Brockwood’s Emergent Curriculum

Since the beginnings of Brockwood Park School, teachers and staff have asked fundamental questions about teaching and learning and about how conventional curriculum structures support teaching and learning. Many teachers observe that students easily become passive and entirely dependent on them, and that only classroom time seems to count as work. These observations, combined with the intentions of the school to awaken a learning based on awareness, sensitivity and something beyond the memorisation of ‘facts’, led staff members to explore different approaches to teaching and curriculum structure. Over the course of the 2014/15 academic year, teachers developed proposals for potential new structures, bringing them to students once there was enough detail to discuss. A group of six students then volunteered to develop the structure with the teachers, and a working proposal was made to the whole school based on this collaborative work.

The major themes of our curriculum are
  • ‘Foundation’ courses for younger students
  • Enhanced support for students running their own projects
  • Courses based around interdisciplinary topics
  • A daily structure based on longer blocks of time to enable deeper engagement (rather than short classes)
  • A variety of exam classes for students who choose this route
  • An emphasis on Human Ecology so all students have time in nature, and learn about local and global environmental issues
  • More time with teachers. (Teacher-student time has doubled this year.)

The intention is to include space for students to explore without the hindrance of subject boundaries and time limits that are prevalent in conventional structures, while still supporting depth and breadth in learning.

Enabling students to explore wherever they wish can be both exhilarating and frightening for students and teachers. For some it gives a chance to explore what they have been seeking for a long time; for others there is a great challenge as they are called on to identify things they would like to explore and to pursue them with vigour and excellence—without the false motivation of reward and punishment. Such challenges are part of the learning opportunity because they give a chance to explore with students what they really wish to engage with–something they have often not considered before because they have so often been told what they will be taught.

Raising such challenges is an intended part of these changes, and it requires careful support from teachers; it is much harder than just delivering a planned lesson where there are learning objectives and a defined quantity of knowledge that needs to be transmitted. It also requires working with the student who is directly before you, rather than having a generalised concept of a student. In this way the emerging curriculum has demanded a lot from teachers in the first few weeks, but we hope that it has been worth it.

Changes have not just been structural. The Human Ecology programme is an attempt to explore our place in the broader, natural world. As this is one of the intentions of the school, and a notable aspect of Krishnamurti’s teachings, we decided that giving much greater focus on this was a priority for the school. We hope that this will become a cornerstone of the Brockwood presentation, and that it provides a forum where we can really explore these deeper and broader aspects of life.

In the five weeks of classes so far this year, we have been paying attention to what is working. Challenges have included ensuring students doing their own projects have sufficient access to resources and teachers at the right times. The present structure has proved flexible enough that we can address any issues and problems as they arise.

The first student presentations of their project work in October were significant, reflecting the importance to the students of pressing issues in the world today. Some staff members were also impressed by what the students had created in such a short period of time. The discussions were lively; there was a sense that we were sharing our learning, are not just isolated in our separate areas.

We have taken only the first steps on what is likely to be a continuing path to develop a curriculum that can equip the students to meet and challenge the world we live in confidently.

Gopal Krishnamurthy and Alexander Massie