As designed by Chris Quigley, the Essentials Curriculum is a comprehensive guide for primary education that extends beyond the National Curriculum's mandates. It is structured to ensure that pupils are not only introduced to a broad spectrum of studies but also achieve long-term retention of the knowledge they acquire. This approach is rooted in the understanding that learning equates to long-term memory changes.
One of the critical facets of the Essentials Curriculum is its emphasis on the repetition of knowledge throughout the educational milestones. This repetition is deliberate, aiming to surpass the National Curriculum requirements to fortify students' understanding and mastery. It is designed to help schools plan for and assess progress.
The curriculum leverages retrieval practice as a principle to enhance knowledge retention. Retrieval practice is a learning strategy that involves recalling facts or concepts from memory to strengthen the learning process. Frequently revisiting previously learned material makes students more likely to retain information in their long-term memory, thus enabling better academic achievement and understanding.
Students benefit from repeated exposure by creating a curriculum that revisits science topics yearly, reinforcing their learning and understanding. This method contrasts with a curriculum that might cover topics once and move on, potentially leaving less room for reinforcement and consolidation of knowledge.
Below is a practical guide to repeating science topics in every year group:
1. Group topics
By grouping topics under broad headings, students revisit each every academic year.
This example shows that all of the National Curriculum substantive topics may be grouped under ten headings, allowing the development of the disciplinary knowledge of 'Working Scientifically".
2. Fitting it all in
The typical school year has 39 weeks. However, with events such as religious festivals, visits and sports days, the available curriculum time will likely be around 35 productive weeks. If we assume that a school spends 2 hours a week teaching science (although there is no requirement), then on average, each of the ten topics will have a notional time of 7 hours. Of course, not all topics require as long, and some require more.
The Essentials Curriculum sets out progress over three developmental Milestones:
By these Milestones, schools plan to repeat critical knowledge over two years, resulting in sustained mastery by the end of the Milestone. Because each topic is set out over the three Milestones, it is possible to cover every topic in each year group, surpassing National Curriculum expectations.
4. Depth of knowledge
In addition to repeating the critical knowledge outlined in the Milestones, teachers can also deepen students' understanding. Our companion resource, Greater Depth in Science, sets out three stages of development for each statement in the Milestones: Basic, Advancing and Deep. These three stages of development reflect the cognitive processes of Remembering, Knowing and Reasoning. You can read more about this terminology here.
Below is an example of the tasks students would cover at each stage of development within a Milestone:
This is an example from Milestone 2. Over the two-year progression window, Year 3 students would concentrate on remembering the basic knowledge and deepen it with the advancing and deep tasks when they return to the topic in Year 4.
5. Mixed-age classes
This system works well for mixed-age classes. Each year group can work on the Basic or the Advancing and deep tasks as appropriate. Below are several scenarios demonstrating this approach.
In summary, the repetition of science topics as outlined in the Essentials Curriculum offers several benefits:
1. It ensures a deep and more durable understanding of scientific concepts.
2. It aligns with cognitive science principles that stress the importance of memory retrieval for learning.
3. It offers a structured approach to revisiting and consolidating skills and knowledge.
4. It promotes confidence and mastery in students, as repeated exposure to material fosters a sense of competence and understanding.