Foundation Subjects with a Twist – the IPC

Firstly, as is always the case, these are my own opinions and experiences based on a teacher in a classroom. I am not senior management so those aspects of the implementation and organisation are beyond my knowledge.

In September my school started in International Primary Curriculum (IPC), something that we’d been preparing to do for a while. This curriculum focuses of cross-curricular teaching through topics covering the National Curriculum skills and learning objectives over a two year rolling cycle. As we are just a junior school we are only focusing on the milepost 2 and 3 units.

The structure on the curriculum begins with an ‘entry point’ this is a hook to get the children interested and excited about the new topic. Suitable tasks and suggestions are made for each unit but it may be that you have your own ideas as well. So far entry points for us have ranged from a trading game, to interviews, to discussions about an object. Following this you have a ‘knowledge harvest’ which is based on the idea of ‘what do we already know?’ however it can sometimes be in less clear ways e.g. for a unit about how artists see the world the knowledge harvest was to draw an artist and their tools. This allowed us to see if they saw an artist as anything more than a painter.

The curriculum then progresses through a series of ‘tasks’, or lessons, moving through the subjects in groups. It is important here to note there is a specific focus on ‘international’ and ‘society’ so these subjects also have their slot. There is not an equal amount of time per subject per unit but there are tools to ensure over the two years the necessary amount of time is spent in each area.

The IPC states that each week there is 8 hours of curriculum content to be covered which can be tricky when juggling other curriculum areas. We currently spend 3 afternoons a week teaching the IPC with the other 2 spent with PPA cover (Games and PSHE/RE) and another afternoon used as necessary decided amongst the year groups. Actual teaching time in our afternoon is roughly 1.5 hours so we are trying to squeeze the curriculum into 6 hours instead of 8.

The tasks follow a pretty consistent structure usually opening with a research task and progressing to a recording activity. This in itself proved to be a new teaching approach for us and something we had to anticipate as we simply did not have the resources to allow for several classes to be researching on the internet and as the topics had not been taught before we did not have the appropriate books to facilitate this. There have been times when we have had to find alternatives; printing articles, displaying images to the whole class on the whiteboard, instead of direct research but this at least offers a breadth of experience and access.

Another thing that we have found whilst using this curriculum is that it has been designed primarily with international schools in mind. It frequently talks about ‘host’ countries and ‘home’ countries and a comparison between the two. There seems to be an assumption of smaller class sizes, or an higher adult:child ratio. As well as this some of the activities require specialist equipment and resources which we simply do not have the funds to provide. This being said with a little ingenuity, compromises can be made and the curriculum does allow for flexibility.

One of the biggest criticisms staff have in school is resourcing the IPC. There are units such as ‘What Price is Progress? Invention and Development’ where the children learnt about different inventions, this however, was such a wide scope that the teachers had to spend a lot of time finding out the information, and appropriate inventions, to share with the children. Another example is in ‘Going Global’ where the children have to research our country’s imports and exports. There is a suggested website to do this but it is not child friendly, which was the same with many other websites and books. Therefore teachers had to spend time finding the information and creating child-friendly ways for the children to access it. This of course will be lessened if the same units continued to be used over several years as the resources will already have been found/created.

Overall I have the found this new curriculum to be an exciting change for our foundation subjects. Prior to this our school still relied heavily on the QCA schemes of work or teacher’s trying to be innovative on their own merit. This new curriculum has brought us a modern and varied approach to our foundation subjects as well as ensuring they are assessed and monitored thoroughly. The IPC comes with a simple and easy method of assessment for both teachers and children’s self-assessment and with all foundation subjects being taught together it makes subject monitoring much simpler.

That being said there are worried from a lot of subject coordinators about the loss of discreet teaching for their subject. When ensuring the school are meeting the National Curriculum targets it is apparent that a lot of the Science objectives are not being met and we are therefore having to plan to teach them in Science ‘days’ to ensure they’re covered. Looking at History the National Curriculum targets are covered, but there are no longer topics such as ‘Egyptians’ covered in detail. To give an example, in our current ‘Making New Materials’ unit our History lessons are about the history of materials such as a Celtic bronze tool or weapon, a Greek ‘Olympic’ urn or a Chinese vase from the Ming Dynasty.

