Case Study

Creating connections in the Humanities at Ryders Hayes Primary School.
17 March 2021

Creating connections in the Humanities at Ryders Hayes Primary School.

At Ryders Hayes, the vision is “To nurture and facilitate the growth of our pupils and their learning; equipping them with the skills and attributes to embrace the challenges of a rapidly changing world.” We are aware of how imperative a broad and balanced curriculum is in achieving this vision. Making links and connections, as opposed to disconnected facts, within and across subjects and topics has been a key component, and significant priority for subject leaders, in the crafting of the experiences our children encounter on their learning journey.

The mastery curriculum is designed to build on a schema by developing knowledge and vocabulary through a range of key experiences and deliberate practice.

Our curriculum has three drivers chosen specifically to permeate the curriculum to meet the needs of our children and their local context: explore/create/build (inter-changeable) Possibilities, Resilience, Independence (drivers).

When designing our curriculum, we were in agreement that enquiry should be at the heart of each unit of work, starting with an over-arching enquiry question, followed by weekly subsidiary questions. At the end of an enquiry, children are provided with the opportunity to reflect on their learning by answering the ‘big question’. This could be through a presentation, piece of writing, performance, display or artwork. This makes the learning journey more purposeful and helps to tie the threads of each lesson together into one final piece of work, whilst giving children the opportunity to make links with previous units and knowledge.

Whilst we have maintained subject integrity, we do not want children to be taught units of work in isolation, but want them to make ‘real’ and ‘meaningful’ links within and across subject domains that will enable them to build the necessary knowledge for the 21st Century. A first step was to create Curriculum Teams – similar to faculties in secondary education - to support subject leaders to work collaboratively, whilst being curators of their specific subject. This proved really successful and allowed professional discussions between leaders to take place about the intent, implementation and impact, allowing purposeful links to between subjects and developing cultural capital, as recognised by OfSTED (2020) “Subject leaders have been key in driving a rich and varied curriculum.We were then able to identify common ‘Knowledge Categories’ that children will encounter across each subject – these are like the ‘golden threads’ of our curriculum.

The idea is that whenever teachers introduce new knowledge in lessons, they can build on/explore/create links with previous learning in this area. An example of this is the knowledge category ‘beliefs’ when, in History, children will learn about Ancient Egyptians and their beliefs about life and death. This knowledge category will be built upon when learning about the conversion to Christianity during the Anglo-Saxon period, Gods in Ancient Greece, and Henry VIII’s break with Rome during Tudor Times. Similarly, when learning about different gods in Hinduism as part of RE or the theory of evolution in Science, the children will be able to make links between ‘beliefs’ to build knowledge and make connections in other subjects.

As Sossick (2020) states, “Creative and innovative approaches may be found where different subject coordinators come together to plan topics that have a strong disciplinary input rather than having a cross-curricular mush.” Using knowledge categories is also an excellent way of developing children’s chronological understanding in History. For example, the category ‘Food and Farming’ has enabled children to build knowledge of how food and farming has changed over time from Hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age to rationing in World War II. It helps children to develop a ‘big picture’ of food and farming over time and make links to compare different civilisations around the world at the same or different times, for example farming in Ancient Egypt. This is then linked with healthy eating and digestion in Science; foods from around the world in Geography as well as cooking in Design and Technology. Other knowledge categories include: Location, Settlements, Culture and Pastime, Significant Events, Food and Farming, Number, Self expression, Career-related, Beliefs, Innovation, Language and Oracy, Peace and War.

With each Knowledge Category having its own image, they are visually appealing and have become a real success with the children, who can find them on the specifically designed Knowledge Mats, (electronic versions used as teaching tools by teachers and hard-copies for children as revision aids and low stakes quizzes), and dotted around school on displays and Curriculum Working Walls. This means that teachers can use the Knowledge Categories ‘actively’ when facilitating learning by adding them to the Working Wall (see image) or accessing previously explored Knowledge Mats within the year or prior year groups through the use of technology. Children can then use these in lessons to support their learning and help them to express particular ideas. They can easily see the relationships between the knowledge they are building in different lessons and subjects, and make those links in explanations, ultimately resulting in the knowledge and skills transferring into their long-term memory. Children become fluent in everything in the curriculum, but by repeating the content children gain mastery of it at greater depth over time and deeper understanding.

The Humanities have a high status at Ryders Hayes in which, Lessons are interesting and relevant to pupils’ interests.” (OfSTED 2020).

Reference: Sossick, M. (2020) Primary History 84. Historical Association

Matthew Flynn is History Subject Leader and SLE for History at Ryders Hayes School, Walsall, West Midlands.

He can be contacted on

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