An introduction to Trivium Learning at Ladybridge, a Next Big 10 school

My name is Paddy Russell and I am the Headteacher at Ladybridge High School in Bolton. Ladybridge is a friendly and diverse school with a strong family ethos. The school is truly comprehensive, with learners from a range of backgrounds in terms of academic starting points, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic status. From the 1000 plus learners on roll over 30 languages are spoken, and around 70% of the learners are from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Recent surveys of learners’ heritage showed 70 nationalities are represented at Ladybridge.

When I started at the school four years ago, we decided to implement our own distinctive version of a ‘Trivium’ philosophy of education. The inspiration from this stemmed from reading Martin Robinson’s book Trivium 21C. Education should enable a person to become increasingly wise, with the agency to act independently. I believe the Ladybridge Trivium provides this for our learners. Our Trivium involves the three pillars listed below:

  1. KNOWLEDGE – Learn something new from an expert, this includes experts beyond school.
  2. EXPLORATION – Debate, discuss, form your own ideas and gain authentic, real world experiences.
  3. COMMUNICATION – Communicate your ideas to others, and perform publicly, in different ways to a variety of audiences.

More detail on our Trivium philosophy can be found here.

I believe that the never ending debate about whether the goals of education are best achieved by traditional, teacher-led methods or by young people taking control of their own learning is a false dichotomy. In my opinion, a true, rounded education involves a bit of both. Our approach to Trivium learning is arguably more progressive than some of the other schools who were inspired by Trivium 21C, and certainly more progressive than the Trivium in the middle ages! To help staff understand the continuum of pedagogies that the Trivium encompasses, we have distinguished between ‘Everyday Trivium’ and ‘Trivium Projects’:

Everyday Trivium

Everyday good teaching and learning involves the Trivium, including:

  • Explaining things well and weaving in stories that hook learners in.
  • Building in daily and weekly reviews of learning (retrieval practice).
  • Intelligent planning of the curriculum to ensure threshold concepts are understood.
  • Responsive, fluid classroom teaching to adapt the experience for different learners.
  • Asking good questions and promoting curiosity (allowing for doubt and uncertainty).
  • Engaging in exploratory talk and collaborative, creative activities.
  • Publicly presenting ideas to others.
  • Using peer critique to promote beautiful work.

Project Trivium

The Trivium is a feature of high-quality project-based learning, which often entails:

  • A guiding question and hook.
  • A clear purpose with an authentic outcome that has an impact on others.
  • Educational visits / experiences and working with experts from outside of school.
  • Links to other subject areas and / or links to the real world.
  • Core and hinterland knowledge mapped out at the start (including knowledge that might not be on the specification or national curriculum).
  • Feedback opportunities.
  • A final exhibition of learning.

A good example of a Trivium project is a project our Year 8s are currently working on called ‘Bolton – Rewind – Regenerate?’ which aims to develop our learners’ understanding of the history of Bolton – a once important town, central to the cotton industry. The learners are considering their potential role in the regeneration of Bolton. All 215 of our Year 8 learners have recently experienced an immersion day, visiting sites across Bolton to explore the difficulties faced by the town centre and studying examples of thriving industries and regeneration. Learners are using the knowledge they have developed to reimagine a Bolton fit for the future. Key to the project is connection with external partners and agencies. The project involves our learners working with The Smithills Estate, Bolton Council, Bolton Libraries and Bolton Museum, Creatives Now (an art collective for young people in the town), Bolton School, Amazon UK, Turn Up The Value (a Bolton based company who support organisations to develop and demonstrate their social impact), Town Planners, Swan Lane Mill, alongside the film director and residents who appeared in the film ‘The Fabric Of Bolton’. We hope that such a broad range of connections will help to provide an authentic experience for our learners and demonstrate to them that they can be change makers within their community and play their part in making the world a better place. Their work will culminate in an exhibition of their learning in empty shops in Crompton Place Shopping Centre. This is the perfect setting for an exhibition that questions the role of the town centre of the future as the building is scheduled to be demolished soon and replaced with a mixed development of town centre apartments and shops funded by Chinese investment.

We are part way through the journey towards achieving the vision of the Ladybridge Trivium. We could have accelerated the pace of change by purely focusing on WHAT we needed to do; however, we took the view that we needed to take staff with us by collaboratively considering WHY we wanted to move in this direction. It’s also really important to collaboratively decide HOW to proceed, rather than all the key decisions being made by the senior team. To achieve the vision of the Trivium, we need creativity and professional autonomy. This culture is not going to stem from excessive directives and micromanagement. Future blogs will focus on the leadership dimensions of bringing the Trivium to life, relational aspects of learning and the key steps so far on our journey.

Paddy Russell, Headteacher at Ladybridge High School

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This blog is from a school taking part in The Next Big 10, a programme for schools who are transforming education against strong headwinds

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