Aspirations Academies Trust–Written evidence (EDU0006)


  1. We are a MAT with 16 academies successfully working within the current curriculum and qualification constraints at ages 11-16 to develop a curriculum that fully prepares young people for a fast-changing world. We believe that young people need to develop the skills required to apply knowledge to a wide range of situations in their working life. We work with hundreds of employers who all value well-developed skills and competencies in young people entering the jobs market more than their exam qualifications. We also work with a number of educationalists in the USA where schools are developing a more engaging and challenging curriculum than exists in our schools.
  2. Our sixteen academies include: five primary schools, two junior schools, two age 4-18 all-through schools, two age 14-18 studio schools and five age 11-18 secondary schools. Over the 12 years of our operation our KS2, KS4 and KS5 results are consistently at or above national average. We specialise in taking on schools in special measures and improving them (six of these) as well as creating innovative new schools (five of these). Since the cessation of the Covid lockdowns, 6 of our academies have been inspected by Ofsted and all have been graded ‘Good’. Both Steve and Paula were headteachers of outstanding schools before founding Aspirations.
  3. Over the twelve years of operation we have always had a desire to make English education system fit for purpose in the 21st century by further challenging and engaging young people, making education relevant to the world in which they live. From the outset we worked with Dr Russ. J. Quaglia, based in the USA, who is arguably the world’s leading specialist in raising student aspirations. We have visited many schools in the USA, most recently developing partnerships with educators in Houston, Texas. The US education system is currently a long way ahead of the English system. A few years ago we saw applied, project based learning where students were actively engaged in working with each other and people from industry to solve real problems. Students were developing really high level power skills, such as resilience, initiative  and critical thinking whilst dealing with real issues such as how to improve cybersecurity. Houston has schools that are closely linked to the main employers in the city such as Energy High (oil and gas), and Medical High (serves the medical centre). Many of the post-16 students are ‘dual-enrolled’ with the local universities and FE colleges, earning degree credits whilst still at school.
  4. As a trust, Aspirations is determined to support change and improvement in the English education system. Our vision is:

To empower future generations to follow their dreams and to build a society of which we can all be proud.

This is supported by our purpose:

To reinvent education for the 21st century. To use technology and modern pedagogies to give children from 2 to 18 the knowledge, skills and mindsets to achieve excellence in a fast-changing world. At Aspirations Academies, we provide a challenging, engaging and supportive environment to bring out the best in every child.

  1. Around ten years ago, we started working with employers at post-16 level with A level students spending one day a week working with real employers over a ten week period to solve a real issue. This was so successful it has led to further curriculum developments in the Trust (more of this later). However, every employer we spoke to stated that whilst qualifications were useful, few of them used these to measure the value of applicants. In fact most employers felt that due to the focus on single-discipline learning in an isolated knowledge based system they were finding it hard to get young people with the right skills for their industry. Since then the situation has worsened in the UK, mainly due to Brexit and Covid. Absence levels of students aged 11-16 are very poor post-Covid, partly because the do not see the value of the GCSE system currently in place. Learning needs to be challenging, engaging and relevant. The two big issues holding the English education system back are the National Curriculum and the GCSE system. We need to move from merely knowledge acquisition to knowledge application, alongside developing skills that prepare young people for the next stage of education and employment. The diagram below explains the theory behind this. This model places the knowledge taxonomy (a continuum of the way in which we acquire knowledge) against the application taxonomy (a continuum of methods of putting knowledge to use in increasingly complex contexts).














  1. Currently at KS4 we have to teach single GCSE subjects in order to maintain the required results, although at our two studio schools students work on an industry based project as part of their programme of study. This is only possible because of the exemption from the EBacc that applies to studio schools.
  2.        We are driving several curriculum initiatives across the trust currently:

1. KS2/KS3 ‘No Limits’ curriculum: We have in place across KS2/KS3 in all our schools a No Limits curriculum that allows students to work in teams to answer a driving question. This curriculum involves students working on trans-disciplinary projects. The No limits curriculum is the full curriculum in KS2 and KS3. Students are taught the full National Curriculum, and more, through several different learning approaches. These are designed to challenge and engage students allowing them to acquire and apply knowledge, whilst also adding cultural capital and developing future skills. In No Limits students experience:

(a) Single discipline subjects

(b) Trans-discipline assignments (Applied Trans-disciplinary Learning - ATL)

(c)  Assessment, Presentation and Personal Education (APP) Weeks

(d) Innovation and Development weeks.

All Aspirations Academies follow the ‘No limits: Curriculum for success in the 21st century’. The curriculum was introduced in September 2019 into Years 4, 7 and 12. Today the No limits curriculum is followed by all pupils in KS2 and KS3. A great deal of planning and trialing of the curriculum ideas drives the continual development of this curriculum. Central to this philosophy for the curriculum is that it should provide an authentic education for the world today. This requires the curriculum to allow for the development of the knowledge, skills and qualifications required for success. Children should always learn in a challenging, engaging and supportive environment. We also believe that there should be a coherence to the delivery and content of the curriculum across all phases of education.

