Parents assess Becket Keys curriculum and teaching model

Individually we view the developing educational landscape in Brentwood as a long term resident and former pupil and as a teacher of 18 years experience who works in an “Outstanding” school. Together we must also consider how our children will fit into it.

We will have to select a school for our eldest child later this year and visited the three main secondary schools in Brentwood with this in mind last year and will do so again in October. It appears we will also have a further option in the form of the new “free school”. In the meantime, from information provided on their respective websites, we can at least assess what curriculum each establishment will offer when they start, what GCSEs they will have to take and which they will be able to choose and even what is on offer at A level. In addition we can take a view on how this will be covered by the teaching staff.

The established schools take a broad approach with similar core offer and wide ranging options for Key Stage 4, the stage which culminates in GCSEs and equivalent qualifications.

We explored this in a post in early March. “The shrinking curriculum – will educational changes in Brentwood really provide more choice?” discussed how the proposed Becket Keys Church of England School seemed to offer a much narrower choice of curriculum then existing schools and how diminishing resources in those schools might actually mean that options for Brentwood’s children would be reduced in the future.

In revisiting that post and reviewing the updated Becket Keys website we were surprised to note that the curriculum presented to those applying to the school at the end of last year seems to have changed in several areas. We also tried to assess how the recently announced teaching staff were likely to cover the subjects offered.

The appropriate section of the website now claims to offer a “broad” curriculum but, when you assess what is offered as a Core subject and what as an option, the approach actually seems extremely prescriptive and still narrow in comparison with other local schools. Core exam subjects are those that will be taken by all children at GCSE. The curriculum statement is here:

In March the Core subjects were listed as Maths, English Language and Literature, Religious Studies, ICT and Science (as Triple or separate subjects). The website now informs us that a Modern Language, Geography, History and “a choice of four technology subjects” have been added to that list. Children would normally take 8-10 GCSEs (or equivalent) in Year 11. According to this information, depending on the science choice, a child at Becket Keys is committed to taking 9-11 specific exam subjects from the day they arrive.

The Becket Keys approach concerns us as we would prefer to allow our children to experience a range of subjects and find out what suits and interests them before committing to what to study for such an important set of exams.

From a teaching perspective it would also be good to know how so many Core subjects could be accommodated within the timetable. PE, PSHCE and Critical Thinking are also listed as Core (but not as exams). Given the time usually allocated to Core subjects it would seem to make it difficult to accommodate any optional subjects, for example Art or Drama, within the regular school day. It may be that Becket Keys will fit these in to an extended day but this is not mentioned on their site.

To illustrate this, you can see the “Learning Pathways” for Year 9 students at Brentwood County High School here:

and the options offered to Shenfield High School students here:

Fascinatingly, there is also no information of which Modern Language will actually be studied. In March Spanish was listed as an option (not a Core subject) and the offer of Mandarin was a prominent claim when promoting the school and when applications were made. These are no longer mentioned. Worse, despite having apparently employed a Language teacher, there is no indication of what they will actually teach in September. Presumably they must know what language this teacher is qualified to teach? It would be good to share that with prospective parents.

The final conundrum centres on how the timetable in Year 7 will be covered by the teaching staff that are listed on the site. Becket Keys have been clear in assuring us that the staff all have teaching qualifications which is not always the case in free schools (including the only current RET school, the Bristol Free School. See “The RET, SEN and employment of fully qualified teachers”  ). In common with the vast majority of teachers, apart from the Head the staff all appear to have taken a one year course following their degree to gain their QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). For secondary schools, these courses, (PGCE, GTP or ITT) require the student teacher to train in one specialist subject. Only a BEd is likely to have covered more than one.

While some teachers do take on a second subject when in post, it is uncommon for a secondary school teacher to cover more than one Core exam subject. Of the nine listed Becket Keys staff three are listed as covering more than one Core subject.

Another of the staff also appears to be covering “Design and Technology” in addition to Art. For those of our vintage, this usually includes resistant materials (Woodwork, Metalwork), graphics, food technology, textiles and product design. A wide remit indeed.

It appears to us that the Becket Keys approach frankly smacks of making it up as they go along. The change in offer from proposal, to prospectus to website revamp does not inspire confidence. It is certainly difficult to see how the claimed secondary education expertise of the Russell Education Trust is being demonstrated.

It’s just a shame that the school that we choose for our children will be deprived of resources by this experiment.

Kathryn and Stephen Mayo


  1. You have misled your readers somewhat with one of your comments. I have worked in education for over 20 years and it is common practice for teachers to teach more than one core subject, not only in Secondary schools but additionally in Further Education and at Degree level too.

    • Kay, Many thanks for your comment.

      On reflection we think our use of language was overstated in the section that you highlight and we have ammended “very rare” to “uncommon”. We can’t agree that it is common however, the amended comment reflects Kathryn’s experience in what is currently a school rated as “oustanding”. Our central point is that teachers who do a one year course following their degree will be trained in one specialism. One of the teachers listed on the Becket Keys website appears to be covering four Core exam subjects.


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