Curriculum Overview

Our curriculum is under constant development but within an overarching strategy which is summarised here: Curriculum Strategy Summary Statement. We have a team of school leaders who coordinate our curriculum:


Highfields College is a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) for children who have been permanently excluded from mainstream school – and more broadly an Alternative Education Provider (AEP). 

Our curriculum is developed with recognition that ‘doing the same as mainstream on a smaller scale’ is not a sufficient response to students with complex Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH), neurodiversity and histories of severe disengagement from school.

Studies show that student engagement is a necessary ingredient to fulfil any educational mission. Findings from a 2016 Gallup Student Poll show that, compared with their actively disengaged peers, engaged students are:

  • 4.5 times more likely to be hopeful for the future
  • 2.5 times more likely to say they get excellent grades at school
  • 2.5 times more likely to strongly agree they do well in school

On the other hand, compared with their engaged peers, actively disengaged students are:

  • 9 times more likely to say they get poor grades at school
  • 2 times more likely to say they missed a lot of school last year
  • 7.2 times more likely to feel discouraged about the future


For students categorised by a history of disengagement and struggle in school – which is what invariably sits behind most permanent exclusions – it is important that a curriculum brings them into becoming ‘co-creators’ in their learning journey rather than it being done ‘to’ them (for example, through ever more stringent sanctions systems to forcibly push them through a curriculum) or ‘for’ them (for example, by one-dimensional ‘hand-holding’ support such as a teaching assistant writing for them). To this end, the curriculum at Highfields College is geared towards bringing each student into a state of advanced engagement.

By advanced engagement, we mean a number of interrelated dynamics or phases:

Phase 1

  • Emotional Engagement: Each student will over time develop bonds with teachers, mentors and peers by experiencing moments of wonder, tangible success and by overcoming challenges together.
  • Behavioural Engagement: Through a  more positive experience of learning and relations with school staff, each student will over time increasingly recognise and respect the rules, norms and routines of the classroom environment – and on a wider level the expectations of organisations, communities and society at large.

Phase 2

  • Preferred Subject Engagement: Students will explore new subjects and come to identify subjects they genuinely care about, feel excited by and are motivated to pursue to increasingly more complex levels.
  • Core Subject Engagement: As a counter-product of the above, students will reduce any restrictive fears or reticence around English, Maths and Science and come to be motivated to succeed in them – even if this does not extend to a genuine love – in terms of recognising these subjects form the basis of their future prospects of success in education and the workplace.

Phase 3

  • Cognitive Engagement: Students will overtime move from a procedural form of engagement and be increasingly willing and able to invest time in thinking through a topic and task, asking their own questions and pursuing their own threads of curiosity.

Further Reading: Attachment & Bonding Based Needs In the Classroom Environment (Imagine Inclusion)


The core curriculum across the school is fundamentally academic with every student spending over 50% of their timetable dedicated to Maths, English and Science. However, we also recognise that students have different learning styles, talents and interests, therefore cater for this through a wide variety of creative, technical and vocational courses. 

At Highfields College we believe that education is so much more than the acquisition of academic knowledge and skills that enables students to achieve qualifications and accreditations. Personal growth and work-readiness is equally important and therefore the PSHCE and careers, digital literacy, enrichment and vocational elements of the curriculum act are given ample weight. In our setting this aspect of the curriculum is of vital importance due to the historically high proportions of Year 11 Leavers who have a preference for work-based post-16 learning rather than studying full-time at college – the curriculum is designed and weighted to address known national issues around school leavers’ reported unpreparedness for the workplace and provide a head-start to each young person.

Further reading:

The structure of each subject – both academic and those more practical in content – retains a dual-purpose with development frameworks detailing the sequence of knowledge, understanding and skills for the particular subject sat alongside a broader structure of aims around developing the character of our young people so that, whilst working towards grades and accreditations, they also work towards becoming trusting, engaged and responsible members of society.

With regards to the wider personal development needs of our students, all curriculum subjects include aspects of the Character 120 within their planning and teaching. Information on this central part of our curriculum can be viewed here:

Within the KS3 Extension, the curriculum is delivered through a ‘primary model of delivery’ which means each student has a single teacher for their school day who will take them through each subject. Subjects taught offer a blend of core subjects, personal development subjects and more creative and practical subjects. The teaching team in this section is made up of a variety of experienced subject specialists who co-plan together to ensure there is a bedrock of high quality planning and resources from which they can then deliver.

Within the KS4 Main Building, we aim to offer a similarly broad and deep curriculum, providing a range of subjects via a more typical secondary school timetable in which students move between experienced specialist teachers. Each subject is linked to external accreditation to equip students with an Achievement Portfolio which will aid them in accessing education and training at post-16 and in finding employment.

