‘Exploding Checkpoints’ – co-planning a KS3 curriculum

Discover how the maths department at one Cornwall school went back to the drawing board to develop a new KS3 curriculum


‘Exploding Checkpoints’ – co-planning a KS3 curriculum

A clear vision

At Hayle Academy in Cornwall, head of maths Andrea Blair has a clear vision for how maths is taught: ‘go deep, and focus on understanding’. The 11-16 secondary school, with around 500 on roll, aims to provide students with ‘a rewarding and enjoyable experience of maths’, and head of faculty (HoF) Andrea is the driving force behind this.

When Andrea took over as head of faculty earlier this year, she faced a challenge. Whilst the faculty was successful in many respects, she realised that the curriculum in maths needed to change if students were to become confident mathematicians who really understood the maths they were learning. Andrea set about using a range of materials in faculty meeting time to develop a curriculum that both met the needs of Hayle’s students, and the teachers in her faculty.

When she first became HoF, Andrea inherited a faculty which increasingly reflected those across the country. Although Andrea is a subject specialist, not everyone in the faculty was; colleagues included a music teacher and a PE teacher. The importance of supporting everyone in the faculty underpinned Andrea’s vision for their meeting time, and senior leaders at the school agreed. After she spoke to her line manager about the importance of co-planning, changes were made to the whole-school meeting calendar to allow more curriculum time. Weekly meetings were secured so Andrea could work with the faculty to develop the curriculum together, through true collaboration.

Meetings for pedagogy discussions only

The decision was taken to start with the Year 7 curriculum and work from there. Establishing effective practices and foundations for the youngest students would help build their mathematical skills and confidence as they progressed through school. As HoF, Andrea knew that it was her responsibility to guide the faculty through the changes that would need to be made to the curriculum, and to plan meetings where resources could be explored in detail. ‘There was a lot of preparation I needed to do’ she explained, ‘but I wanted to make sure we could have meetings where we only talked about pedagogy.’

Faculty co-planning time began with looking at the scheme of work being used, and asking ‘What does it look like here?’, encouraging teachers to move away from simply following existing lesson plans and sequences. Teachers expressed some relief at being able to move away from the existing commercial scheme, but needed a structure to explore new ideas. Andrea introduced them to the DfE KS3 maths guidance, and the faculty used it alongside the NCETM KS3 mastery professional development (PD) materials to begin to develop a bespoke scheme of learning.

The faculty started by looking at the units to be covered in Year 7, and allocating teaching time to each unit. This was done with the caveat that it was not to be followed unquestioningly. ‘Teaching needs to be responsive’, Andrea explains, ‘and go from lesson to lesson. It’s not a case of simply turning up and teaching what a plan says.’ Together, the faculty developed an S-plan for Year 7, and used this as a baseline. Topics were mapped onto the plan, and interleaved to allow for the development of deep understanding. Flexibility was crucial for Andrea and her team: ‘We moved perimeter and area into algebra, because we knew we had to for reasons of time’.

‘Exploding Checkpoints’

Once a teaching sequence was established, Andrea directed the faculty to use the PD materials to identify key ideas within each topic. Checkpoints – diagnostic activities designed to explore students’ understanding from KS2 – were also introduced. Andrea said she wanted ‘something juicy’ for the faculty to explore, and Checkpoints were just right. During meetings, teachers did the tasks themselves, then discussed how they tackled them; this was important for colleagues to develop their own confidence. ‘Checkpoints can be unpredictable’, Andrea said, ‘and teachers might not know how to respond to students’ ideas if they haven’t already tried the tasks themselves and discussed them. We exploded the Checkpoints to consider everything that we, and therefore students, might say about them.’

Hearing other teachers in the faculty – both specialists and non-specialists – saying ‘I’ve never thought of it like that’ enabled everyone to learn from each other. A shared approach to teaching a topic could then be developed, designed to address student misconceptions and embed deep understanding. ‘Professional trust is also important’, said Andrea. Although the content for the year was mapped by topics, then divided up again with teachers each being responsible for devising a sequence of lessons, everyone was expected to consider how they would adapt ‘template lessons’ for the needs of their class, rather than take lessons off the shelf. ‘Bell tasks’ – starter activities with four different questions, bespoke for each class, which are handed to students as they enter the classroom – are used. They involve retrieval practice, but also have a hook to take students into the content for that lesson.

What’s next?

Once the Year 7 curriculum is ready, the faculty will move on to Year 8. Using the same approach, Andrea believes the team can learn both the subject knowledge and pedagogy necessary to teach for deep understanding. ‘I always tell them to go as slow as you need to go’, she says. 

Andrea envisages that most teachers will take the same groups again next year to take advantage of the careful attention that each teacher has paid to the learning of their groups so far. Another subject specialist will also be joining the team, and the faculty have signed up to become an NRICH Problem-solving School. Conversations about teaching maths continue to happen informally outside meeting times, and Andrea plans to foster this culture of ongoing professional learning. 

‘We have made a good start with Year 7’, Andrea says, ‘but we certainly aren’t done yet…’

Explore Checkpoints

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