At the heart of our curriculum lie three core values: the pursuit of academic excellence; the explicit development of metacognition; and crucially, character education.
Academic Excellence is fundamental within our curriculum model. The children’s acquisition of a deep body of knowledge within subject disciplines will enable them to express their learning to the highest standard. When children achieve excellence, this gives them the confidence to challenge themselves further. Through this process of experiencing success, they will develop character, for example grit, determination, self-efficacy, and courage.
Whilst academic success remains a core priority, developing character is also an essential element of our curriculum model. Our curriculum gives children opportunities to make a positive impact on society. We want them to grasp the possibilities and opportunities of life beyond the classroom, to enable them to thrive at each and every challenge they face in life and make a difference to themselves and those around them.
Our curriculum not only focuses on achieving character whilst pursuing academic excellence but also emphasises deep learning through developing the skills of metacognition. We use an enquiry approach to drive our learning experiences, making the reflective learning process explicit. In addition to this, tools for thinking will be taught to support children’s higher-order thinking, synthesis of knowledge, and creating of new thinking. However, metacognition can only be developed within a knowledge-rich curriculum.
Our extensive grounds and Forest School allow us to use different environments to teach in imaginative ways. We also make regular trips into Totnes and the surrounding area as well as undertaking day trips and residential trips. We are very lucky to be a short walk from the east bank of the beautiful River Dart and Totnes town centre which offer fantastic learning opportunities for our children.
As a Church of England school, St John's is linked with the local parish church, St John's the Evangelist, in Bridgetown. The whole school visits the church three times a year for a harvest festival service, Christmas and Easter, with an additional welcome service for Reception and a leavers' service for Year 6 in the summer. In addition to visiting the church, the school's Christian links are consolidated with weekly bible stories during assembly and daily prayer at lunchtime. Our vicar, Fr Jim Barlow, regularly attends the school. Although we are a church school we are completely inclusive and welcome children and families of all religions and denominations.
Totnes St John’s is a one form entry school which caters for 210 pupils from Reception to Year 6. Our children are taught in year groups as follows:
Reception 4-5 year olds
Key Stage One
Year 1 5-6 year olds
Year 2 6-7 year olds
Key Stage Two
Year 3 7-8 year olds
Year 4 8-9 year olds
Year 5 9-10 year olds
Year 6 10-11 year olds
Maths at St John's
Mathematics is essential to everyday life, critical to science, technology and engineering, and necessary for financial literacy and most forms of employment. A high-quality mathematics education therefore provides a foundation for understanding the world, the ability to reason mathematically, an appreciation of the beauty and power of mathematics, and a sense of enjoyment and curiosity about the subject. Our Maths Strategy sets out Totnes St John's aims.
Reading at St John's
We believe that reading is central to our pupils’ understanding of the school curriculum and is of vital importance in life. We have three main aims for reading at TSJ.
We work to ensure that:
1. all pupils learn to read by the time they leave our school
2. pupils learn from their reading because we put reading at the heart of all learning
3. our school environment and culture develop pupils’ love of reading.
From the moment they join us, we aim to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils need to be readers. We have a coherent, systematic, whole-school programme, underpinned by evidence of what works; we have drawn on research in reading and on guidance from the Department for Education (DfE). We want to ensure that, through their reading, our pupils become successful learners and knowledgeable participants, as well as confident individuals – three of the key outcomes of our ACE curriculum. They cannot gain new knowledge independently if they cannot read; cannot retrieve, from written text, knowledge they have learnt and recorded, if they cannot read. We also want pupils to gain a love for and appreciation of reading which will stay with them for life. Fluent readers can enjoy a range of genres and writers and have access to the full range of life’s experiences. This is especially important for our disadvantaged pupils: being unable to read disadvantages them further. No pupil should leave our school being unable to read.
Phonics and Early Reading
Daily phonics teaching in Reception and Year 1 underpins early reading; it continues into Year 2 for all children that need it.
The Government strongly supports the use of systematic synthetic phonics for teaching early reading and spelling. Synthetic phonics teaches children to convert a letter or small group of letters into sounds that they can then blend together (synthesise) into a word to read it.
We use the Read Write Inc (RWI) synthetic phonics programme to get children off to a flying start.
Read Write Inc Structure
When using RWI to read the children will:
Learn 44 sounds and the corresponding letter/letter groups, using simple prompts
Learn to read words using sound-blending (‘Fred talk’)
Read lively stories, featuring words that contain the sounds they have learnt
Show that they comprehend the stories by answering 'Find It' and 'Prove It' questions
We assess the children regularly. They are grouped across the school according to their phonics knowledge and learn with a RWI-trained teacher or teaching assistant. In this way we can ensure every child has the fundamental early reading skills.
