Interventions – or interruptions?

When did ‘interventions’ become part of the primary school curriculum?

Working with a year 6 class recently, I had a chat with 10 year old Ryan who told me about his day in school; his timetable consisted of a diet of English and maths in the morning and ‘interventions’ in the afternoon.

According to Ryan he has interventions most days, sometimes after school and even sometimes on a Saturday morning. Apparently this is a chance for him to ‘review his prior learning’ and ‘uplevel his work’ (his words not mine). I wondered whether Ryan enjoyed being ‘uplevelled?’ (I asked him – apparently not!)

I have worked in primary schools for many years (even before the advent of the National Curriculum – yes, really!) and never taught, or even knew about, this subject called ‘interventions.’ Intrigued, I wanted to know more.

Asking around I discovered ‘interventions’ take place outside of normal lessons, are timetabled and aimed at targeted children in order to ‘close the gap’ (which apparently is now ‘diminishing the difference.’)

According to Ryan it means practicing SATS papers.

This conversation more than worried me, if I was Ryan, would I want to spend my morning learning about modal verbs, relative pronouns or even the use of the subjunctive form? How would I feel about spending the afternoon in a small room ‘practicing’ tests? Even worse, how would that make me feel about myself?

As a teacher, my job was about moving every child forward in their learning, I knew every child, what they could do and couldn’t do, when they were bored because the learning experiences weren’t sufficiently challenging or worried because they didn’t know what to do.

Observations and questioning helped to work this out, helped by Mrs V. Valuable, teaching assistant, who often spotted problems before I did. If a child was stuck we responded straight away, a quick conversation, or an extra five minutes at playtime or lunchtime normally sorted the problem, if not, I’d think carefully about planning future learning experiences to put things right. We’d never heard of ‘interventions.’


When did things change?

It seems that the change started in 2012 with the document ‘Literacy and numeracy catch up strategies.’ This DoE paper looked at ‘catch-up strategies and interventions specifically aimed at pupils who are behind in literacy and numeracy.’ It identified ‘monitoring of pupils’ progress; tailoring teaching to the appropriate needs of individual pupils; coaching teachers/teaching assistants in specific teaching strategies such as cooperative learning; cognitive approaches, based on mental processes; one-to-one tuition; peer-to-peer support; aspects of the home-school relationship; and study support’ as effective strategies.

All these are highly effective and useful approaches that are still used in many classrooms, but have we taken them too far and lost sight of the rationale behind them? Do we spend more time intervening than teaching?

I suspect there are many Ryans in our schools, who spend day after day sitting at a desk working out the best way to ‘uplevel’ their work by inserting a modal verb; using the subjunctive form or by practicing another SATS paper.

Is this what teaching has turned into?

Maybe we should have a rethink and take ‘interventions’ off the timetable and, instead, focus on our teaching and, more importantly, children’s learning.


P.S. Intervention comes from the Latin intervenire, meaning “to come between, interrupt.”


Could we do better?

We all know that learning can be challenging but we also know we’re more likely to succeed if we can build on things we already know and we can see the point in it. So, have you ever looked at your curriculum through the eyes of your pupils?

Many schools have a curriculum that has evolved over time, initiatives have come and gone and things have been added and changed, sometimes without much consideration of the impact on practice. A trawl of school websites indicates that many schools still have elements of the good old QCA schemes of work that were first introduced sixteen years ago and, despite a new curriculum and a different decade, Katy Morag and Florence Nightingale are still taught in many classrooms. Now this may well be fine but has due consideration been given as to whether other topics might be more appealing or exciting?

Over time the ever increasing pressures to raise standards has meant that teachers have had to focus on the core skills of English and maths, sometimes to the detriment of other subjects. The school day is often rigidly timetabled to make sure these are covered; a morning of phonics, guided reading, English and maths is not uncommon in many classrooms. I often wonder what that must feel like to a child? Comments like ‘ we only work in the morning,’ ‘we’re too tired in the afternoon’ and ‘ behaviour is worse in the afternoon’ are commonly heard in schools. Could we make better use of learning time?

A carefully planned curriculum can provide opportunities for pupils to acquire key literacy and numeracy skills and to use and apply these in meaningful contexts. If we exploit links between subjects, not only can we optimize the learning time, but we can enable pupils to make more sense of, and reinforce, their learning. Assessment becomes more accurate (and often easier) if we can assess those key literacy and numeracy skills in different contexts, for example; you can easily check out whether children really understand the concept of right angles if they can confidently turn through degrees in PE, or accurately use co-ordinates when exploring maps in geography. It could be argued that we can only be sure pupils have embedded a concept when they can apply it independently in different contexts.


Planning such a curriculum requires a great deal of thought and can be time consuming, but the result can be energizing to teachers and pupils alike. The progression of skills documents (see previous blog ) were specifically developed to support cross curricular units of learning, links between subjects are embedded throughout. The ‘how-does-your-garden-grow plan is an illustration of how they can be used to develop medium term planning.


Every so often, maybe we should take a moment to look at the curriculum through the eyes of our pupils.

Scaffolded spontaneity …

The National Curriculum states: every ‘school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based,’ and ‘is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications.’
No one would disagree with that, but the reality is that the school day quickly becomes clogged up with timetabled sessions: phonics, guided reading, literacy, numeracy, assemblies, and the most dreaded of all ‘interventions!’ If we’re not careful the ‘broad and balanced’ bit of the curriculum is squeezed into roughly two and a half hours a week (if you’re lucky!)

When we come to assessment, OFSTED tells us:  ‘teachers and other staff (should) have a secure understanding of the age group they are working with and have relevant subject knowledge that is detailed and communicated well to pupils.’
In a primary context we are still grappling with the recent changes to the curriculum, and are just beginning to understand what ‘children (should) know, understand and can do’ in English and maths, and maybe science. But what about the other subjects? The National Curriculum devotes 162 pages to English, maths and science and 24 pages to the other eight subjects. So, what does music in Y4 look like? Or history in Y5? And what about art in Year 1? It’s not hard to see how tricky it can be!

I have been attempting to provide an outline structure for teachers to use as a starting point for planning; demonstrating what the progression of skills might look like across the primary school in a range of subjects.  The thinking behind these documents is that teachers can have a clearer idea about the skills to be taught within their year group from the outset and can plan accordingly. The focus in Year 1 is the child, their family and locality and progressively grows outwards until Year 6 are learning about the wider world, this  helps to show progression across the school as each year builds on the previous one.

No two pupils are the same, neither are two classes or two schools, so the thinking behind the progression of skills documents is that schools can personalise them, adapt them and play around with them to meet the needs of their pupils,  but with the security that they are providing a broad balanced curriculum with a clear progression of skills.

‘Structured spontaneity!’

Free Download!!

I have developed progression of skills documents for a number of KS1 & 2  subjects and  would be delighted to share these with you if they could be of use.  I’m offering a download of my  KS1 & 2 programme as an example.

You can get your free download here.

To date, I have developed documents for  Art & Design, Computing, Geography, History, Music and Technology, if  you think they  could support you in your teaching  I’d be happy to share them with you. Please contact me for information.