Posted on 25th May 2023

English Mastery in action: how we created our new rhetoric unit

5:08 PM, 25th May 2023
English Mastery in action: how we created our new rhetoric unit

English Mastery in action: how we created our new rhetoric unit 

The background: how English Mastery works as part of Ark Curriculum Plus  

A brilliant curriculum is only as good as its implementation.  

When I joined Ark Curriculum Plus, I worked as a Development Lead, supporting schools across the country to implement and adapt the English Mastery curriculum for their context.  This included working with many schools in multi-academy trusts, who were working with English Mastery across their schools.  

I saw that implementation across a MAT needs to balance the delicate tension between meeting the unique needs of a school’s context and community, whilst also supporting a whole trust’s journey to improve English curriculum and pedagogy by unlocking the benefits of shared expertise, a common curriculum taxonomy, and aggregating resources and assessment data.  Comparing student work across multiple Year 9 classes from different schools, or from primary to secondary as opposed to just one class or one department, is highly valuable, for example.  

English Mastery works with 144 schools across the country, and we work with all contexts: startup free schools, schools which are part of, or joining, a MAT, and standalone academies and community schools. This means the programme – the resources, guidance, training, assessment materials, school support… - must be robust and flexible enough to support a diverse set of needs across our partner schools.  

It's a challenging prospect when approaching curriculum design.

This is an outline of how we go about creating a new curriculum unit, including some of the strategies we use to consult, prototype, and roll out a unit.

Our feedback mechanisms

Feedback is a gift, and we are blessed with countless ways of gathering insights from English classrooms across the country. Here are just some of the ways we collate information from our partner schools: 

  • Ark Schools’ brilliant Network Lead for English is regularly in schools, bringing insights daily;  
  • our School Development Leads are in schools every day, and also run CPD sessions with Mastery Leads, which are great sources of feedback on how units are working in different schools;  
  • a member of our Design team leads English Mastery in her school four days a week, and brings all of that implementation texture to the day a week she works with English Mastery; 
  • our Subject Panel of experienced Ark teachers sense-check proposals and give us support and challenge – a good opportunity for some ‘radical candour’;  
  • our EDI expert panel audits, challenges, and develops our curriculum;  
  • our Teacher Panel updates resources based on live performance data; and
  • we use Ark Schools’ Network Days (the Ark INSET day) as an opportunity to engage with research and soft-launch new units. 

Collating insights from feedback 

One of the most interesting and hardest things I do as Head of English Mastery Secondary is distil and synthesise all these data from all these fora. Two things emerged as immediate priorities for us to address to increase the breadth and coverage of the curriculum: a more explicit curriculum space for speaking and listening and specifically for rhetoric.  

These insights coincided with the publication of the Ofsted English Research Review, which also helped us to identify spoken language as an area for us to develop in the curriculum, particularly with a view to explicit guidance on successful exploratory and presentational talk in the classroom:

                                                              Rhetoric Website Quote

Perspiration and innovation 

Now we knew that we wanted to develop a unit that focused on oracy and rhetoric, we re-visited all our feedback groups to stimulate discussion and generate ideas.  

Working with Ark Schools and the English Mastery community means that we are privileged to work with an embarrassing number of bright, talented, provocative colleagues, and we had some great ideas about what the approach should – and shouldn’t – entail.  

We decided on three challenges, commonly seen in classrooms but rarely leading to high quality outcomes, to tackle head on with an ‘avoid list’:

  • avoid limited ‘DAFOREST’ checklists of techniques;
  • avoid feature-spotting from an extensive list of rhetorical terms; and
  • avoid superficial ‘feature checklist’ planning in favour of depth of thought and structure.

To achieve this, we knew we wanted to: 

  • encourage student focus on deep, thoughtful construction of arguments with purpose and audience in mind;
  • explore high-quality real-world examples to model the power of composition AND performance;
  • focus on the Aristotelian triad of ethos, logos, and pathos to structure the unit; and
  • use a five-step rhetoric planning structure: invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.

And so continued a dynamic cycle of developing the unit, presenting ideas, documents, resources, and models to our subject groups and getting their comments (constructive or otherwise) and undertaking that utterly joyful act of creating something from nothing. 

The process is messy – just how we like it – but a rough sequence of production was underway, started by an intense day with a team of teacher experts on Network (INSET) day co-planning to:

  • create unit intent, mapping out the key knowledge in the unit and an assessment task and success criteria;
  • map key knowledge across series of lessons, reviewing what is foundational and what can be layered later in learning;  
  • build lesson skeletons with key knowledge, exposition and application tasks and exit tickets;
  • develop resources such as slides, booklets and teacher guidance and co-planning prep;
  • gather feedback on prototype lessons, and find out what’s working and what isn’t; and
  • make further adaptations before trialling the unit as a whole and gathering more feedback.

The unit has now been shared with our Ark and other partner schools to trial. We eagerly await their feedback, knowing that the feedback cycle will take us back to the drawing board again. Curriculum is only as good as its implementation, but it is also a continual work in progress…