Curriculum Overview

Our curriculum promotes innovation (we're not afraid to take risks to explore our curiosity), aspiration (we set ourselves challenging goals) and excellence (we do everything to be best of our ability, every time).

We are in the enviable position of having brand new, specialist facilities for all curriculum areas. Teaching responds to the latest research so that your child is immersed in innovative practice underpinned by traditional values and expectations.­­­­­­

Some established schools have been lucky in recent years to receive enhanced facilities in one or two specialist areas, for example STEM or the Performing Arts. We are in the enviable position of having state-of-the-art facilities across the entire curriculum, with eco-friendly ground-source, mechanically ventilated buildings across the campus so that pupils are never too warm or too cold whilst accessing their learning.

Key Stage 3 (Years 7-9)

Key Stage 3 represents, for us, an intellectual powerhouse! It is the opportunity for children to fall further in love with each of the subjects our professionals teach and develop their own passions; they are immersed in a broad and balanced diet and will study the full National Curriculum. This builds a strong foundation for pupils' transfer to their KS4 options, including the English Baccalaureate. This is complemented by access to an enriched provision for the performing arts and citizenship education.

Pupils study 50 periods a fortnight. Subject allocations are shown in hours (see the brackets after each subject).

At Key Stage 3, all pupils will study a broad and balanced curriculum consisting of (hours per fortnight in brackets):

English Language  and English Literature (7), Mathematics (7), Science (6), History (4), Geography (4), French (3), Spanish (3), Religious Studies (2), Computing inc. Broadcast (2), Core Physical Education (3), Design Technology/Food Preparation & Nutrition (2), Visual Arts (Art/Photography/Graphics/Textiles - 2), Performing Arts - Acting (1), Dance (1), Music (2), and PHRSE (inc. Leadership, Organisation, Resilience, Independence and Communication (LORIC), Relationships & Sex Education (RSE), and Citizenship - 1).

Curriculum Learning Journeys for all Key Stage 3 subjects can be found here.

Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11)

A rich choice is offered, which includes the core academic (English Baccalaureate) qualifications you would expect. The National Curriculum underpins all subject study and all of the subjects studied at Key Stage 3 will be available as GCSE options, as well as some additional ones when our first Year 10 cohort goes through the school. In addition to the core subjects, all pupils must also opt for at least one of History or Geography, and of French or Spanish to fulfil the requirements of the English Baccalaurea

Supporting parents/carers with understanding the current national Level 2 qualification grading system in England:

At Key Stage 4, all pupils study (hours per fortnight in brackets):

Core English Language (4), Core English Literature (4), Core Mathematics (8), Core Double Award Science [Biology (3), Chemistry (3), Physics (3)], Core Physical Education (3), Core Religious Studies Short Course (1), PHRSE (1), Option A: History or Geography (5), Option B: French or Spanish (5), Option C (5), Option D (5).

Options C (5) and D (5) are chosen from:

Performing Arts: Acting; Fine Art; Business Studies; Broadcast (Radio/Television) and Game Design;Computer Science; Performing Arts: Dance; Food Preparation and Nutrition; Film Studies; French; Geography; History; Music; Philosophy and Religious Studies (Full Course); Photography; Physical Education; Psychology; Sociology; Spanish; and Triple-Award Science.

*Depending on uptake in subjects in each cohort, not all subjects may run every year.

Curriculum Learning Journeys for all Key Stage 4 subjects can be found here.

Click here for more information about the English Baccalaureate

Our full Curriculum Policy can be viewed on our Policies Page.

Click the image below to view the 2024-25 Key Stage 4 Curriculum Options Booklet:

Pupil Grouping, Learning and Teaching

What's the Houlton difference? Firstly, there are no stressful, high-stakes tests or examinations for entry to Houlton School. We are a local school, for local children, and we want everyone to be included in our outstanding provision, regardless of their attainment levels when they arrive. We assess pupils' inherent cognitive ability on arrival, and diagnose where they are with their reading and spelling so that we can set ambitious targets for their progress with us and ensure they have equity in terms of their access to our exciting offer.

Pupils at Houlton are grouped in mixed-attainment classes of up to 30. Successive researchers over decades have found time and again that (despite a common misconception that strict setting or streaming pupils will lead to the best progress and outcomes) children make the most and fastest progress when grouped with pupils with a range of different talents, attainment levels and skills. They are also proven to be much happier and less anxious during their education as a result of being grouped in this way for their learning.

