The Trivium and the Baccalaureate: The flesh and the bones of a great education.

Screen shot 2015-01-25 at 19.17.39
The macro and micro elements of a great education.

At Highbury Grove, we’re actively developing our thinking about the curriculum, pedagogy and learning ethos we want to create, shaping the educational experience of our students in line with our overarching values and vision.  There are three interrelated strands to the thinking:

1. The National Baccalaureate @Highbury Grove.  

In line with the national developments, we’re looking to introduce an inclusive framework for our curriculum that gives value to the full range of each student’s educational achievements and their personal development.  When students begin KS4, looking ahead to their Sixth Form experience, they will be on a path to completing their Baccalaureate at the highest level possible.  Students entering the Sixth Form will select elements of their Personal Development Programme at the same time as choosing their A level and BTEC subjects.  They will map out the possibilities for completing the PDP requirements in terms of community service and physical, creative and cultural activities. We’ll make sure they have plenty of opportunities including an Outward Bound residential in the first half-term of Y12 and a range of leadership positions and community service options. They will begin planning their Extended Project and make sure that their Transcript is kept updated with all of their achievements and activities.

The National Bacc will help to give shape to the nebulous ideas of character building and skill development. Our goal is to offer a Baccaluareate that ensures that all students who complete it, will have developed skills and character in abundance…each in unique permutations.  Their Transcript will capture this and, alongside the grades awarded for their academic and vocational qualifications, will represent a full description of all they’ve achieved during their time at school.  Importantly, all students will be included.  Every student regardless of their level of attainment or aspirations will be aiming to complete the Baccalaureate at the appropriate level.  At one end, students will be seeking to pack in as much as they can – it has no limit; no ceiling.  For others, they will have a goal to work towards until they’ve finished… it might take them a bit longer to get there, which is fine.

2.  The content of the enacted curriculum: Trivium 21st C in action

The language of the Trivium, as described in Martin Robinson’s book, is very powerful in helping to describe the micro detail of what students learn and how they learn it.  Using the Trivium framework as a reference,  we’re looking at what we currently do to see where we could develop further.  Here is a flavour of some of the questions we are asking:

Grammar: Are there areas of content we need to coordinate more effectively between subjects: eg approaches to numeracy,  chronology?  Are we teaching in ways that enable students to store and retrieve knowledge more efficiently? Do we do enough direct teaching of key content areas to secure knowledge deeply before embarking on activities where that knowledge is applied – is the grammar front-loaded appropriately? Do we do enough low stakes formative testing to develop memory and recall? Do we do enough to support students with low cultural capital to fill in the gaps in their general knowledge deliberately and explicitly?

Dialectic:  Taking the Logos strand of Dialectic, we’re asking which authentic experiences we think students should be given in each curriculum area and across the curriculum?  For example – seeing a play, walking down a river, cutting open a heart, writing a computer programme to perform a real task; taking part in a debate in front of an audience, making a piece of art?

In terms of the Dialectic itself, do we give students enough opportunities to debate and question the knowledge we present them with? Do we place enough emphasis on ideas about evidence and on students forming opinions based on reason?  This piece by Martin about the dissoi logoi is a great example: are we doing enough of this?  “A dialectical classroom is….not one of crude, violent, opposition, it is one where a great deal of empathy for differing views can grow.”

Rhetoric:  Where in our curriculum do we give students opportunities to express themselves in a formal structured manner? Do we expect students to learn content sufficiently deeply to give extended presentations without notes? Could we run exhibitions of learning in Maths, History and Science – a symposium of some kind – to provide vehicles for developing students rhetorical capabilities?  Could public speaking and debate become a defining feature our students’ experience of school, giving them repeated opportunities to grow as confident, articulate speakers?