When using RWI to write the children will:
Learn to write the letter/letter group which represents each of the 44 sounds
Learn to write words by identifying and saying each sound in the word, in order (‘Fred fingers’), and writing down the letter or letter group that matches each sound they hear
Learn to spell ‘tricky words’ (that is, words in which some of the sounds and letters are unusual).
When using RWI the children will also work collaboratively:
To answer questions
To take turns talking and listening to each other
To give positive praise to each other
Please help your child learn to read words by sounding out and blending (‘Fred talk’). For example, c-a-t = cat, sh-o-p = shop. Also help your child to say the pure sounds (/m/ not 'muh', /s/ not 'suh' etc.) as quickly as they can, and then to blend the sounds together to say the whole word.
Reading Books Sent Home
Children in Reception who are learning letter-sounds and are not yet blending fluently enough to read will bring home sound sheets to practise their sounds, picture books and a library book for you to read and talk about with them.
Once children can blend fluently, they will bring home RWI Ditty sheets or a red Ditty book, or other well-matched books. We want the children to have plenty of practice in reading words that contain letter/letter groups they already know. This helps them to feel successful as a reader from early on. It also helps them to learn that, if they don’t know a word, they can use phonics to work it out.
Using Read Write Inc Books at Home
Please encourage your child to read through the speed sounds page first, then the ‘green words’ and ‘red words’ page. Then check your child understands the meaning of the words on the vocabulary check page before they start reading the book.
Your child will already have read the book at least three times in school. This means they should be able to read it with fluency and expression by the time they bring it home to practise with you. They should also understand what the book is about. At the back of the book are ‘Find it/prove it’ questions for you to ask your child.
Reading for pleasure
Why do we want children to read? What are the benefits of reading for pleasure?
Children who say they enjoy reading for pleasure are more likely to score well on reading assessments compared to children who said they enjoyed reading less.
There is some evidence to show that reading for pleasure is a more important determinant of children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.
It can have a positive impact on children’s emotional well-being and social behaviour.
It can have a positive impact on text comprehension and grammar.
What works in improving independent reading?
An important factor in developing reading for pleasure is providing choice: choice and interest are highly related.
Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading; children are more likely to continue to be readers in homes where books and reading are valued.
Reading for pleasure is strongly influenced by relationships between teachers and children, and children and families.
We use the Accelerated Reader programme across Key Stage 2 to develop children's reading skills and support their home learning.
Accelerated Reader (AR) is a software tool used by an increasing number of schools to foster reading growth. It encourages children to read widely and independently while allowing staff to monitor their progress and support them where necessary.
The programme works out children’s reading level (or STAR reading level) at the start (by means of a STAR test, done in English lessons). Children then read books within this level. All the books in the library that are registered with AR have a coloured star label on the spine to help children to recognise books within their ‘zone’. They take a quiz on the AR website after reading each book to assess how well they understood it. Their STAR level is tested every other term to see how they have progressed.
As well as being about promoting reading and academic achievement, AR also contributes to the enjoyment of reading and a real culture of reading at Totnes St John’s.
Oral Literacy and Writing
Alongside reading, oral literacy and writing are central to our pupils' high-quality education in English which is embedded across the curriculum. From the outset, pupils are taught to speak and write fluently so that they are able to communicate their ideas, emotions and passions to others. We also want pupils to develop listening, reasoning, and justification skills so that they are able to hold deep and meaningful conversations that have depth and are culturally, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually aware. All the skills of language are essential to participating fully as a member of society; therefore, we aim for all pupils to leave our school fully equipped for their next steps.
Our writing curriculum focuses on two key areas:
Transcription (spelling and handwriting)
Composition (articulating ideas and structuring them in speech and writing)
Our teaching ensures that pupils are taught and develop proficiency in both areas simultaneously. Our teaching is influenced by Jane Considine's 'The Write Stuff' framework which systematically teaches the components of writing in a progressive and coherent format enabling the pupils to flourish as authors. Writing depends on transcription; therefore, the teaching of spelling and handwriting is paramount to ensure pupils are fluent and legible writers. During composition teaching, pupils are given opportunities to form, articulate and communicate ideas through experiences both in and out of the classroom. Vocabulary teaching and learning is prioritised throughout the school with a specific focus on developing understanding and use of a rich and deep vocabulary. High quality texts and models are selected with care to ensure that pupils are exposed to, learn and begin to use new vocabulary (outside of their daily norm) developing their internal schema so that it can be recalled and applied in a range of contexts. Pupils are aware of the purpose of their writing and the intended audience thanks to high-quality models and reflections throughout the writing process. Pupils become authors who can plan, revise and evaluate their writing.