“To open a school is to proclaim what it means to be human.”Tom James
Much of the work we do at XP is exponentially influenced by the work of EL schools in the US. Without the comprehensive, substantial and detailed body of work they have produced through their ‘Core Practices’ and other public resources we would never have made the progress we have in our schools. Much of EL’s work influences our practices and protocols. We are not only proud of this but eternally grateful.
In addition, the influence of High Tech High, in San Diego, can also be seen in our design principles that underpin our work and through our relentless pursuit to create beautiful products that connect to and positively change the world.
We are truly grateful to both organisations for helping us to begin to construct a methodology that we have implemented in the UK that is having a transformational effect on our children’s lives.
Values and Ethos driving the curriculum
XP is a school by design.
As such, we have crafted and use clearly defined design principles that underpin everything we do and we express these simply through the following sentence:
‘At XP we build our community through activism, leadership and equity sharing our stories as we go.’XP Trust Design Principles
To fully realise these principles, at XP, we deliver our curriculum predominantly through cross disciplinary learning expeditions. These are standards based projects that are specifically designed to make connections between, and across, subjects to encourage deep and purposeful learning experiences for our young people. These ‘expeditions’ are tightly structured through careful mapping of standards, skills and content and designed by teachers to ensure that all students:
- produce beautiful work and through this are agents for positively improving themselves, their community and the wider world;
- grow their characters in readiness for the challenges they will encounter in the world;
- and make better than expected academic progress to allow them to access next steps in their learning
In summary, we call this our three dimensional curriculum. Our students strive to produce beautiful work, grow their character and, as a result, they achieve academic success. It is important to note that each dimension is reliant on and symbiotic with the others.
Teachers at XP Trust, as clearly stated in the principles outlined above, are designers of the curriculum. Staff work collaboratively to create a curriculum overview that is highly engaging, purposeful and authentic. We don’t underestimate our kids so we ensure that learning is academically challenging and rigorous, too. At the heart of our curriculum is creativity – students craft beautiful products such as books, films, information boards, and campaigns so that our young people acquire knowledge that is then applied to bring about social change. In short, the power and compelling nature of our curriculum is in its alignment to the concept of powerful knowledge.
It is worth highlighting that we carefully craft the sequencing of our curriculum to align with our Standards and Progress Maps so that students are well prepared for public examinations and are able to achieve academic success. However, to view our curriculum in such a limited way is to serve an injustice. We fervently believe that knowledge is increased in its power, and deepened in its resonance, through its connectivity and contextualisation and this is evident in the cross-curricular learning expeditions that staff design, to facilitate the beautiful work that students create and their subsequent growth of character.
Clearly, our intent is much more ambitious than a narrow pursuit of public examination success. Therefore, our ambition, and emerging reality, is that:
- students develop as agents for positive social change;
- students are independent, inquisitive, curious and creative;
- students lead their own learning;
- students are empowered so they can question perceived truths and challenge injustice;
- students achieve well so that increased opportunities are open to them and;
- students become the best version of themselves
More than anything our curriculum is inextricably linked to, and is a key driver of, our culture. Therefore, when we are designing and constructing our curriculum the following factors need to be deeply considered.
The purpose of our Trust is founded on engaging our students with powerful knowledge that affects positive social change. Indeed, the power of our curriculum is that it shows students their place in the world and compels them to question this, and thereby unleashes their ability to bring about positive change. Learning at XP is experience rich and we are committed to utilising the community around us to develop passion in our students. The basis of their work is that through the curriculum, their learning and expeditions they produce something that has purpose and contributes to making our school, community, town, country and world a better place. This is evident across our Trust in the many learning expeditions that have been co-designed and co-constructed by our staff to realise this end.
Our curriculum enables students to discern the difference between the narrow definition of social mobility, and the pursuit of individual gain, by promoting the pursuit of the common good and the need for social equity in our world. We encourage and create the climate for our students to be compassionate citizens: we do this not through merely developing their cultural capital so they individually improve but through expanding opportunity so that they can impact positively on others both in the school and in the wider community. As such, we nurture and develop an understanding of how kindness, empathy and concern for others must define us, as both individuals and also as part of society, if we are to create a more just and compassionate world. We track, and are extremely mindful of, equity of opportunity so that all students regardless of background are provided with opportunities that they might otherwise be denied because of social barriers. Indeed, we made a pledge when we first opened our school that fieldwork, including visits to museums, art galleries, theatres and universities which features in every expedition, as well as engaging with experts, is funded by the school. We actively construct our curriculum to address any deficit in knowledge and experience that might exist because of disadvantages in our community.
In summary, our curriculum empowers our students to question, challenge and empathise. There is a clear and resolute link between academic subjects, learning expeditions and the pursuit of character growth. As stated, we believe and we are convinced that the purpose of learning is not just to pass exams but to facilitate a positive contribution to the world and positively encourage student voice in this active discourse. As a consequence, the purpose of our learning is to make students discern and question, to be able to see through dishonesty and to strive to live their lives based on integrity, respect and with empathy for others.
To represent our lives through the crafting of beautiful work defines our common humanity and resonates across boundaries. By focussing on creativity this lifts us beyond the ephemeral and the transient and provides us with a sense of value, meaning and worth. As such our curriculum has at its heart an imperative that students create beautiful and carefully crafted work. This creates a legacy of honourable work that transforms not only their lives but the lives of others. This is the area that we still need to focus our attention on most. Whilst students habitually present and represent their learning to a number of diverse and authentic audiences we need to do more to consciously plan for students to utilise their learning to have much more of a positive and active impact on the world. We have concrete examples of the above but making, designing, expressing and creating still need to be customarily embedded in our culture and we are determined to make this happen with increased frequency and significance.
As previously stated, and realised through our three dimensional approach, our relentless focus is to ensure that our students grow their character, create beautiful work and achieve academic success. Therefore, we develop our curriculum so that learning is relevant, purposeful and authentic. This manifests into a number of key strands that we use as a focus for realising our design principles through our curriculum.
Our three rich curriculum strands at XP are:
- Climate Emergency (Stewardship of our world) – this is an existential threat so this is an imperative part of our curriculum. If we want our students to change the world, they need to save it first and they need the skills to lead this action. Our students make the knowledge they acquire around this seam powerful by actively making a difference to our world.
- Social Justice (Stewardship of our community) – the world is filled with inequity and this is sustained by systems, structures and governance that protects the interests of the few and neglects the many. We uncover, confront and challenge inequities of race, gender, identity and class through our work and use the knowledge we acquire to affect social and cultural change. We want our students to be leaders of this change.
- Diversity and Belonging (Stewardship of ourselves and each other) – at XP we understand the power of crew and we know our community is stronger because of our differences. This is, therefore, a key strand that runs through many of our expeditions and case studies allowing our students to deepen their empathy and understanding of the value of difference and non-conformity. We strive for equality at XP by promoting equity so this is reflected in our curriculum design.
This thread of facing up to, and actively tackling, injustice runs through our curriculum design process and is connected to the concept of community. Our students explore what happens when there is injustice in the world and the debilitating impact of this.
Our students are challenged to see the world as it is and question whether this is how we want it to be and what we need to do to bring about positive social change and social equity.