The intent of the No Limits curriculum is:

  Ensure a broad curriculum coverage

  Develop a knowledge rich curriculum

  Ensure that knowledge acquisition is enhanced through being effectively applied to real-life situations and problems

  Widen knowledge acquisition through single discipline and trans-discipline learning

  Ensure all learning is challenging and engaging

  Develop transferable future skills through the the application of knowledge into actions for success.

  Ensure high rates of progress for all pupils.

  Promote teacher planning that is integral to the success of the curriculum and also manageable.


Primarily, Aspirations aim to ensure high rates of pupil progress. Progress in:

        Development of knowledge: Progress in knowing more and remembering more, in other words making changes to pupils long-term memories. The future requires the acquisition and application of a wide range of knowledge.

        The ability to apply knowledge: Progress in knowledge being applied in more challenging, relevant and more engaging ways.

        The acquisition of future skills: In order to translate knowledge into actions for success.

                  1. The post-16 Aspirations Employability Diploma involves students following 3 A levels alongside the AED where for 4 hours per week students work with real employers on a real life project. With this we are also developing an on-line student portfolio. The Aspirations Academies Trust expects all post-16 students at Aspirations Academies to develop work readiness through their Aspirations Employability Diploma programme.  The AED will help each individual student to develop the range of skills and capabilities required for success in todays fast-changing global workplace. The Aspirations Employability Diploma (AED) aims to provide awareness of work, including a good understanding of the nature of different businesses, along with the development of skills such as time management, project management, team work and leadership, communications and presentations skills.  The aim is to provide students with a broad experience of the changing world of work and develop innovation and entrepreneurship. The programme involves visits, access to role models, mentored projects, and relevant hands-on activities. On leaving school or college at the age of 18 or 19 we expect our students to either gain employment, go to university, start an apprenticeship or to start-up their own company. The principles of the Aspirations Employability Diploma are:

        Each project must involve real company employees working with students to deliver a solution to a real world problem or solution.

        The teachers involved in the AED must model the expected attitudes/skills and be well prepared for the sessions.

        Each site must have a lead SLT teacher to liaise with the AED national organiser and to manage the Year 13 optional platinum programme in their Academy.

        The Aspirations Employability Diploma is a compulsory part of the post-16 academic programme and should be used as a strong marketing tool.

        Each Principal should ensure they are involved in the AED, preferably leading the initial opening session and being a member of the judging team.

        Some examples of the projects completed are:

        A design for an access tunnel under a runway at Heathrow Airport (Bam Nuttal)

        The re-development of the R21 egg labeller machine (Rational Labelling)

        Tower Bridge Road Deck Replacement (BAM Nuttall)

        Design a computer game idea that can be taken to market (Bossa Studios)

        Design an automated manufacturing system for Magellan Aerospace’s products (Magellan Aerospace)

  1. A work experience qualification for Year 9 and Year 10 students. Working with the Careers and Enterprise Company with the aim to roll this out nationally to all schools. This pilot brings together the Careers and Enterprise Company (the national body for careers education), Aspirations Academies Trust, the Edge Foundation and the awarding body NCFE to test an approach to assessing student learning when they engage with employers. The goal is to identify key skills that employers need. The focus will be on key industries in each of the Aspirations Academies regions. The plan is to design a curriculum that can be developed to link with the key industries in any school’s local area.
  2. ‘Small Schools within schools’ model. As our two studio schools are located on the sites of two large secondary schools we have developed across KS3 small STEM based cohorts of students who are taught in a small school environment before moving into the studio schools at KS4. This is very successful for a certain type of student.
  3. The Aspirations Learning Institute. This is our own training arm, delivering apprenticeships and CPD for staff within our Trust and beyond. However, its most important work is in retraining some of our teachers to teach in a more applied manner.
  1.     What needs to change

In our view the issues are:

  The National Curriculum is too prescriptive and old fashioned. Knowledge can now be acquired easily, students need to be taught how to acquire, analyse and then apply knowledge to real situations. The emphasis on single subject knowledge does not reflect the real world. Subject specialisms are important but trans-disciplinary learning is also essential.

  The straight jacket of GCSEs, examining students at age 16, and in particular the English Baccalaureate have no place in the world today. Exams in their current form are outmoded, as witnessed by the current ChatGPT conversation. The lid cannot be put on the internet and AI technology. We must adapt the school assessment system to reflect the major changes in technology that will only accelerate. Student portfolios and multi-modal assessment are essential adaptations that we must embrace in the education system in England.

  Teacher training needs to change so teachers have a better understanding of the world outside the classroom and the skills required to succeed in it.

  School curriculum needs to relate to local employment needs as well as the national and global demand. We perceive there to be major gaps in health and medicine, engineering, technology and education.

In short, the focus on GCSEs and other assessments at aged 16 is fundamentally getting in the way of preparing young people for their next stages of education and employment. They curtail and diminish the rich experience that schools should be providing for all young people. Schools should be judged on the extent to which their alumni flourish in the world of work. The many employers with whom we engage in our many curriculum developments would agree.


5 April 2023