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Our Curriculum and Departments

A great school curriculum does not happen by chance. Of all the things in the universe we could explore, we have only 1300 school days, 6500 lessons, and 2000 hours of homework in which to dive deeply into the undiscovered depths of human knowledge and understanding.

This is why we think very carefully about what we teach, in the order that it is taught, and the manner in which it is introduced and memorised.

Naturally, we want your children to enjoy and be challenged by our curriculum and then leave with superb examination results. However, we are equally concerned with how the curriculum shapes the way your child thinks about themselves, other people, and the future.

And so, welcome to one of the most important parts of our website. This is where you will find out what our students learn, but also how that learning takes place at CNS.

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Introduction by Mr Doherty, Headteacher

A great school curriculum does not happen by chance. Of all the things in the universe we could explore, we have only 1300 school days, 6500 lessons, and 2000 hours of homework in which to dive deeply into the undiscovered depths of human knowledge and understanding.

This is why we think very carefully about what we teach, in the order that it is taught, and the manner in which it is introduced and memorised.

Naturally, we want your children to enjoy and be challenged by our curriculum and then leave with superb examination results. However, we are equally concerned with how the curriculum shapes the way your child thinks about themselves, other people, and the future.

The simple intention of our curriculum is to educate children with a truly hopeful outlook. We cannot shelter them from the truth of history, or the challenges of our current or future society – but we try to draw attention to ten thousand years of human achievements, triumphs and resilience.

Our grand narrative boldly asserts that humans are innately good and that we can create a society that brings out the very best in us all – if we try.

As you can see, the personal development of your child matters as much as their academic development. We aspire to be an exceptional school and cannot rest until we can secure equal levels of progress and achievement for all – irrespective of backgrounds or personal circumstances.

The way that we teach and the way that your children learn is carefully considered and planned. We now understand more than ever before about the way we accumulate and recall knowledge, or the way that we grapple with and then master complexity. This understanding directly informs the way in which our curriculum is implemented and has led to the creation of our school-wide teaching and learning principles in every classroom, with every teacher, every day.

We hope this guide will help families navigate their way through the learning journeys we have planned for your children. We hope you will dive into areas of particular interest and share our excitement for what your child will come to know and understand about themselves, other people and the world in just seven years…

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

– Pablo Picasso

Our ambitious curriculum by Mr Trainer, Deputy Headteacher

Why the National Curriculum is considered ambitious?

The National Curriculum aims to ‘embody rigour and high standards and create coherence in what is taught in schools ensuring that all children are taught the essential knowledge in the key subject disciplines’.  We endeavour to follow the National Curriculum in years 7, 8 and 9 because it provides pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to become well-rounded young people who can succeed in life and work, enabling them to have a positive influence on both their own and others’ lives.

Ambitious Assessment

Assessment is no longer something that happens to students at the end of a term or year in the form a test paper.  The key to ambitious assessment is that it can impact students’ learning immediately whilst also equipping teachers with the knowledge required to successfully re-teach misconceptions or knowledge that is yet to be secured.  Our teachers are highly skilled at both assessment in the moment (for example, a recall grid assessing prior knowledge or targeted questioning around a complex concept), and also at designing bespoke end of unit summative assessments that provide opportunities for all students to apply their knowledge to produce an extended piece of writing, analyse a viewpoint, recall a process, perform a skill, or even outwit an opponent.

Breadth and Depth

Our curriculum is for all.  We firmly believe that every student should experience every single subject that we can offer to help them grow as learners and build a wealth of knowledge across multiple disciplines.   Our curriculum remains as broad as necessary for as long as possible. It is clearly sequenced and builds towards a clear end point.   We aim to provide a curriculum that gives pupils experience in the following domains: linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, cultural, physical, aesthetic, and creative, so that it promotes spiritual, moral, social, cultural, mental and physical development.

Year 7 to 13:

All students study character education on a fortnightly basis (including PSHCE and citizenship) with their form tutor. Character Education forms the basis of our personal development curriculum.

Years 7 to 9:

All students follow the National Curriculum throughout their three-year key stage three. All students study art & design, computing, dance, design & technology, drama, English language and literature, French, Geography, German, history, mathematics, music, philosophy & ethics, and physical education.

Years 10 and 11:

All students follow GCSEs in English language, English literature, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. In addition, students choose three additional subjects that include art & design, business studies, computing, dance, design & technology, drama, French, Geography, German, health & social care (BTEC), history, music, philosophy & ethics, physical education.

