A Cross-Curricular Conversion


Cross Curricular

I’ve always hated the term ‘cross-curricular’ – it seems to water down subject expertise and knowledge in favour of generic skills or themes. As with many things in education a well-meaning idea (I can’t find the provenance of the term or when it became a buzzword in British education) is adopted as gospel and quickly becomes something to be evidenced (usually as tick-box exercise) rather than practised for the direct benefit of students.

So we are told we are all teachers of literacy and then have to show in detail where we are ‘using’ or ‘supporting’ literacy. Likewise for numeracy. I have seen schemes of work in RE that include a box for numeracy and someone has taken the time to fill in the space with something like – Using Bible passage today, students found page number using chapter and verse. This is deprofessionalising (sic) and a colossal waste of time that will have no direct benefit to the students. It’s there for the observers and the mandarins.

But can a different notion of cross-curricular education work? One which involves building the idea of the ‘academy’ with teachers working together to share the knowledge students need. This moment of conversion came to me when in my first term at my new school someone outside the RS department invited me into one of their lessons, not to observe, but to teach. It was invigorating and confirmed one of the reasons why I moved to the school and into the independent sector… more of this later.

The Academy

For some in education ‘academy’ has become a dirty word, synonymous with political interference from a disliked government. The origins of the term are worth considering. Plato’s Academy was built on the site of an olive grove dedicated to Athena,  the Greek Goddess of wisdom.


The School of Athens by Raphael


Historians cannot say for sure what exactly was taught at the Academy though it is likely philosophy, politics, poetry, history and mathematics all featured. Legend says that inscribed above the entrance was the following message:  “Let None But Geometers Enter Here.”

Back to my Damascene moment. An English teacher at my new school passed me in the corridor and said something like “I’m teaching Passage to India with Upper Sixth and might need you to email me some background on Hinduism to me.” Without thinking I replied “I’d love to. Why don’t I pop in and teach the first part of the lesson?” We fixed a time when I wasn’t teaching, I blocked myself from cover and made a date.

I’d read the book years ago and enjoyed coming back to it. The section they were studying was the opening of chapter 36. The ideas that Hinduism is a ‘living force’ required some unpacking as did the various references to Krishna which in turn required an explanation of the Trimurti. When Forster writes that “Aziz could not understand this, any more than an average Christian could” he could have been writing about anyone’s lack of understanding of religion now. So I spent 30 minutes or so on Hindu theology and cosmology and the idea that religion is alive for Hindus in this story in a contrasting way to the formal Anglicanism Forster so enjoyed satirising.  I invited questions and left the class with some notes to refer back to.

I moved to my new school in the independent sector for a number of reasons. An opportunity to focus on my subject was the primary one, though benefits of smaller classes were also attractive. I now do have more time for teaching. And before I get too institutionalised I want to lay down an invitation to my new colleagues. How best can we support the idea of a genuine ‘academy’ at our school? We have a wealth of subject expertise and knowledge? How best can we share and utilise that for the benefit of our students? Not by filling in useless boxes on schemes of work to show we are being ‘cross-curricular’! Not by it being forced as a requirement of performance management thereby reducing it to a chore or an obligation. It seems to me that informal invitations to teach across subjects is a good place to start.

As a teacher how could you, or do you, utilitse expertise from colleagues? I’d be really interested to know what you think.



2 thoughts on “A Cross-Curricular Conversion

  1. Hi Neil
    A good read and good to see you thriving in your new environment! Glad you name-checked Trivium too, an inspiring text that reminded me of my sense of purpose.
    There are lots of possibilities… Like you I’ve done some work with the English department previously, particularly when they looked at Life of Pi. Usually as a lunchtime enrichment (due to timetabling) but as a team teach on a couple of occasions.
    At my last school, the Head of Biology was both a Dr of genetics and a Methodist minister. He would happily come and join our A level lessons on religion and science, plus we recorded clips of us discussing evolution and genetic engineering for use with all key stages. I also popped in to some of the science lessons where they were considering ethical issues to help facilitate discussion where colleagues lacked confidence.
    We had a very strong psychology department there too (as we do in my current school) and the Head of Psych came to a couple of lessons on religious experience to help ensure the science was as rigorous as possible.
    I think there are oodles of possibilities, and it can be tremendously powerful for students to see genuine cross-curricular work – after all, in real life our interests and experiences aren’t compartmentalized the way they are in school. My single best cross-curricular experience was when I was in a 6th form college and we ran a club called ‘Cake’ (or Conversations at King Edwards) after school, once a month, coffee n cake n grown up conversation. Based around a theme but with staff and students from across the college and sometimes external expert speakers. It grew into a weekend retreat known as ‘Geek Camp’ which I believe still runs.
    Ultimately though, these things only work well when staff have the energy, time and motivation – I’m not surprised you’re finding it more readily available in your new post!
    Happy New Year and thanks for the food for thought!


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