As ICT coordinator I am particularly concerned about my subject area and have requested that we consider teaching it discreetly for next year. ICT in the IPC (try saying that 3 times quickly!) is an integral part with frequent links to YouTube and other websites, and suggestions of activities from presentation making, to using Google Maps or animations. This in itself is great, we all know the importance of ICT being used across the curriculum, however, my concern is that the learning is never specifically ICT. With no time given to learn how to create these things I question how effectively they can be used to support the learning of other foundation subjects. As well as this the use of ICT within the IPC curriculum is a suggestion, with alternatives offered if ICT is unavailable, this could therefore mean that the children miss out on vital skills and do not fulfill the learning objectives as specified in the National Curriculum.

So far, due to a rearrangement in teaching schedules, I have only taught 1 and a bit units of the IPC. What I noticed from the units I have taught so far is that they have enabled me to teach a much more varied curriculum without being a subject specialist. For example, I am no art specialist, I teach it to the best of my ability, and will research as many resources as I can. If someone had told me that I would have to teach impressionism, Japanese print art, cubism and abstract art in a unit of work I would have panicked. The IPC explained it clearly, gave examples of famous or inspirational work in these genres and provided background information to help with any tricky questions the children had. At the end of the unit the children had such a range of artistic experiences which never would have been covered in previous years.

I think that this curriculum has been widely beneficial to my school. Next year the implementation will be easier, even if we change the units, as we become used to the format. The idea of an entry point to hook the children in and get them excited about learning, is exactly what I like and creating a class book to document our work is a fantastic record for the children and myself. Although the content of subject learning may seem obscure (such as the history of plastic) change will always seem this way until it is settled. My concerns about ICT as a subject are genuine but SMT have said they will review whether we need to make any adjustments for next year later on in this year. I look forward to exploring other units in the IPC.

You can see examples of my children’s IPC work on our class blog:

If you do have a look please leave them a comment, they’ll love to know you’ve been looking!

5 Comments [Add Yours]

  • Martin Burrett

    January 19, 2013 5:55 pm Reply

    This is fantasically useful insight for any school which is thinking about going down the International Primary Curriculum path. Thanks for sharing.
  • Matt Buxton

    January 19, 2013 6:18 pm Reply

    I found this extremely useful. I am a third year Primary Ed student currently on placement in a school teaching the IPC. I have been thinking similar things (albeit at a simpler level) during my short exposure to the IPC and think that it can provide effective cross-curricular learning. As I'm also an ICT specialist I have concerns about the lack of discrete computing content and share the fears of many in the industry that our computing heritage will be lost if discrete computing disappears from schools. Thank you for writing this as I feel it is a clear explanation of the IPC which can help inform others.
    • Sway Grantham

      January 19, 2013 7:16 pm Reply

      It is good that you have had a chance to explore this curriculum on placement and that you're thinking about the impact of it on learning outside of your individual lessons. Do you think you would want to get a job in a school teaching IPC in the future? I hope all goes well if you're thinking of being an ICT coordinator when you get there, I only began this year but it is a rocky time with no clear direction and an awareness that the children need to know more than we are currently prepared for!
  • Jackie Tarry

    January 19, 2013 6:18 pm Reply

    We are in our third year of teaching Ipc and so are into our second cycle. As an ICT coodinator I can tell you that your hunch about ICT is true, I would advise you to start mapping the skills you are covering now! Of course with new PoS coming out soon the landscape will change again, so you might want to hold off planning too much at the moment. We are now playing catch up big style with ICT, so hopefully this comment will help save you the nightmare I have had. You may find that some of the content is similar or repeated depending on your Units so you can save a bit of teaching time there. Do get in touch if you want planning or resources - we are happg to share and remember that first cycle only too well!
    • Sway Grantham

      January 19, 2013 7:12 pm Reply

      Thank you for your comment, I am definitely interested in what you have done with regards to ICT to ensure it is taught sufficiently. I'll drop you an email.

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