Years 12 and 13 – Sixth Form:

Our sixth formers choose three A levels to study over a two-year period. Some elect to study a fourth A level, or pursue the extended project qualification (EPQ). A level subjects include art & design, biology, business studies, chemistry, computing, dance, design & technology, drama, English language and literature, English literature, French, Geography, German, history, mathematics, further mathematics, music, philosophy & ethics, psychology, physical education and sociology.

Teaching and Learning at CNS by Mr Gent, Assistant Headteacher

Teachers’ Expertise

We believe that the most efficient way in which knowledge can be shared is by our teachers clearly and succinctly sharing that which they feel so passionate about. Our teachers are not only experts in their fields but experts in pedagogy – they know how to captivate student attention and work hard to channel their curiosity.

Distraction-Free Classrooms

At all times in our lessons, our aim is for students to be absorbed in their work. We achieve this through well-planned and engaging activities. We understand that to achieve ‘healthy struggle’ we first have to ensure access. And so we declutter – we declutter our talk, we declutter our lesson plans, and we declutter our resources. As a result, lessons proceed without interruption and there is no low-level disruption – our lessons are all worth behaving for!

Building Knowledge

The process of decluttering extends to the knowledge that we teach. We curate the content of our courses so that what is essential is taught first. The accumulation of knowledge is rather like building a grand cathedral. In order for the spire to soar, it relies on the key foundational knowledge and concepts being secure.

Memory and Recall

Our teachers’ expertise includes an understanding of the latest and best thinking about how we learn. This is evident in the way that our lessons begin: we quiz students to interleave learning from past lessons, terms and years. Our knowledge organisers explicitly identify the core information that must be memorised and lessons are crafted to visit and revisit this information over time in order to secure long term memorisation and effortless recall.


We know that students learn best when they are shown what it is that they have to do. Sometimes it is easy to forget what it is like to not know something and so we work hard to avoid assumptions. Therefore, we remind each other to “model the kitchen sink.” Your children will hear teachers say “let me show you how to do it”, followed by “let’s do one together”, and then “off you go”. We also know that students have to see the target before they can aim high and so we share the destination in the form of good and great versions – good to secure access and great so that students understand how to excel.

From Learning to Remembering (Practise Makes Perfect)

The process of learning is complex and often requires effort. In comparison, remembering is easy: a student who simply knows what to write, say or do is a student who relies on their memory to achieve a state of flow – of being in the moment and confidently executing a previously complex or daunting task. For this reason, we structure student revision so that tasks are explicit and accountability is high. The processes of revision and practice align in the latter part of lessons. This phase of the learning sequence is nearly always characterised by the quiet of minds absorbed in their work – a quiet that at CNS we call ‘strong silence’.

Scaffolds and Supports

To achieve strong silence we know that we have to support every students’ journey towards independence. We do this through planning scaffolds and supports. At the off-you-go moment, students can consult tick lists, task plans, step-by-step instructions, sentence stems and half-complete models. Over time, these are removed, so that students can free-wheel towards independence and achieve the complex with ease.

Reading for learning and for pleasure

Our commitment to a student’s reading cannot be overstated: every day at school, we dedicate fifty minutes to reading for pleasure. We understand that reading enriches a child’s experience of the world and so we make the time for that to happen. Walk into any classroom during the first ten minutes of a lesson and you will see all students lost in fictional worlds.

Tight Talking Classrooms

All talk in lessons is structured and purposeful. Often students have large amounts of new information to process and so we reduce cognitive load by creating thinking breaks. We ask students to ‘pair’ before they ‘share’ – providing vital time to organise their thinking and rehearse prior to contributing to class discussion. When more extended talk is required, in presentations or in performance, teachers carefully plan how to encourage participation so that all students can confidently contribute and have their voices heard.

Inclusive Classrooms at CNS by Mrs Smart, SENCo

Our Vision for Inclusion

We seek to create a school that is able to meet the rich and varied needs of all its students through a high quality curriculum experience that is founded on sound teaching and learning principles. We measure the success of our endeavours in both the students’ academic achievements, and their sense of belonging and wellbeing.

Achieving Our Vision

All of our practitioners (including teachers and learning support assistants):

  • Consistently implement common teaching and learning principles and goals, so that all learning for all students is inclusive;
  • Show an unwavering commitment to the belief that between us, we can play a transformational role in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people;
  • Provide a socially, emotionally, academically and physically safe environment so that children can thrive.

Breadth & Depth

We believe that every topic is important and that all of our students ought to engage in the entire curriculum. This is why we ask our teachers to adapt their lessons so that students of all abilities can dive into the entire breadth of the curriculum; but each to their own depth.

