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Curriculum Overview

The Varndean Curriculum - world-class provision for all students

Varndean has the highest expectations for all of its students whatever their background and wants to prepare each of them for life as well as exams. You can read more about our curriculum intent here:

The Varndean Curriculum 

and our rationale for a three-year Key Stage 4 here:

Curriculum Rationale

Our curriculum has been well thought through to make sure that all students have the opportunities needed to build the knowledge and skills they need for their futures. Our expert teachers make sure that standards in our classrooms are exceptionally high and this can be seen in our results when our students exceed their potential. 

In their latest report in November 2022 Ofsted said that:

School leaders are passionate and ambitious about what pupils will learn. 

Teachers are real experts in their subjects. Their precise and helpful questioning stretches and extends pupils’ knowledge. Consequently, the standard of pupils’ work is very high.

Within our subject areas we prioritise progress in the core subjects while making sure that all students have the opportunities to benefit from a rich offer in the arts and opportunities to develop their talents via our unique specialist schools programme. 

We are very proud of our enrichment programme. With more than 100 extra-curricular clubs each week, excellent performances across the arts and an enrichment week each year which offers life-changing opportunities for students, we make sure that our students are ready for all that life can throw at them.

If you would like to know more about the curriculum at Varndean please explore the tabs in this section, read about our departments or contact Gareth Hughes, Deputy Headteacher at garethhughes@varndean.co.uk

Why a three-year Key Stage 4?

Please read our Curriculum Rationale (above) for further information on why we have a three-year Key Stage 4. 

Year 7 Specialist School programme

Specialist Schools 2022 - 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 Monday 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.

Each 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.


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

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

These days allow us to broaden the curriculum further for example with subject specific trips like geography fieldwork and art enrichment as well as events like our ever-popular day of languages in Year 7 where students experience a wide range of languages including Mandarin and Russian to name a few.

These days also provide vital opportunities for students to start thinking about their futures. Our careers programme is a crucial support to help make sure students make the right choices for them about their futures and some of this vital work takes place on LEDs. 

Finally, LEDs enable specialist input to support the Learning for Life curriculum. This is especially valuable and provides safe spaces to discuss sensitive topics such as relationships and sex education and equalities issues.

Character Education

Education is so much more than passing a set of exams and we firmly believe that our curriculum - inside and outside the classroom - makes a significant contribution towards the qualities and attributes our students develop during their time with us.

We also spend time working with students on their own wellbeing and want to know they can find contentment in an ever more challenging world. Our work in this regard has been nationally recognised by Challenge Partners as an area of excellence.

Our Challenge and Pride award and annual graduation ceremonies celebrate the kind, resilient, well-rounded global citizens our young people become. We are exceptionally proud of our students when they leave and know our future is safe in their hands.

Learning for Life

All students study Learning for Life (L4L) each week. Our unique delivery programme combines input from the tutor plus more in-depth delivery from a specialist team of teachers on some key topics like RSE. This, plus the support of outside experts on LEDs means students get the expert advice they need on the issues they will face in their lives. The L4L curriculum is supported by many subject areas where topic areas may cross over.

L4L and Citizenship Education enable our students to become healthy, independent and responsible members of the school community, modern Britain and wider society. We teach our students about rights and responsibilities and we ensure that students experience and appreciate the process of democracy through our student voice work, the votes for schools programme and opportunities for student leadership.

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 wellbeing

Careers Education, information and Guidance (CEIAG) and Financial Capability also play a key part in our programmes. 

More on our L4L curriculum can be read here: Families may also wish to read some of the relevant policy statements published on our website. 

Further questions can be addressed to Tim Clarke timclarke@varndean.co.uk


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.

Modern British Values

At Varndean School, we are dedicated to promoting values which ensure that students develop a strong sense of social and moral responsibility. We prepare students for life in modern Britain because values such as individual liberty, democracy, the law, mutual respect and tolerance are embedded within the curriculum and the Varndean ethos. In addition, these values are promoted throughout the school year in tutor time, assemblies, philosophy, LED, extra-curricular opportunities and other enriching experiences.

As school leaders and governors, we are responsible for providing a curriculum which:

  • Is broad and balanced, compliant with legislation and provides a wide range of subjects which prepare students for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in modern Britain

  • Actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance

  • Promotes tolerance of and respect for people of all faiths (or none), cultures and lifestyles through effective spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of students, including by engaging students in extracurricular activities

  • Is supported by a well-rounded programme of assemblies and tutor time activities which offer clear guidance on what is right and wrong

We endeavour that students:

  • Are reflective about their own beliefs and perspective on life, and the extent to which they are the same as/different to others’ faith, feelings and values

  • Show an interest in investigating and offering reasoned views about moral and ethical issues, and appreciate the viewpoint of others

  • Have a sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about the world around them and participate actively in artistic, sporting or cultural activities

  • Recognise the difference between right and wrong, understand that actions have consequences, and apply this in their own lives by respecting the law

  • Co-operate well, celebrate diversity and resolve conflicts effectively

  • Engage positively with life in a democracy

  • Understand and appreciate the history, heritage and wide ranging cultural influences that underpin our individual and shared experiences of life in modern Britain

We allow students to recognise right from wrong, resolve conflicts, understand and explore diversity, develop a moral code, understand others’ beliefs and understand how communities function. These qualities will allow them to participate fully in life in modern Britain.

A Curriculum Designed for the Future

Alongside a rigorous core curriculum and strong commitment to modern languages and the humanities, we also invest heavily in the arts and technological subjects. We believe that creativity and self-expression will play an important part in the futures of our students.

Our curriculum is adapted to meet the needs of all our students. On the ILS page you can read about some of the adaptations we make for our students with special educational needs.

We also adapt for the most able. We make sure there is stretch in each and every lesson - witness the proportion of our students who achieve grade 9 in their GCSE subjects - as well as providing structured opportunities such as additional mathematics and environmental science, both of which are level 3 qualifications.

We are increasing the number of students studying triple science and all students now study two languages, at least until the start of Year 9. This subject-based approach is supported by a range of extra-curricular opportunities which include astronomy GCSE, creative writing and the green car project.

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.

Courses such as mountain biking and skateboarding 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.

Assessments and Progress Grades

Assessment is a really important part of the curriculum. It helps teachers know what children can do and what they need to learn next as well as making sure students know what their strengths and weaknesses are as they prepare for exams in their future.

Assessment will vary in different subjects based on the demands of the course but all students should expect regular feedback from their teachers. More formal assessment will occur normally once per learning cycle (every 9 weeks or so) and will usually lead to more formal feedback.

These assessments will inform the feedback we share with families via our progress reports. These are published on Varndean Plus every learning cycle. They will always include a judgement on attitude to learning (A2L) as we believe this is the easiest way to improve learning - the students who work the hardest and apply themselves the best will learn the most.

At least twice a year we will also share a judgement on children's attainment. These judgements get more precise as a student progresses through the school and gets closer to their GCSE/BTEC exams. This helps them know what they need to do next to secure the grade they are aiming for.

More detail on how families can discuss progress with teachers can be read here: 

Parent Partnership - a Guide for Families