Focus English: Keeping Literature at the Heart of the Primary Curriculum

Focus English: Keeping Literature at the Heart of the Primary Curriculum

Developing a creative and engaging English curriculum

For the last few years, much of my work with schools has been developing a creative, engaging, but rigorous English curriculum. Schools have been questioning how they teach English and want to make effective changes.

Schools are asking questions about their teaching of English, such as:

• What literature can we or should we use?

• How can we make good use of guided reading? Should all the children use the same text?

• Is whole class reading effective?

• How can we make our children enthusiastic readers and writers?

• How can we make purposeful links with the foundation curriculum to give reasons for reading and writing?

• The objectives are so big and they are pitched at the end of year expectations. How can we ensure progression?

• Our children don’t use and apply English skills consistently. What can we do?

• What does effective drafting, evaluating, editing and proof reading look like?

These are some of the most common concerns raised and discussed repeatedly. It became clear that it would be helpful to provide some kind of model to support schools in the teaching of English.

I have never been an advocate of schemes. I believe that every school should develop their own bespoke curriculum which reflects and meets the needs of its context. A curriculum should always be under review, evaluated for what works well and what could be improved and updated according to the school’s context.

What is Focus English?

Focus English offers a model of a literature-based, learning-led English curriculum with a complete and flexible programme for each year group. It is based on using a high-quality core text that drives the curriculum by making purposeful and interesting links with history, geography, and science learning, with poetry built into each unit. There are direct links to the Learning Challenge Curriculum.

Each unit is broadly 6 weeks with flexibility built in to extend, adapt or introduce alternative activities based on rigorous ongoing assessment. Outcomes and objectives are clearly identified, and activities are planned to ensure that they are based on the year group learning. Attention has been paid to looking at the progression within each objective, breaking them down into steps towards achieving the end-of-year learning.

While there is a clear week-by-week sequence within each unit, skills, knowledge and understanding are built throughout the unit and provide the building blocks for the identified outcomes.

Sharp focus on reading

There is a sharp focus on reading, and the units offer questions and activities that may be used in whole class or group reading lessons. The beginning of each unit concentrates on understanding, responding to and deepening understanding of the text. This focus continues with ongoing reading activities matched to the identified reading objectives. Word detective work should be an emphasis throughout.

Additional texts to motivate pupils

Additional texts have also been suggested, which may be used as class reads or to motivate and excite children about reading. This is not a definitive list but serves as a starting point to ensure that children experience a range of reading during the year. It will be updated at intervals during the year and aim to highlight newly published books and forgotten old favourites. It will include books that are real “page-turners” to foster that life-long love of reading.

Other areas covered within the Focus English curriculum

Suggested incidental writing opportunities are identified throughout, including working with vocabulary and sentences and responding to the text so that children have many opportunities to practise and consolidate writing skills.

Grammar work is clearly identified, with all grammar being taught purposefully and in context to be used in the identified outcomes. Grammar taught early in the year may not always be identified in subsequent units, but activities from units may be used in context in subsequent units to revisit and consolidate learning as necessary. Grammar games should be used in addition to the units to revisit and consolidate learning as appropriate.

Along with the focus on grammar to ensure effective and accurate writing, the high-quality texts provide models and scaffolds so children can make independent choices about how they write and the effect they wish to create.

Focus English time-scales

In general, a week has been allotted to writing extended texts. This allows time for the children to write, evaluate, redraft, and proofread. Suggested prompts are provided for this, but they should be adapted as appropriate.

Focus English aims to answer the questions raised by schools by providing a practical model of a curriculum from outcomes to resourced activities firmly grounded in the required year group learning. Its flexibility allows teachers to respond to children’s learning and to secure and deepen understanding.


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