3.  The curriculum model:

The Bacc and the Trivium-fuelled curriculum need to be delivered in practice through an appropriate structure.  The Curriculum Model describes the subjects we teach and the amount of time each is given within the timetable.  This is the enabling element of our thinking.  Since October we’ve been exploring various options and we’re in the process of consulting with staff and parents; we’ll be implementing a brand new model from September 2015 including a new pattern to the day.  Some of the considerations have included:

  • Maintaining time for core subjects: English, Maths, Science, PE (nothing less than 2hours for PE per week is good enough).
  • Giving more time to Languages; focusing on one language in depth rather than a shallower approach to two – essentially making MFL a core subject.
  • Putting Music at the heart of the curriculum; capitalising on our instrumental tuition programme with two hours of music per week for all at KS3.
  • Making sure History and Geography are taught as distinct disciplines and that all students learn Computing properly at KS3.
  • Teaching PSHE properly:  Sex Education, Careers and a range of other strands need time in the model, taught by people who have the appropriate level of expertise.
  • Delivering on a ‘Bacc for All’ philosophy where all students are expected to take courses in Languages, Arts and Humanities – regardless of prior attainment right up to GCSE.
  • Giving some scope for KS3 students to choose options – in Arts, 2nd language and other less traditional areas.
  • Embedding opportunities for students to engage in a wide range of Enrichment activities as an integral element of their school week.
  • Ensuring that the setting structures are appropriate for the students in our intake, giving ample scope for top-end challenge and not cutting off curriculum options from students who enter the school at lower starting points.

When we’ve arrived a final model I’ll share it…

Linked to all of this is an attempt to balance time for lessons and time for trips and visits.  Everyone wants trips for their subject area; everyone finds it difficult when students miss their lessons to do other things.  Getting the balance right is difficult so we need to take a big picture perspective to get it sorted.

As we’ve engaged in all three areas of discussion, I’ve found that they’ve become increasingly mutually reinforcing;  the decisions are all underpinned by the same philosophy.  Hopefully, it will all come together.   At some level, much of this comes down to pragmatism: one fairly arbitrary way to slice up the subjects on a timetable and a useful list of what students have done at school.  However, if we get it right, it will add up to something much more profound.

Update: Our curriculum model is described in detail here.


  1. First, I would like to say how much I enjoy reading your blog posts. Highbury Grove doesn’t seem to teach Design and Technology ( as in Resistant Materials, Product Design and Graphics) – I would be really interested in understanding the reasoning behind that? I teach up in Scotland and I know that, until recently, D&T was compulsory in England. Has it been a recent decision to stop teaching it?


    • Hi Deb. We do teach RM, Graphics, Textiles and Catering – but the building was designed with fairly minimal DT provision. Students gain exposure to these areas of the curriculum but it is relatively small compared to music and languages – that’s the way things have evolved. We’ve got a cool catering classroom which is like a professional kitchen, not a food tech room; however it’s all we’ve got and we can only get 16 students in at a time. Same with textiles and RM.


  2. Tom, I am currently off work following an operation and am filling in my time, since I cannot walk, watching films I have had on tape for years, reading good books, doing the odd new lesson and reading your blogs. Can I just say a massive thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences. I am finding them incredibly thought-provoking and inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How does the proposed approach differ to the standard approach? Which subjects are being given more prominence, and which less (I can see the one MFL from 2)? Are you attempting to cram more into the week, or will you extend the week to allow the various enrichment programmes?

    Is there too much to cram in?


    • The enrichment stuff goes at the end of the day; the curriculum model won’t look very radical – with so much to cram in there isn’t that much freedom. If anything we’re making sure that more kids get a traditional liberal arts curriculum with humanities, arts and languages throughout. Probably the most different thing is the music: two hours a week for all at KS3. We’re consulting until end of Feb. I’ll share it then.


  4. Really interesting work and I particularly enjoyed the reference to Trivium in action. Can I ask what consultation took place?


  5. I enjoy reading about what’s going on at HGS – I taught there between 2000 & 2004 when it was a very different place. Where do you stand on drama? Is there room for it with the increased music provision? Does the partnership with the Almeida still exist?


  6. Thanks for this post, really interesting. What was the process of consultation you followed before introducing the proposed model? Thanks in advance.


  7. […] One of my main goals in my first year at Highbury Grove has been to review the curriculum and make the changes necessary for September 2015.  I’m really pleased with the process and the outcome; parents, governors, staff and students have all influenced the thinking through various consultation processes.  I described some of this in earlier post: The Trivium and the Baccalaureate: The flesh and the bones of a great education. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s