Our pedagogy is based on the latest research from the Education Endowment Foundation:
 Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)
We have also 'taken the pledge' in support of the work of eminent educational researchers University College London (UCL), which confirms what academics have known for years: enquiry-based, mixed-attainment teaching leads to the fastest progress, best conduct, highest esteem, and greatest self-confidence for children.

In an established school it is difficult to challenge the status quo and 'received wisdoms' based on parents' own experiences of how schools were organised in the past. However, recent research from John Hattie (Visible Learning) found that teaching pupils different materials in strict attainment sets has one of the weakest impacts of everything a teacher might do in terms of pupils' progress and attainment. 

We have also considered Schreen & Bosker's work on school effectiveness:
 Scheeren & Bosker's work on school effectiveness
This work also found no positive impact of grouping pupils by attainment, even though it can be hard to challenge some parents and carers' intuitions that this 'must' be the best way to improve pupils' progress and experience at school as this may reflect their own experience of attending school; however, at Houlton we have the great privilege of being able to start from the evidence, including that considered in this recent article from the Chartered College of Teaching, rather than crooked thinking and wonky intuitions... and we have!

A prospective parent recently asked our Principal, 'When will you set the children so that they can be really pushed?'. This crooked premise is understandable in Rugby borough, one of few districts in the country where there remains an 11+ examination and selective (grammar) schools.

The answer? We never will as successive research finds that this way of working does not support progress, and even hinders it in most cases. In fact, in mixed-attainment groups pupils make between six months and a year's more progress across Year 7-11. Of at least equal importance is that pupils were also happier, less stressed and much less anxious when grouped in mixed-attainment classes. 

Our brains are wired to work best when we are happy 

Doug Lemov quotes the above from Shawn Anchor's 'The Happiness Advantage' (2005) - and we couldn't agree more! Happy children are successful children - we never underestimate the power of climate and culture here at Houlton.

Our curriculum is complemented by a programme for our highest attaining pupils, who are offered the opportunity to take part in the national Brilliant Club scholars' programme throughout Key Stage 3 - university-style investigations, delivered by PhD students, including visits to prestigious universities and the opportunity to have essays graded by university professors.

Pupils will continue to be immersed in a culture of high quality speaking, reading, thinking, doing and listening together - we're one Houlton family, not sheep, crudely separated into different pastures simply because it may make life a little easier for the shepherds. Happy children are successful children. There's no secret formula - it's as simple as that.

Principal McCulley's vision for our family's energetic and immersive curriculum is inspired by impressive, research-led great thinking, such as that from Mary Myatt and Professor Dame Alison Peacock. All teaching at Houlton encourages 'deep learning without limits' through our use of 'the Big Question', which has curiosity and story-telling at its heart. Children acquire knowledge through investigation and then revisit key facts and skills throughout the academic year/key stage so that memorability and skilful encoding within the brain becomes second nature.

Eminent Cognitive Psychologist Daniel T Willingham once wrote, 'Our brains privilege story...human beings are curious. Thinking is hard'. But we know that children like challenge so long at the threat is low. We provide a safe space for children to think hard and evolve into the young adults they become by the time they leave us in Year 13.

Our full Curriculum Policy can be found on our Policies page, here.


Home learning is an important part of pupils' journey towards adulthood, towards independence and of their preparation for the world of work. Home learning is not an 'add on', but is, rather, an integral part of our delivery of the curriculum as well as being and an essential part of reviewing learning, or preparing for learning that is yet to come (flipped learning). Homework is scheduled according to our Homework Timetable, which sets out the maximum homework your child may receive:

Homework Timetable

Co-curricular Offer

Our co-curricular offer is an integral part of our personal development and LORIC programmes and will support our development of each and every individual.  As part of tending our Houlton family, we believe it is important that all pupils’ skills and interests are nurtured and developed inside and outside of the classroom. Our offer is available before school, at lunchtime and after school. You can find out more and see our timetable of clubs and activities here. There are more than 70 opportunities for pupils each fortnight and all pupils are expected to participate in at least one co-curricular activity a fortnight, with many attending one or more every day!


Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13)

As our Sixth Form offer will not begin until academic year 2026-27; a finalised curriculum will be confirmed closer to the time in response to national qualification reform currently taking place, including the introduction of T-Levels.  When our main school 'pupils’ transition to becoming Sixth Form ‘students’ our expectations of excellence will continue; indeed, our Sixth Form students will act as role models to younger pupils in the school.  The Vice Principal for Behaviour, Personal Development and Safety will have strategic overview of the Post 16 provision, beginning the initial launch at the start of the academic year 2024/25.  This will be our September 2021 cohort’s first Sixth Form entry and we aim to inspire as many pupils to ‘stay on’ and complete their seven year (7-13) journey with us.  We will operate a consortium arrangement both within the Trust and with other schools to ensure our curriculum offer is broad and balanced and to ensure that pupils are not ever precluded from their preferred options because of timetable clashing.

Houlton School Sixth Form will offer and diverse range of subjects, including traditional A Levels options, BTEC and T Level vocational options as well as a wide-ranging enrichment programme.  The introduction of T Levels will enable us to cater for all progress routes and to retain pupils who prefer a work based or vocational pathway.  In collaboration with TLET and other Trust schools our broad offer will allow us to offer wider and more diverse access routes into traditional higher education, further education, employment and vocational training.  Houlton School will work closely with local apprenticeship providers and employers to ensure pupils are exposed to industry opportunities and are well informed regards their options.  Pupils in Year 11 will be given personalised CIAG to support their options choices and this tailored approach will dovetail with our lower school careers and personal development programme.  Pupils wishing to apply for competitive courses and higher-level apprenticeships will be well equipped with the LORIC skills needed to make such applications and will be supported not only academically but also in their wider development thought initiatives such as the Medical Society, Law Society and Houlton HE+ Programme.  Our Oxbridge applications focus groups will start in Year 9 with ‘Focus 9’ and continue through into Post 16, tailored to develop the pupils interested in this academic route at an early stage in the skills and experience they will need to make successful applications.

Sixth Form students will continue their LORIC education through a bespoke Post 16 PHSRE package and EPQ.  Assemblies and the Personal Development Programme will cover the statutory RSE and PSHE requirements. Students in the Sixth Form will be expected to contribute to the wider community through a Community Service Unit and will be given the option to continue their Pupil Leadership Accreditation and Duke of Edinburgh Award to Graduate and Gold standard respectively.  Our Houlton Family culture and Pupil Leadership programmes will continue through into Post 16 with students having the opportunity to become Senior Pupil Leaders, College Leaders, Mentors and Prefects.  It is recognised that students in the Sixth Form will be under additional pressure and there will be a strong focus on well-being both physically and mentally.  All students will take part in enrichment focused on Healthy Lifestyles which will include several units on combatting stress as well as compulsory PE/Leisure activities where we will look to create competitive opportunities with other post-16 providers across the Trust and the Borough.

Specialist facilities

Established schools are often fortunate to be awarded additional funding for improved facilities in a particular area, for example, that may lead to a school specialising in STEM, Performing Arts or Sports. At Houlton School, we’re in the enviable position of having had our facilities supported by the Houlton developers, Urban & Civic, so we will have brand new, state-of-the-art facilities to support all curriculum areas; our facilities include:

Within our architect-designed, outstanding Grade II listed buildings:

– Performing Arts pupils enjoy fully equipped Acting and Dance Studios, as well as a suite of rooms for our musicians

– Numerous visual arts and photography studios, including kiln and darkroom

– A dedicated Sixth Form Centre and Learning Resource Centre

– An impressive, building-height assembly and performance auditorium

– Our Refectory, which retains many of the Power Hall’s original decorative tiles, will be serving a wide range of enticing food and drinks

– Our very own professional radio technology, honouring our site’s heritage and providing opportunities to study qualifications in broadcast

Purpose-built, state-of-the-art accommodation:

– A large, Sports England compliant Sports Centre, 20 acre site and all-weather outdoor facilities

– Purpose-built Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) building: laboratories, workshops, food and nutrition hub, graphics-studio and more

– a suite of the computer laboratories across the site with brand new computers

– Humanities building housing subjects such as English, History, geography, modern languages and the social sciences

A breakfast service is available from 8.00am and pupils should arrive no later than 8.30am. The school day begins formally at 8.40am each day, and finishes at 3.10pm. There are five, one hour lessons per day, arranged over a two-week timetable rotation. Co-curricular clubs run until around 4.15pm each day.


Leaders place spiritual, moral, social and cultural education at the heart of the curriculum so that pupils flourish and are well prepared for life beyond school
Ofsted, 2021