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Science lesson in action

What sets us apart?

In Years 7 and 8 students will all study the core National Curriculum and in music will have the opportunity to experience a range of orchestral and pop instruments including brass, woodwind, strings, ukulele, keyboard and guitar. 

If you would like to find out more about the curriculum we follow please contact: 

Gareth Hughes, Deputy Headteacher

Options are chosen in Year 8 to allow students to select the areas of study which best meet their interests and learning styles. See the separate options page for full information about these. They continue these options for 3 years and take the majority of their exams in Year 11 for GCSEs or BTECs. If students are ready, they might have an opportunity to take exams early (usually in science, maths and languages) and perhaps pick up additional options in Year 11 or enrich their learning further by taking on a Level 3 Extended Project.

The breadth and range of the curriculum is a strength at Varndean. A great deal of thought has been put into balancing the curriculum to the needs of students in Key stage 4. The options and choices process for Key Stage 4 was well regarded in general by the students in Year 8 and 9.

P. Gayle Curriculum Review, June 2015

The range and diversity of options available at Key Stage 4 were highlighted as very positive by Key Stage 3 students choosing their options in a recent review of the curriculum from an external advisor.

Year 7 Specialist School programme 

Specialist Schools 2020 - See presentation linked here

When students join us in Year 7 they will choose to be part of one of 4 exciting new Specialist Schools. Whether they are part of the School of Discovery; the School of Creativity; the School of Expression or the School of Leadership, every student will have an opportunity to excel and build upon the gifts and talents they arrive with. Sessions take place every Wednesday afternoon and each adhere to delivering on each of the following.

Specialist School Aims:

  1. Students arrive at Varndean School with talents. We want to identify and build upon them, celebrating their giftedness from the moment they arrive.
  2. Students will be given the opportunity to take risks and enhance their learning in one specialist area of study.
  3. Students will learn transferable skills that impact positively across the curriculum and prepare them for adult life.
  4. Students will develop independence, resilience and pride through a range of challenging opportunities.
  5. Students will have the scope to be creative with the curriculum, allowing them the freedom to explore and be excited through their learning.

PrintingEach School will work through a programme of learning that is led by the students under the guidance of a specialist member of staff. They will take part in at least one showcase opportunity throughout the year and record their progress in a reflective journal.

Below is a great example of one of the Specialist Schools, the School of Leadership.





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Instrumental learning

In Years 7 and 8 students will all study the core National Curriculum and in music will have the opportunity to experience a range of orchestral and pop instruments including brass, woodwind, strings, ukulele, keyboard and guitar. 

Learning Enhancement Days 

Students learning body parts in Dutch
Students learning body parts in Dutch

We run 3 days throughout the year where the usual timetable is collapsed and students experience a different kind of learning.

In Years 7 and 8 students experience a variety of workshops and specialist sessions to support their citizenship and Learning for Life (L4L) programme through longer periods of specialist input and discussions, as well as the ever popular day of Languages in Year 7 where students experience a wide variety of language including Russian, Italian and Mandarin to name just a few. 

In Years 9-11, these days are also used to support the L4L and citizenship programme but are increasingly used to offer intense learning experiences in their chosen courses of study or their core GCSEs.

High impact days [now called Learning Enhancement Days] for curriculum subjects were well received by older students. They enjoyed working at greater depth for a whole day.

Key stage 4 students speaking with P Gayle during curriculum review, June 2015

Character Education 

In November 2015 our holistic approach to education was recognised nationally by educational improvement charity Challenge Partners, naming us as a centre of excellence for character education. Read the full article for more details.


All students study Learning for Life (L4L) and citizenship education. This is delivered by form tutors during an extended period of learning on a Monday morning and through three Learning Enhancement Days each school year. Many other areas of the curriculum also contribute to this area of our students’ education including Philosophy and Ethics and History.

L4L and citizenship education enables our students to become healthy, independent and responsible members of the school community, modern Britain and the wider society. We teach our students about rights and responsibilities and we ensure that students experience and appreciate the process of democracy through the 4 school councils (Student Voice).

The following topics are covered at both Key Stage 3 and 4:

  • Citizenship Education
  • Equalities
  • Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco Education (DATE)
  • Relationships and Sex Education (RSE)
  • E-Safety
  • Emotional Well being

Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) and Financial Capability

There is a rounded programme of assemblies that promote SMSC to students. The extensive enrichment curriculum also has a significant impact.



