In conversation with… Liz Tyler, the Managing Director of Ark Curriculum+

January 2021

Photo of Liz Tyler
Liz helps run the Mastery curriculum programmes for Ark school

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, children and teachers across the United Kingdom found themselves adapting to home schooling; arguably one of the most difficult consequences of COVID-19.

The impact of school closures has forced families and teachers around the world to reassess education.

“We had to act really quickly because all of a sudden, teachers needed materials in a workbook format, so their students could learn from home.

“Our way of educating which had slowly evolved over decades, needed to be transformed within days.”

Ark is a charity that works with a network of 38 schools in the UK. It also runs several separate but complementary charitable ventures. Liz and her team create subject specific curriculum programmes designed to improve skills and teaching. “We want to make sure students are learning the right things, in the right order and in the right way. One of our core beliefs is that all children, regardless of their background or starting point, are capable of learning and loving a subject.”

The Huo Family Foundation is supporting one curriculum: The Science Mastery programme. Now in its second year, the curriculum initially started across seven Ark schools, working with 30 teachers and teaching around 1,000 students. In September Liz’s team recruited a further 16 schools to participate in their pilot programme. If the programme proves to be a success, it could be rolled out to the wider UK Education Network.

For Liz, who spent more than twenty years within educational publishing at Pearsons, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. “I’ve spent most of my life creating materials for the classroom, but I never actually saw the impact of that work on the children and the teachers. Since joining Ark, I am actually working with the schools to develop something that really works, has an impact and will continue to evolve.”

For the students, Liz designed the programme not only to help them develop a comprehensive understanding of science but also link individual lessons to the “big picture”. “When we teach students on a particular subject, we try really hard to link it back to real life concepts like how it can relate to tackling climate change.” This also means shifting focus away from exam preparation for students to making sure they have built and retained subject knowledge and skills.

For the teachers, the programme focuses on giving them the confidence to deliver brilliant lessons. Her team’s training gives teachers the subject knowledge and the pedagogical knowledge at a very granular level to make sure children learn in the best environment and get the best outcome.As she explains, “One of the key problems we’re trying to solve is that some teachers do not have the subject knowledge to confidently teach in a classroom. For example, one teacher may be a specialist in Chemistry but she/he needs to teach Biology. Another issue is the big range of teaching experience within a school. It’s important for teachers to understand why a student may not understand a subject, the most effective way of teaching that subject, what the common misconceptions are for that subject and how we should break down those misconceptions.”

Another aspect of the programme is to create resources that teachers need to use for lessons, like PowerPoints to present the information to children, activity workbooks or textbooks that children can use in the classroom to practice what they have learned, and in the case of science, the guidance and setup instructions for practicals.

Liz is incredibly grateful for HFF’s role in supporting the programme. “With the Foundation’s contribution we have been able to recruit a superb full-time team of expert science teachers. We have been able to create a programme that is not only comprehensive but also filled with fantastic resources and training. The team has also been able to effectively support the implementation of our programme. Before lockdown we were going to the schools, regularly observing lessons and collaborating with teachers to understand what is going well and needs to improve.”

As a result of the ongoing lockdowns, Liz’s team has evidence that a learning gap exists between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and non-disadvantaged. Looking at the positives, the materials produced by the Science Mastery Programme have allowed those falling behind to catch up with their peers.

However, school closures have halted the normal delivery of the Science Mastery programme. The team is unable to carry out in-school training and monitoring visits. As a result, the programme has sought to extend the pilot for another two terms, which the HFF has pledged to support through a further donation of £260,000. “[The Science Mastery programme] has been massively rewarding to work on. We truly try to collaborate with the schools and the feedback from the children has been really positive. It’s super exciting to see how the students have developed a confidence and deeper understanding for science.”