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National Curriculum

Success through personal, learning and thinking skills

Four key stage 3 pupils work together with art materials


To develop independent enquirers, effective participants, team workers, reflective learners and raise attainment at key stage 3


Developing pupils’ personal, learning and thinking skills through a PLTS-based curriculum


Improved pupil motivation, attendance and attainment

A PLTS-focused curriculum at Top Valley School and Engineering College in Nottingham is engaging learners and helping them to become more independent and effective learners.

Pupils enjoy the freedom to experiment, feel empowered by taking responsibility for their own learning and have grown in self-confidence.

Back in 2006 the curriculum at Top Valley School and Engineering College was not all that the school wanted it to be. Attainment at key stage 3 was lower than expected and consultation with learners, staff and the wider school community revealed that many pupils had low self-esteem and lacked independence and motivation in relation to their learning. Staff realised that change was needed.

They consulted staff and pupils, asking both to describe the skills, attributes and dispositions of successful learners. As a result of this consultation and inspired by the emphasis on personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS) in the new secondary curriculum, the school decided to develop a PLTS-based curriculum.

Disciplined innovation

The school began by developing a framework of skills, attitudes and dispositions based around the PLTS, which drew on related areas such as the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) programme. They used a ‘red, amber, green’ rating exercise to identify what they already did well and what they wanted to improve.

With the widespread support of pupils and staff, it introduced a cross-disciplinary PLTS-based curriculum for years 7 and 8.

At the same time it introduced a rigorous programme of curriculum review, assessment and improvement: pupils, staff and parents are regularly consulted about the impact of the new curriculum and their comments are acted on.

Some lessons are devoted to developing PLTS and aim to equip pupils with a toolkit of personal, learning and thinking skills. The school recognised the need to consider the style of teaching and the environments they were working in. For much of the time they opted to work in large groups in the school hall. This allowed teachers to team teach and learners to work together in a more flexible environment. In these new groups pupils embark on a new learning ‘mission’ every two to three weeks. These are designed to foster aspects of the PLTS such as teamwork, independent enquiry and creative thinking, with pupils encouraged to collaborate, be resourceful and try new ideas.

Incorporating opportunities for reflection and evaluation into all aspects of work has proved invaluable: pupils reflect on their progress in terms of PLTS throughout and at the end of each mission and keep track of their achievements using progress ladders. The school is now developing an online profiling tool that pupils will be able to use to capture evidence of their progress and to support curriculum planning, providing a more dynamic and pupil-friendly tool for reflective learning.

Positive progress

The positive impact of the PLTS-based teaching has been clear. Pupils enjoy the freedom to experiment, feel empowered by taking responsibility for their own learning and have grown in self-confidence. Staff have seen a clear improvement in behaviour, attendance and attitudes to learning: as one pupil said, ‘It is not just fun; you learn as well’.

The school’s analysis of year 7 national optional test results suggests that the cohort made greater progress than in previous years. A recent Ofsted inspection on curriculum innovation underlined the positive impact of the PLTS curriculum and the framework for assessment, stating that pupils ‘make good progress’ and ‘are able to articulate very clearly the ways in which these lessons are helping them to become better learners and to work more effectively in teams’.

Teachers are excited about the success of the new curriculum and are optimistic that initiatives such as a current whole-school focus on independent enquiry will continue to motivate pupils and provide a springboard for success in future learning and life.

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