Our Curriculum Intent

The Nottingham Free School curriculum sits at the heart of our school ambition: to engage all of our students in an enriching education that broadens their horizons and deepens their understanding of the world and the true value to be found in human experience.

Our curriculum is enacted in a vibrant, diverse school community that champions hard work and kindness. These core values equip our students with the depth of character required to tackle problems and pursue happy, successful and fulfilled lives.

Our students are intellectually transformed by our ambitious core curriculum which:
  • Comprises a broad and balanced range of subjects, each containing the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated, well-rounded citizens
  • Is delivered through well-sequenced, ambitious and inspiring learning cycles by subject experts
  • Captures some of the best that has been thought and said in each subject, engendering an appreciation of human creativity and achievement
  • Develops students’ reading, vocabulary and oracy.
Our students are personally and socially transformed by our ambitious enriched curriculum which:
  • Promotes the spiritual, moral and cultural development of our students, especially those who are disadvantaged.
  • Reflects and celebrates the wonderfully diverse nature of our community.
  • Prepares our students for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life, including social challenges such as staying safe online, being resilient, maintaining their mental health and developing a strong sense of self-identity.
Our core and enriched curriculums combine to offer students ‘mirrors, windows and doors’:

Mirrors - teachers carefully select content that allows students to see themselves, their identities, heritage, interests and experiences reflected in their learning.

Windows – teachers select content that allows students to see into other worlds of experience and possibility, broadening their horizons.

Doors - students are taught how they can safely step through doors of opportunity to explore those new horizons.

Teachers use the national curriculum as a starting point for planning in key stage 3, but then consider our community, the needs of our students, and the journey of transformation we want to offer. This results in a curriculum which is at least as ambitious as the national curriculum. We ensure that e-bacc subjects get sufficient curriculum time through key stage 3 to ensure equity of opportunity for all of our students, paving the way for them to secure the full suite of e-bacc qualifications should they choose to do so. These are complemented by a wide range of foundation subjects, including those that allow students to express themselves in creative and practical ways.

Lessons in English, geography, history, religious studies and Spanish share a focus on communication, developing self-expression and independent thought, as well as reading and writing extended texts with fluency. These subjects enrich the students with contextual knowledge, and help them to generate opinions on moral issues whilst considering opinions and ideas from many different perspectives.

Lessons in maths, science, computer science, design and technology and business studies offer opportunities for students to develop their problem solving and reasoning skills. Students are encouraged to ask the ‘Why?’ questions, investigating, analysing and following threads of logical thinking to deepen their understanding of the world around them and beyond. Students develop the fluency of their skills, such as mathematical operations, and are then given opportunities to apply those skills in a wide range of contexts.

Lessons in art, drama, music, food technology and physical education open up a whole range of exciting practical learning experiences to our students. Students explore and develop their creativity, dexterity and visual, aural and spatial skills, as well as building resilience. These subjects also present unique opportunities for students to develop their capacity for collaborative working, whether it be in a team sport or sharing work-space in a food technology classroom. Teachers carefully select content that enriches students’ cultural capital, for both lessons and extra-curricular activities.

All of these subjects are complimented by our personal development curriculum, which not only weaves through other subjects, but is also taught as a stand alone subject throughout key stages 3, 4 and 5. Our personal development curriculum includes personal, social, health and citizenship education (PSHCE) and religious studies lessons. Our programme is designed to help our students grow up into well-rounded, hard-working and kind young people. Students explore a range of religious and non-religious ideas which will enable them to expand and develop their understanding and opinions of important topics and issues within a safe environment. They learn the importance of the respectful debate of sensitive of issues and also develop their ability to keep themselves safe and well. Topics covered include inter-personal skills, careers, health, the law, prejudice and discrimination, wealth and poverty, substance abuse, body image, sex and healthy relationships, and personal and online safety. This allows teachers to introduce and explore topics and issues in an age-appropriate manner, gradually deepening students’ understanding of their societal responsibilities and how to nurture and protect their own well-being.

These transformational curriculum experiences lead to exciting destinations at the ends of both key stage 4 and key stage 5. Students are asked to formulate ambitious goals, and encouraged to recognise their achievements in all forms. At NFS we promote the virtues of a positive journey to a meaningful destination, and that grades represent one facet of that journey. Ultimately, it is about the choices and chances open to students at the end of their journey with us, and so we use the phrase ‘goals, not grades’ to emphasise that a grade 3 for one student can be just as significant an achievement as a grade 8 for another student.

Helping students overcome barriers to achievement

One of the founding principles of our school was that we would offer the highest possible quality of education and opportunity to all of our students, regardless of any potential barriers that they may face. A key element of this challenge is to nurture a sense of ‘belonging’ for every student in our school community. At its core, this means being determined to offer a curriculum with the power to transform students, whilst also allowing students themselves to influence that same curriculum. Opportunities for vulnerable students to see themselves within their learning, combined with the impact of staff that role model our core values every day and in every lesson are therefore central to the ways in which we help students overcome barriers to achievement.

We ensure that all our students can access our ambitious curriculum by providing extensive support and scaffolding to aid reading and vocabulary knowledge. Rather than providing simpler texts or less sophisticated vocabulary, we expose all students to high quality written and spoken words, with plenty of opportunities for explicit vocabulary teaching and active reading strategies in lessons, particularly in our activate and apply sections of the learning cycle where paired and group work is carefully planned. Reading age data, as well as in class assessment, inform us which students need this support. Some students also attend small group intervention sessions during directed study, which forms part of our reading recovery programme. In addition, reading for pleasure is given a high profile across the school; each day 15 minutes of KS3 curriculum time is spent reading in our DEAR sessions. This gives staff of all subjects time to support students with lower reading ages by listening to them read. Staff also share the current book they are reading, modelling that everyone is a reader, and the school’s Books of the Month are displayed. These are carefully chosen in terms of reading ages, diversity of authors and a mix of classics and newly published novels. Our reading recovery programme and promotion of reading for pleasure are both supported by a weekly reading lesson for all KS3 classes in English curriculum time. These lessons include a variety of activities such as shared reading of a novel, reading recommendations and independent reading. Teachers plan these lesson under the motto of Reading is Power; we aim to help students to understand that reading can take them anywhere. We also plan for oracy opportunities in all subject areas; this is supported by our SHAPE strategy which develops students’ oral communication skills and confidence. Although this is in its infancy, SHAPE is an essential part of our strategy to produce confident, eloquent young people, who are ready for success in all its forms.

Regular assessment of students’ attendance, attainment and attitudes to learning allow us to direct targeted additional academic support and wider pastoral support to those students in need.

An important method we use to enrich our students’ curriculum experience is through our use of extra-curricular time at the end of the school day. This provides a wealth of opportunities for students to broaden their horizons and types of experiences, for example, in sports, music, drama, classics and mental health sessions, to name just a few.

In order to ensure that our staff are knowledgeable and passionate about teaching their subject, we provide a comprehensive programme of Continuing Professional Development and Learning (CPDL).

Extended school week

From Tuesday to Friday, the NFS school day begins with a flexible ‘Directed Study’ period. This allows us to enhance our personal development provision, support off-site P.E. opportunities for key stage 4 students, provide additional tutor support for vulnerable students, and small group academic support with reading and ‘catch up’ activities.

May 2022


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