - there were no examples of geography, of computing, of religious education and scant mention of science. There has been plenty of discussion in recent months about the likely focus of future inspections. Leaders are likely to be asked about the quality, breadth and depth of the curriculum they offer; how it is implemented and what its impact is. Ensuring that all the national curriculum subjects were discussed would have been a boon to schools.

    Click here to read the review on Schools Week.
  7. Reclaiming the Curriculum shares the stories of schools who have defied the temptation to teach for inspection and instead pursued the values of creativity, content depth and connection with the real world. The 18 inspirational case studies show us what schooling can be like when teachers have the courage to follow a passion for knowledge and deep learning, and not only occasionally but as the guiding force in the life of the school. Bill Laar and Jackie Holderness also reveal the qualities and strategies that connect these widely varying stories, giving readers a guide along the road less travelled.   
  8. For too long, the rubric -˜At the heart of the educational process lies Ofsted' has dominated how primary schools approach the curriculum. In this deeply refreshing book, Bill Laar and Jackie Holderness provide a rationale for the adjustment from the narrow literacy- and numeracy-based curriculum towards the development of a confident, broad-ranging one that focuses directly on supporting learning and is stimulating for pupils.

    It also includes a wide variety of exciting and excellent examples of successful schools that have taken an innovative and stimulating approach to curriculum design. The schools featured in these case studies each recognise the centrality of literacy and numeracy, but not to the exclusion of a rich, pupil-centred approach to teaching and learning.
  9. By means of presenting case studies of exemplary practice in a wide range of primary school settings, this book effectively illustrates innovative ways in which the curriculum can be reclaimed. Each chapter demonstrates that through the ingenuity, skills and knowledge of creative teachers, children can enjoy fulfilling and challenging learning experiences that result in exceptional learning and impressive standards of attainment.

    The book follows a clear and logical sequence, as before embarking on the case studies there is a helpful summary of the development of the national curriculum. The sometimes controversial issue of specialist teaching in the primary phase is also convincingly debated and there is a full discussion about the essential nature of a broad and balanced curriculum. Progression through the case studies is facilitated and made more accessible by means of helpful introductory commentaries, which assist the reader in identifying the main focus of the particular innovative practice described and summarise its contribution to each school's reclaimed curriculum. It also enables the reader to dip into specific sections of the book without the need to read it in its entirety.

    While most of the chapters describe in detail examples of the rich and creative curriculums espoused by the schools, some also address the underlying philosophy and values that underpin their innovative practice. A compelling case is made for the use of specialist expertise - from both within and outside the school, particularly to support learning in upper Key Stage 2 - and in all cases the contributions show that teachers have demonstrated real creativity in planning and implementing the programmes of work done by the children.

    In sharing these descriptions of exciting and creative learning, Reclaiming the Curriculum is sure to enthuse all practitioners in primary education.
  10. Reclaiming the Curriculum is a superb read. Its range of case studies offers a veritable cornucopia of enriching, aspirational, life-changing curriculums which the featured primary schools have constructed especially for their inhabitants: the pupils.

    Each chapter invites you in to a new world, a world in which incredible pedagogical opportunities are provided by harnessing the wider learning potential of specific subject areas such as languages, history, drama, gardening and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) - and even chess! Furthermore, they have not been driven by a focus on testing; rather, these curriculums have been crafted to teach beyond the test. Sir Ken Robinson once asked, -˜Do schools kill creativity?' Not these schools!

    The African proverb -˜it takes a whole village to raise a child' rings true throughout each case study, as each approach is not the work of one pedagogical champion in the school but of every staff member, as well as that of stakeholders, parents, the students themselves and of invited experts. The curriculum experiences so lovingly constructed are designed to benefit all learners - creating deeply engaging learning experiences which ensure that learners leave school able to approach life with confidence, both in secondary school and beyond.

    If you want to redesign your curriculum and teach beyond the test, this is the book for you. If you want inspiration to assist in your curriculum redesign, this is the book for you. It will take you down the rabbit hole and help you find the right curriculum for your learners.

    Prepare to be inspired. Your own world-class curriculum awaits!
  11. The thrust of this aptly titled book is the need for primary schools to hold on tight to breadth, balance and creativity by using specialist teaching and expertise to inspire and ensure quality outcomes for children. The diverse range of case studies shows how this can be achieved and celebrates the richness of primary curriculum practice in England.
  12. Creativity, innovation and a commitment to all children are themes that resonate from every page of Reclaiming the Curriculum. The diversity of the projects covered are complemented by the range of contrasting settings in which dynamic teachers and head teachers have led the way in providing primary school children with a stimulating learning experience, which will ultimately help them scaffold the knowledge, understanding and thinking skills required in order to prosper in the society they will inhabit. 

    I commend Reclaiming the Curriculum to all teachers, school leaders and parents for its endorsement of a common truth: that learners of all ages need to be stimulated if they are to learn how to learn.
  13. Reclaiming the Curriculum's carefully curated set of case studies each have their own distinctive voice yet all share the same message that, in today's educational climate, it is still possible to generate and support a curriculum that is vibrant, relevant and has genuine depth. The accounts offer encouragement in the fight for originality and curiosity's place in the national curriculum, and add weight to the question that every parent asks about a school: -˜Would I want my child to be taught there?'

    Creativity, depth and imagination are taking hold in our nurseries and primary schools nationwide - and this book shares just some of the stories that deserve to be heard. 
  14. Reclaiming the Curriculum is like shaking a kaleidoscope to reveal a score of wonderfully vivid and varied case studies that illustrate what's possible in curriculum practice at primary school level. The icing on the cake is the book's perceptive introduction, which equips the reader with a pair of 3D glasses so that there is no danger of blurred vision of what follows.

    Every primary teacher deserves a copy of Reclaiming the Curriculum, and every school should make room for it in their staff library.
  15. I have always held the belief that when you enter truly great schools their unique approach to the curriculum is immediately apparent. These are quite definitely the schools that neither follow the crowd nor government rhetoric, and Reclaiming the Curriculum includes case studies from those who have quite definitely decided to steer their own course and play to their own rules.

    If you are one of those school leaders who feels the need to create a dynamic curriculum for the 21st century, read this book. It will help you to see just what can be achieved when passion and belief combine with a rigorous programme of implementation and evaluation. It might also provide the energy you need in order to bring about genuine transformational change. 

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