Our approachOur Approach to Student Learning
An all-together NICER learning experience
As a trust we believe that learning should be irresistible; that all our pupils have the right to access a continual stream of learning experiences that are real, immersive and purposeful. In order to enable this, all our schools ensure that their curriculum is based on the principles of NICER, our unique and bespoke challenge-based learning framework.
Our curriculum approach is very clear. We believe that the curriculum must be challenge-based with a clear focus on the skills and knowledge that every pupil needs to learn over a period of time. In other words, it needs to be based on real-world problems, must capture children’s interests and choices, requires them to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills, and above all, result in a problem being solved. Creating something new and sharing the new learning as part of a public product is essential and at the heart of NICER. This could be in the form of a dance, short play, a digital app, a pop-up museum, short movie or whatever the children want it to be. To enable them to do this we created a number of challenge packs (or topics) that form part of a child’s learning journey throughout school.
Each challenge pack is designed to stretch the children’s thinking. There is a perception that challenges can sometimes be too hard. They become too difficult to bother with because they require grit, determination and perseverance. Yet these are precisely the kind of skills we want all our children to develop if we are to prepare them well for the future. Such knowledge and character skills, alongside the ability to think critically and learn collaboratively with high levels of resilience, are all key features of the NICER framework.
When we created the NICER curriculum in 2012 at Victoria Park Academy, it was new and innovative. Over the past few years we have continued to review and refine it based on research to ensure the curriculum continues to meet the needs of all our pupils so that it provides a steady stream of memorable and exciting experiences for the pupils. We want each academy to retain it’s own autonomy and to meet the needs of its local community. Each school is therefore free to modify and adapt their curriculum so long as the key principles of NICER remain consistent with the trust-wide approach, particularly in regard to the ‘regional’. Any school that joins the trust is expected to buy-in to this fundamental belief that learning must be challenge-based, knowledge-rich, real, immersive and purposeful.
Lias Worgan is Head of Curriculum at Victoria Academies Trust. You can follow her blog on Curriculum Innovation by clicking the link below.
Nicky Clements is Head of EYFS at Victoria Academies Trust. You can follow her blog on Early Years teaching by clicking the link below.
There are five main strands to the NICER framework:
Based on what is going on here-and-now in the young people’s lives, either at home, in school, the local community or on the news. It ensures the voice of the learner is heard through purposeful activities based on their interests and prior knowledge and understanding.
Ensuring that young people are taught to become confident, independent learners who are able to work collaboratively with others. By adopting a learning power approach, pupils are competent at tackling the learning challenges, using a range of critical thinking tools and digital technology.
In order for pupils to create new things, the curriculum ensures that the learning experiences encourage pupils to ask questions, face difficult challenges and solve real-world problems. Knowledge is essential to creating and so our skills ladders ensure continuity and progression.
Making sure that the learning challenges allow young people to develop the skills of social enterprise when solving real-world problems. Pupils are given ample opportunity to think like social entrepreneurs when developing their public product and to work collaboratively as a team.
Designing learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom that are based on the local community so that it is real and relevant to the learner. This means that each academy curriculum is unique with clear links with local businesses, partnerships and community groups.
How we learn
As a family of schools, we believe that teaching and learning should be evidence-based and research-driven. Our staff are committed to making marginal gains in their teaching and believe that continuous improvement is at the heart of all that we do. This allows us to work towards our mission to become the best we can be.
As a trust, our core belief is that learning should be REAL, IMMERSIVE and PURPOSEFUL. We call this Let RIP! learning and it underpins all that we do.
Real. Immersive. Purposeful.
If we had to describe our curriculum approach in three words, it would be Real, Immersive and Purposeful.
REAL: bringing student-initiated learning to life through memorable experiences and irresistible challenges that make a real difference to the world in which our pupils live. Young people’s curiosities are piqued so that they are hooked from the start and yearn to learn.
IMMERSIVE: Igniting pupils’ passions so that they become immersed in their learning and want to dive deep and linger longer. Pupils experience the joy of being stuck and have to work long and hard on things they find a challenge so that they learn in depth and in a state of flow.
PURPOSEFUL: Ensuring that real experiences are based on pupil’s interests so that they can make links to the world. Deep-rooted learning must always be knowledge-rich and challenge-based so that young people become resilient, creative and independent learners.
The key features of great pedagogy
Each academy is different. There is no one single teaching and learning policy across the trust. Teachers need to be able to adapt their own well-crafted and unique teaching style to suit the needs of their learners. To enable teachers to have the freedom to teach effectively, each school has agreed a set of key principles of effective teaching that are expected to be evident in lessons. A number of these may be non-negotiable, but each academy is free to choose how to define and apply these taking into account their unique context.
Regardless, we believe the following evidence-informed and research-based key principles contribute to great teaching and learning. They are based on ‘Making every lesson count’ by Allison and Tharby:
The six pillars of pedagogy are:
So that teachers and learners have exceptionally high expectations of what all young people can achieve.
So that pupils acquire and learn new knowledge and skills.
So that pupils are shown how to apply their new knowledge and skills.
So that pupils are given ample opportunity to practise their new learning.
So that through scaffolding, pupils are made to think hard about their learning in a variety of challenging contexts.
So that through scaffolding, pupils are given opportunities to think about, deepen and improve further their knowledge and skills.
Each individual academy has incorporated the six pillars into their own teaching and learning policy. By continually evaluating the impact of teaching, and applying what we know from evidence-based research, we can ensure that the CSPD offer in each school and across the trust empowers staff and pupils to become the best they can be.
In order for learning to be authentic and for children to be equipped with the key skills for the real world, social enterprise is at the heart of the NICER curriculum. Based around the 3 Ps of People, Planet, Profit, every one of our curriculum challenge packs is designed to develop pupils’ enterprise skills.
We encourage all our academies to set up a school and community-based social enterprise. Some academies have taken it a stage further, none more so than Victoria Park Academy, who since 2012 have been running their own real-life spice business. Registered as a community interest company, Ballot Street is a social enterprise run by the pupils and local community. Its name comes from the street the school is located in and stands as a proud symbol celebrating the rich and diverse multicultural community.
The award-winning social enterprise weaves throughout the NICER challenge packs, meaning that all children contribute to its day-to-day running, be it product design, marketing, sales or promotion.
You can read more about Ballot Street in an article in The Independent:
Acclaimed author and educational consultant, Mary Myatt, has written about what we do in several of her books, High Challenge, Low Threat (2016) and The Curriculum (2018). Here is what she said in 2018:
“Victoria Park Academy has been particularly skilful in drawing on the rich resources of parents and extended families. Many come from Bangladesh and their stories and culinary wisdom has been used to inform the extended curriculum. Ballot Street Spice is the result – a combination of imaginative curriculum planning which embeds food technology, geography and enterprise and an authentic use of the local community as a resource. The result is an award-winning social enterprise which deepens elements of the curriculum and generates income for the school. Its strapline is, ‘Blending spices to create opportunity.”
Find out more about Ballot Street
Read about Ballot Street Spice, the award-winning social enterprise is based at Victoria Park Academy.