Each topic in every subject has been carefully selected to fit into a seven-year flow of learning. Each new topic connects to the past and over a period of time a student’s knowledge and their skills advance as they approach mastery of each subject.

However, every topic can be examined to infinite depths. Let’s take a famous book, Maggot Moon by Sally Gardener.  Every student could read that book and enjoy a story about an alternate future where the Nazis have won the Second World War. Themes around truth, friendship and power are accessible to all students. Other students will swim more deeply and explore themes connected to dyslexia, class and race. Others may go even further and uncover an exposé on the nature of evil and ponder the suggestion that he who wins gets to write the history.


Presumed Knowledge

It is easy for a teacher to forget what it is like to be a student who is unfamiliar with all of the vocabulary and concepts that are second nature to an experienced teacher. At CNS, we ask all teachers to think very carefully about the language and words that they use. We are required to ask ourselves questions about the presumed knowledge or skills that are required in order for every child to access a new episode of learning.

Cognitive Overload

We know that one of the main reasons why children switch off, zone out, or begin to fidget, or even disrupt the learning is when their brains feel so full of information they feel overwhelmed. In recent years there have been some breakthroughs that have enabled the complex conclusions from ‘brain science’ to filter down to everyday life and how we might change the way we educate children.

One of the most helpful developments in recent years has been around the idea that we all have a limit to the number of ideas we can hold in our brain at any one time; somewhere between five and nine ‘chunks’. If our brain has to process more than it can handle, we all feel overwhelmed and give up.

Reducing the Problem Space

Great teaching tries to narrow the gap between where a student is at and where they need to be next. If the gap is too small then a student will get bored. If the gap is too big then a student will feel overwhelmed. We help students cross the bridge from old to new learning in many ways:

  1. We introduce new information and ideas very gradually. We then ‘move on’ when we believe the new information is secure.
  2. We remove some information or ‘declutter’ the learning so that we do not fill up a child’s working memory with irrelevant (and distracting) information.
  3. We create scaffolds that provide partial solutions and gradually take those scaffolds away as the learner’s confidence and independence grows.

Interleaving to Secure Long-Term Memory

If we were to pick a favourite book or film, we might only recall the gist of why we loved it so much. If we re-read or re-watch the film or book again, memories resurface and become more easily accessible in the future. Consequently, our future recollection of the book and film will be more precise and complete than before.

In the past we might have ‘blocked’ or ‘chunked’ learning in a subject with Topic 1 in September of Year 7, and then finished with Topic 18 in July of Year 9. This approach does not help a student because they may need to call upon facts, ideas and concepts from topics 1, 2 or 3 in topics 11, 14 or 18.

In recent years, we have applied this knowledge of how memory works with all students in their lessons. Instead of seeing the curriculum as a straight train track that begins at Station No. 1 and ends at Station No. 300, we perceive the curriculum as a series of loops that seeks to keep alive the memory of previous learning by interleaving or returning to old topics and knowledge.

SEN Profiles

If a student is on our SEN register, they will have a ‘SEN Profile’. This is a simple document that provides advice to all of their teachers. When we pick up a new class, we check to see who is on the SEN register and then study their personal profile. That profile will help us adapt our teaching, the resources we design and the learning they experience. SEN profiles are added to all of the time as teachers unlock what works and what does not – seeking to find what each child can do and not what they cannot.

Personal Development at CNS by Ms Skill, Head of Character Education

Our stated goal is to create an environment for our students that nurtures “a compassionate, inclusive and hopeful outlook on humanity and the future”, so that they secure the “freedom to choose their own future and their own destinations”.

We seek a universal culture and ethos that strives for compassionate and courageous hearts, with curious and creative minds. These words become a culture when constantly modelled and encouraged by all staff at all times, and when students are recognised and praised when they display these virtues. Meanwhile, we deliberately draw attention to the virtues of others; we embrace diverse role models in whom our students recognise themselves, or why they can or wish to be.

Our daily tutorial programme devotes equal time to achievement and belonging. Achievement weeks explore the values of compassion, courage, curiosity and creativity, through the development of listening, reading and oracy skills. Belonging weeks recognise, reward and celebrate all types of success.

Our fortnightly Character Education lessons are delivered by tutors. This carefully planned curriculum is compromised of an ever-evolving and age-sensitive personal, social, health & citizenship education (PSHCE) programme that encompasses a range of topics: self-actualisation; mental and physical health; relationships and sex education; digital literacy, British values and citizenship, protective behaviours, careers education, managing personal finances; and learning how to live more independently.

We seek to promote awe and wonder towards one’s self, others and the universe around us – and in doing so emphasise the magic and beauty of human existence.

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