Our curriculum plan as a whole can be viewed here:

For specific curriculum information, please click on the following links:

More detailed summaries of schemes of work can be accessed here: Subject Summaries.

Highfields operates a Supportive Social Time approach for morning break and lunch time, based on research from the Nuffield Trust, which proactively seeks to encourage and role-model social interaction and pastimes at these points of the day. Highfields also has SMSC Themes of the Week 23 – 24, which we promote through our weekly assemblies.

In order for all students to be able to access the curriculum (i.e. learn what they are expected to learn at their current developmental stage), reading, writing and numeracy skills are critical and, therefore, tailored teaching is essential. We assess all students at the point of admission via our Young Futures team and profile in depth via our One Doc system their core competencies alongside their attitudes and preferences in learning. Students are then assessed on a minimum of a termly basis and mapped against each of the school’s subject development frameworks. Reports are provided to parents/carers on a termly basis but can be also requested at any point and published within 48 hours.

Highfields College makes reading a priority and our approaches to this area can be viewed in our Reading Strategy Summary Statement.

For students who struggle to access the main provisions, Highfields College runs a variety of offsite satellite classrooms / provisions (known as our ‘AP Group’). These take the place of the school relying on finding work placements or hiring private educational AP providers, allowing the school to have a readily available and quality-assured range of alternative options for the most disengaged students.

With these, priority remains on core subjects – specifically English and Maths – but with a higher focus also placed on providing a curriculum that has a very obvious ‘hook in’ to make the school day appealing and attendance seem worthwhile to the student. At present these include:

  • Stockport Young Futures – a provision provided support to all new admissions to the college alongside other transition-based interventions.
  • TASK – an art-based provision – opening Sept 2024, visit here for the vision statement.
  • Go The Distance – a sports-based provision – opened Jan 2024.
  • Cornerstones – a provision based on learning relevant to the care sector – opened Sept 2023.
  • My Sound – a music-based provision – opening Sept 2024.
  • Outreach & Personalised Learning Service – focused on core education and post-16 preparation for KS4 students – opened Jan 2022.
  • The Bridge – a KS3 core education provision with a significant outdoor pursuits element focused on working towards attendance at Highfields College main site or a return to a mainstream school – opening Sept 2024.
  • Inreach Pathway – a small 1-to-1 teaching centre, with a strong underpinning of restorative practices, to work with students involved in the most frequent / challenge conflict.
  • 3D Learning – an outdoor learning programme providing educational and personal development within forest, farmland and field areas. The activities involve forest school, farm-based work, use of local Scout camp facilities and explorative walks of the Peak District.


A curriculum cannot sit as a separate entity. It is the sum of all the parts of a school.

It is underpinned by the core values and purpose of a school but, at the same time, is fundamental in establishing and maintaining its ethos. The impact of our curriculum is therefore measured first and foremost by comparing ‘current progress’ to ‘starting points’ specifically in terms of:

  • Improved attendance – historically disengaged students are showing an increased motivation to come to school
  • Improved behaviour – historically disengaged students are showing less avoidant and hostile behaviour when in school
  • Improved core skills – students with longstanding, substantial difficulties in literacy and numeracy are showing evidence of catching up
  • Improved subject performance – students are demonstrating greater capability and performance in individual subjects compared to the point of admission
  • Improved attitudes – students speak in more positive terms about their experience of school life and their hopes for the future

‘Mini assessments’ are used frequently in lesson time to support students by checking that prior learning has been consolidated and embedded, before moving on to new learning.  Teachers will use many forms of assessment, including use of chunked questioning and assessment by demonstration. This informs planning, the timing and sequencing of new learning.

Alongside what students can practically do, progress in individual subjects is dependent on each student’s retention and understanding of subject-specific language and terminology, and therefore teachers will provide challenges that check such knowledge is committed to long-term memory.

At KS3 summative assessments – often discreetly embedded within the lesson rather than demarcated as a ‘test’ – are used regularly to check learning has been embedded, and we use this information, alongside continuous assessment, to report to parents/carers whether students are making the good progress expected of them. At KS4 summative assessments are supported by mock examinations to check students are on target to meet challenging expectations at GCSE and therefore progress is reported as a predicted grade, alongside engagement commentary. This is detailed further in our Assessment Journey Map.

Quality assurance of the curriculum is built into the school’s calendar and involves:

  • Year 11 Leavers Data Analysis via the ATLAS Method
  • Termly Subject Data Analysis
  • Engagement Tracker Analysis
  • QA Lesson Observations
  • Peer to Peer Lesson Observations
  • Work Scrutiny
  • Departmental 360s (Deep Dives)
  • External Verification Initiatives