The need for innovation and the challenge of conformity: Dr. Sue Roffey and ASPIRE Education

The need for innovation and the challenge of conformity: Dr. Sue Roffey and ASPIRE Education

*Featured image captured by a student at Chilton Bridge School

Embracing innovation is often challenging, as it involves doing things differently- and this is not always easy.  One of the reasons for this difficulty is encapsulated in an episode of the television show Candid Camera from 1962 called “Face the Rear”.  In this episode, four actors are instructed to follow an unsuspecting subject into a lift and face the back wall.  The camera focuses on the subject, who gradually becomes visibly uncomfortable about the fact that he is the only one facing forward towards the door and, feeling the pressure to conform, slowly turns towards the rear of the lift in order to match the behaviour of the others, despite the fact that this clearly makes little sense.  This scenario is repeated multiple times with different subjects, all of whom eventually conform with the behaviour of the actors.

This episode was inspired by the research of Solomon Asch, a social psychologist whose studies in the 1950s and 60s focus on the effects of suggestibility and group conformity on human behaviour.  In one notable experiment, eight individuals- seven actors and the subject of the experiment- were asked to compare the length of lines on two sheets of paper, one of which contained one line and the other three.  On the second sheet, one of the lines was obviously shorter and one clearly longer than the line on the first sheet, with the third being the same length.  Each participant was then asked which line from the second sheet matched the length of the line on the first.  In the first set of trials, the actors gave the correct answer and the subject, going last, agreed.  In the second set, the actors gave the obviously wrong answer and the subject, following their lead, concurred by giving the incorrect response 75% of the time, showing the power of group conformity in human behaviour.  

Even more interesting, when just one of the actors deviated from giving the incorrect answer, the subject only followed the group response and gave the incorrect answer in less than 10% of cases.

These experiments demonstrate the powerful effects of group dynamics on decision making and how being different and keeping true to one’s own beliefs are facilitated by an awareness that others share one’s views.

This is why Spaghetti Bridge works to create connections with those who are dedicated to rethinking education through putting students at the centre of our approach to learning. In this process, we are discovering that, slowly, the centre of the conversation around the future of education is shifting.  One of those driving this change is Dr. Sue Roffey and Spaghetti Bridge is excited to share that she has asked us to contribute to her latest book, Aspire to Wellbeing in for All in Secondary Settings, due to be published in August 2024, as an example of her principles of education for the 21st century in practice. 

Dr. Roffey is an accomplished psychologist, academic, writer and educator.  She is an honorary professor at University College and the Director of Growing Great Schools Worldwide.  Her work is rooted in advocacy for all children and young people, including the disadvantaged and those with special needs, as well as the professionals who support them. This includes a focus on reimagining an approach to education that champions social and emotional learning, positive pedagogical approaches, and preparing students for the world of the 21st century.  

Her upcoming book provides an overview of how her extensive research can be put into practice by school professionals so that every student “can develop confidence, resilience, love of learning, a positive sense of self and healthy relationships”.  Rather than being seen as something supplementary or separate that is added to the periphery of learning, Dr. Roffey advocates for wellbeing to be integrated into the heart of education.  

Her work shows how her ASPIRE principles (Agency, Safety, Positive, Inclusion, Respect and Equity) enable students to flourish in school and beyond.  In addition, she emphasises that wellbeing is a key component in the construction of a thriving school community for all members, including educators, in a truly inclusive approach to what we mean by education.

It is just this sort of thinking that inspires us at Spaghetti Bridge to think differently about our approach to education and has provided a sense of shared purpose in shaping our vision for what schools should be.  Reading Dr. Roffey’s work, there is much that resonates with the Spaghetti Bridge Enterprise Learning approach.  We too see student and staff wellbeing as essential to creating a flourishing school environment.  Spaghetti Bridge schools are purposely designed learning communities, where both staff and students are supported to learn, develop and achieve their full potential.  This approach not only facilitates personal and professional development, but also empowers individuals to realise their ability to make a positive impact on their community and world.  

