A Primary English Curriculum is a Literary Curriculum

“A Primary English Curriculum is a Literary Curriculum”
Our Portchester Journey
Situated on the South Coast in Portchester, a few miles out of the historic naval city of Portsmouth, is Red Barn Primary School. Try as we might, for many years our data set had an all-too predictable look about it each July: reading and maths steaming along nicely in front of a flailing writing. Over the years, we have attempted to navigate the looming icebergs of grammatical demands such as parenthesis and subjunctive form, tried to halt sliding spelling scores and ultimately attempted to convert the number of Close To writers to making the much-sought after ARE. Each year we re-aligned the compass of the School Improvement Plan to relentlessly focus on raising writing standards with the whole crew working tirelessly to deliver the goods…only for the seemingly inevitable to repeat itself.
This was until a couple of years ago – which was when our Literacy Captain changed the compass of our English curriculum to place high-quality literature at the core. The result has been that our writing has developed to the point where it is now keeping pace with reading and maths. The confidence that it has provided all writers has seen an increase in children attaining ARE – who may have previously been stranded at Close To.
The approach is based on using high-quality ‘Literary’ texts at the heart of our English Curriculum. With our Year 2 class tackling Harold Monro’s ‘Overheard on a Saltmarsh’ classic poem to the Year 5 class studying John Gillespie Magee’s ‘High Flight’ poem and Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ being explored in year 6, we now have an agreed vision for challenging texts to be the norm in our classrooms and as a result we are witnessing confident, resilient learners at all attainment levels that are simply not afraid to access ‘difficult’ texts. Instead, children are equipped with the skills and intrinsic motivation to approach literary classics through evaluative questioning. The outcome is that the children are, most importantly, enjoying the texts which leads to them being motivated to adapt the studied form and structure and apply it into their own writing.
Our Year 5’s studied ‘High Flight’ alongside Wilfred Owen’s ‘The Unreturning’ and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’ to create taster drafts and inform planning stages for their own poetry based on the ‘Freedom of Flight’. Children who have struggled historically for ideas to write thrived as they have been immersed in high quality literature throughout the unit – reading it aloud, dialogic talk around each poem and evaluating which enables taster drafts and confident generating of ideas at the planning and drafting stage.
For it to work, we knew the whole staff would have to value the approach. This was supported by whole staff INSET with Bob Cox, a Hampshire based award-winning author who shares his passion for searching for excellence.
Bob’s ‘Opening Doors’ series are now commonplace in our classrooms, providing invaluable support to staff by improving subject knowledge, giving us empowerment and confidence to ‘dig deep’, inventing new questions and presenting new learning in new ways to continually inspire and motivate our pupils and create a real buzz in our classrooms.
We recognise that children need to be flooded with high quality linked texts to be able to begin their own successful writing journeys. We have learnt that one model is never enough to equip and inspire children’s creativity with their own writing.
Our Year 5’s studied ‘High Flight’ alongside Wilfred Owen’s ‘The Unreturning’ and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’ to create taster drafts and inform planning stages for their own poetry based on the ‘Freedom of Flight’. Children who have struggled historically for ideas to write thrived as they have been immersed in high quality literature throughout the unit – reading it aloud, dialogic talk around each poem and evaluating which enables taster drafts and confident generating of ideas at the planning and drafting stage.
Crucially, we feel our differentiation is implemented in a positive way – with all children accessing the same high quality text but questions and prompts offered support the lower attainers.
Through a high quality literary approach, Red Barn Primary School is now equipped with the skills, knowledge and resources to place writing firmly on the mainsail of our curriculum as we sail into whatever waters lie ahead on our voyage.
An extract from a Year 5 writer, inspired by High Flight:
Magical Wings
Gazing at the magnificent mountains,
My wings flap over the parade of trees.
Staring at the shimmering, blue fountains,
Standing like soldiers in the cold air breeze.
The breath-taking mountains have no motion,
The wispy mist fills the untold valleys.
My life is apart like the clear ocean.
Now it is time for my grand finale.
By Saya
Saya, a Year 5 child, said “I thought Magee’s poem was inspirational and created a peaceful mood. I love studying poetry and I am really proud of my writing.”

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