When students join us in Year 7, most lessons are taught in mixed ability tutor groups which we believe works well particularly for the initial transition period. As the year progresses and as they move through the school, students may be placed into target groups as a response to their learning needs in the core subjects of English, Mathematics and Science.

A Curriculum Designed for the Future 

Every student learns the fundamentals of computing from Year 7 and we have an increasingly large uptake at GCSE. We also offer IT GCSE and the European Computing Driving License to ensure when students leave us they are computer literate and can operate across a number of platforms including PC, Mac, Chromebook and tablet devices.

A curriculum that stretches all including the most able

Our students never fail to impress us with their talents and enthusiasm for learning. Each year we consider the curriculum and how we can adapt it to meet the needs of the most able. We currently have a number of opportunities open to students that offer them additional stretch and challenge on top of that usually provided in lessons.

They have an opportunity to study two languages with additional sessions after school including Latin GCSE. A fastrack GCSE PE class that takes place before school; Additional Maths qualification that has seen a significant increase in uptake in recent years; triple science course that the majority of our students take up. From September 2015 we will also be embarking on the Edexcel Level 3 Extended Project with a group of Year 11 students who took their maths GCSE early in Year 10 and gained A/A* grades.

Please see the Able and Talented page for further information.

Curriculum in Detail

Curriculum Intent

Heritage Languages 

Many students can already speak another language before they start at Varndean School and these are referred to as Heritage Languages. 
Heritage Languages can take the place of French, German or Spanish studied in school however this must first be discussed with the Languages department and these students must take an actual GCSE in the Heritage Language in place of GCSE French, German or Spanish. There might also be the opportunity to take this exam much sooner than the end of Year 11 if a student is ready.
In Summer 2017 21 of our students got A* in their Heritage Subjects, ranging from Arabic to Greek and many other languages besides.
Below is a list of Heritage Languages that students have sat exams for in the past. 
Arabic Japanese
Bengali Latin
Biblical Hebrew Modern Hebrew
Chinese (Mandarin) Panjabi
Classical Greek Persian
Dutch Polish
Greek Portuguese
Gujarati Russian
Irish Turkish
Italian Urdu


Alternative curriculum 

We appreciate and celebrate the fact that not every student learns in the same way. Some individuals might prefer an alternative curriculum for part of the week to enable us to get the best out of them and ensure they leave us with enough qualifications, experiences and self-confidence for their next step in life.

Course such as kickboxing in Year 8; ASDAN in Years 9-11; College Courses in such things as Hair and Beauty, Construction or Motor Vehicle and Academy 21 all provide valuable learning opportunities for some individuals in their Varndean School journey.

The new A2A centre, a more inclusive curriculum and good links with the colleges is helping the more vulnerable engage better with education to ensure they do not become NEET*.


The alternative provision provided through Aspire to Achieve (A2A) and ASDAN** seems to be working very well in engaging those students who struggle with the mainstream curriculum.


Assessments and Progress Grades

Life without Levels – EGDI Progress Grades

It is no longer a requirement for schools to report on National Curriculum Levels and GCSE grades leading up until they get their final GCSE results at the end of Year 11.   In support of this we have developed our own system where we will report on the progress that your son/daughter is making towards their Year 11 target. We believe that this system is better for students and parents because it does not label the individual, but describes their progress towards personally challenging targets.

Each half term pupils will be expected to complete a series of assignments for each of their subjects, which constitute the skills of knowledge, exploration and communication.   Students will be given a progress measure which will allow you to clearly see if they are on the correct trajectory towards their Year 11 target.

The progress measures are as follows:

  • If their progress is Excelling then your son/daughter is on a trajectory to exceed their target in Year 11.
  • If their progress is Good then your son/daughter is on a trajectory to meet their target in Year 11.
  • If their progress is Developing then your son/daughter needs extra support to meet their target in Year 11.
  • If their progress is Insufficient then your son/daughter will need additional support including attending catch up clinics outside of normal curriculum time (these could be at lunchtime or before school, not just after school) in order to meet their target in Year 11.

It is important to note that if a student is on target to achieve their Year 11 target of a Grade 6, then in Year 7, for example, they will not currently be producing GCSE Grade 6 work, but will be producing work to the standard we would expect of a Grade 6 student in this year group. 

Reporting on your child's progress occurs regularly throughout their time at Varndean School. Please refer to the FAQs on reports for further information.
*NEET ( Not in Employment Education or Training)

**ASDAN (This course content is varied and can be designed to meet the specific needs and interests of the individual, so this is a personalised programme to allow students to participate, progress and achieve.