Frequently, educational leaders advocate for heightened ambition within schools. However, there is a concern that this ambition is overly focused on cognitive achievements and neglects the broader developmental needs of the whole person. Enterprise Learning means more than cognitive development and that each individual has the right to become lifelong learners, connect to their communities and be emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy and well.  

Sometimes what is most radical and different is also on some level quite obvious; it is just our impulse to conform that prevents us from seeing it.  Spaghetti Bridge finds common cause with Dr. Roffey in stressing the importance of ensuring that every child is heard and made to feel that they really matter.  The conversation around the future of education needs to move more to include a focus on student agency and voice, individual and communal wellbeing, and a sense of inclusion, belonging and purpose, and how these are essential for achieving the outcomes that will enable all students to thrive in the world of the future.  We see this drive to innovation and doing things differently in Dr. Roffey’s work and it is a passion we share.   As a result, being different and not conforming to the status quo is made just a little bit easier.

Roffey.S. (2024) ASPIRE to Wellbeing and Learning for All in Early Years and Primary: The
principles underpinning positive education. Published by Routledge June 3/

Roffey. S. (2024) ASPIRE to Wellbeing and Learning for All in Secondary Settings. The
principles underpinning positive education. Published by Routledge Aug 1.

2560 1706 Spaghetti Bridge

Accredited Learning

In addition to GCSEs and Functional Skills exams, Spaghetti Bridge students are offered a number of accredited occupational qualifications. These include NCFE Enterprise Skills, Business and Enterprise, and Occupational Studies for the Workplace qualifications and AQA Project Qualifications

Preparation for and Pathways to Adulthood

The unique nature of Enterprise Learning, with its focus on real-world learning, community activities, Industry Experts, Driving Questions, the experience of work-environments, and a project-oriented curriculum, means that students are prepared for life beyond school throughout their time at a Spaghetti Bridge school. All students are also provided with Independent Advice and Guidance throughout their Spaghetti Bridge journey.

However, as they approach the time of their transition to a post school destination, it is important that our students’ curriculum begins to focus more on deciding and preparation for a specific post-school destination through our “Pathways to Adulthood” programme. While each student’s wider curriculum continues, the Pathways to Adulthood programme focuses on students’ development of specific skills and knowledge in the areas of Continuing Education and Employment and Independent Living. At this stage, each student also has a transition plan that details the steps needed to successfully transition to their life after leaving school.


The Spaghetti Bridge Three Phase curriculum and our Relational Approach ensures that PSHE, SMSC, RSE, and FBV are integrated throughout each student’s curriculum in an individualised and student-centred manner. In addition, we have developed a yearly PSHE and RSE curriculum, consisting of termly and weekly themes, a bespoke target cache, and group and individual sessions.

In order to ensure that our students develop their cultural capital, each school has a cultural calendar which links PSHE and SMSC themes to events and activities in their community.


Mathematics is about so much more than simply getting the answer right. Instead, we believe that mathematics can facilitate a new perspective on the world and foster creative and analytical thinking, a growth mindset, and confidence in one’s ability to learn. Therefore, our mathematics curriculum contains three areas: mathematical content, mathematical thinking, and mathematical mindset.

Mathematical content consists of the twelve areas of learning that form the conceptual structure of a mathematics curriculum.

Mathematical mindset is about how students relate to mathematics, are resilient in the face of mathematical challenges, view themselves as capable of mathematics, and see mathematics in a positive light.

Mathematical thinking is the way in which students use logic, reason, and divergent thinking to solve mathematical problems and how they apply their mathematical learning across the wider curriculum.

Spaghetti Bridge schools deliver mathematics both as part of Enterprise Projects and through discrete mathematics sessions. We believe in teaching mathematics across the curriculum as a key part of all subjects.

Spaghetti Bridge schools do not follow the National Curriculum in literacy, but instead have adapted this curriculum into our Mathematics Pillar, which allows us to assess, plan, scaffold and sequence each student’s individualised curriculum.

All students have the opportunity to pursue accredited mathematics outcomes, including GCSE and Functional Skills exams.

Spaghetti Bridge has developed our approach to mathematics through collaboration with the Jurassic Maths Hub.


At Spaghetti Bridge, we want our students to have a love of reading, the ability to understand and manage information, and communicate effectively. Our literacy curriculum contains content in five distinct areas: comprehension, word recognition, speaking and listening, spelling, punctuation and grammar, and writing. These content areas are supported by a vibrant reading culture and the fostering of a learning mindset.  Literacy is delivered throughout the curriculum, is embedded in Enterprise Projects and is integrated into all subject areas.

Each student has an individualised Reading Plan linked to their relationship to reading.

Our literacy programme is supported by a comprehensive phonics programme based on the Ruth Miskin Trust Fresh Start programme. For students on a phonics programme, their phonics is delivered through a bespoke curriculum, which may consist of 1:1 sessions or be integrated into their wider learning.

Each school has a termly reading curriculum that is linked to the wider curriculum map with links to the PSHE curriculum and the Driving Question for the term.

The Spaghetti Bridge literacy curriculum provides opportunities for accredited learning, including GCSE and Functional Skills exams.

Spaghetti Bridge schools do not follow the National Curriculum in literacy, but instead have adapted this curriculum into our Literacy Pillar, which allows us to assess, plan, scaffold and sequence each student’s individualised curriculum.

Spaghetti Bridge has developed our literacy curriculum in collaboration with the Cornerstones English Hub and the Right to Read Programme.

EHCP Outcomes

Every student at Spaghetti Bridge Schools has an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) and this forms an integral part of their curriculum. Our schools take a student’s EHCP outcomes and break these down into achievable termly targets as part of each student’s Individual Learning Plan. These targets are then integrated into the student’s projects and wider curriculum and assessed on a termly basis.

A Knowledge Rich Curriculum

Children and young people today have inherited a world in which they have access to more knowledge than ever before; however, the knowledge curriculum is often delivered without context or sense of purpose. We have instead designed our knowledge-rich curriculum using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy to support students to not just gain but apply and create knowledge. Our curriculum map covers the subjects of science, human and social, creative and aesthetic, physical, and technology and design education, with termly topics in each area. The curriculum spirals every three years, ensuring that students revisit and build on prior learning through a sequence of three progressive tiers of knowledge for each topic.

This curriculum structure allows us to build individualised pathways for each student that support ambitious progress across the curriculum in line with their individual strengths and needs.

Skills and Understandings

In addition to our knowledge curriculum, our pillars also focus on skills and understandings. Skills are specific abilities that are linked to a particular subject and understandings concern the role that a specific subject plays in our world. Our skills and understandings are sequenced vertically and horizontally as part of our curriculum map and built into Enterprise Projects.

Enterprise Projects

As much as possible, our curriculum is delivered in the form of Enterprise Projects. In these projects, each student creates a piece of Beautiful Work of which they are proud. The projects are oriented around a shared Driving Question, which makes them meaningful, and are completed through Project Steps, such as brainstorming, creating models, doing field work, and presenting to the community. Projects are supported through collaboration with Industry Experts, who are professionals within a particular field and support our students to complete their Beautiful Work according to industry standards.

It is helpful to look at Enterprise Projects as the vehicle through which learning is delivered. For example, in designing and building a garden, students can learn any number of topics, such as botany, engineering, mathematics, etc. Reading is woven into projects through such steps as researching. Projects also enable students to work toward their EHCP outcomes by enabling any number of areas of learning, such as teamwork and cooperation, emotional resilience, executive functioning, and creative thinking.

Enterprise Projects give students a sense of purpose in their learning and build strong connections with their community, both within and outside the school.

The Three Phase Process

Our curriculum is structured by the Three Phase Process, which allows us to adapt each student’s programme to their current level of need and sequence all future learning.

Overcoming Barriers – students develop their sense of trust, belonging, self-image as a student, and sense of their own potential.  

21st Century Skills – each student’s curriculum broadens to focus more on the skills, knowledge and understandings that will enable them to thrive in the 21st century. 

Becoming Community Ready – the student’s curriculum prioritises more the steps that need to be taken in order to successfully transition to their life beyond school.

The Three Phases Process ensures that each student’s curriculum is individualised and ambitious and that they are supported and challenged at the appropriate level on the way to becoming themselves and changing the world.