[First published by Headteacher Update magazine January 2015]
Finding that extra 1%, and changing aspirations of children and families
Here, we share with you an introduction to Raynham Primary School and its inspirational headteacher, Marva Rollins OBE, and a small insight into the ways in which the team have transformed not only the school but the community around them.
Raynham Primary School is one of the largest primary schools in the country, situated in Edmonton in North London. Raynham’s intake is over double the national average on deprivation indicators, and includes children from the most challenging of backgrounds; including families who have arrived here from warzones and children who witness crime in their home or community on a regular basis. There are 37 ethnicities represented, 54 languages spoken, and whilst there are 81% children for whom English is an additional language, sometimes there may be only one child that speaks a particular language in the school. It is not unusual for a child to start at Raynham perhaps aged 8 having neither attended a school before, nor with any English language. Yet last year Raynham was in the top 10% of school nationally for their KS2 attainment, and top 3% for progress, and that has risen in 2014 with over 99% of children achieving or exceeding expected levels in Maths, and over 92% in English. This is a school which is humbling and inspiring in equal measure, and from which every school across the country – whatever the context – can learn.
Marva Rollins, Headteacher of Raynham Primary School explains the journey to this school’s success; “21, 275 of Enfield’s children are in families who are in receipt of out of work benefits, and there are 3,501 children in Enfield who have at least one parent in work yet are still living in poverty. But, whilst these are indicators of poverty, this doesn’t mean that the school should adopt a deficit model”.
“We are always looking for what we can do – what is the one thing that we can do that will make a difference?”
“We are always, always, striving those 1% gains – in absolutely every single thing that we do. It means finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything that you do”.
“We are a team that says; What would happen if… What would we need to do to get to…. What else can we do? We are very much a team of great thinkers. Our children need us to do this for them so that they can succeed”.
“Think about the reality of our position in our society. People don’t have high expectations of the children in Edmonton – no one is waiting for them to help them run the country. But, they deserve us to believe in them. And we do. Think what a difference we can make if we do succeed. We can change the futures, the aspirations of these children and their families”.
For the team at Raynham, their passion and commitment to raising standards of attainment and aspirations for their children is rooted deeply in their understanding of the community and context of the school. Visiting the school, the vocabulary used to describe children, families and the school’s activities is consistent and is loaded with a sense of equality and togetherness. It is often difficult to determine where the school ends and the community begins, and this deep knowledge of the myriad of factors affecting children’s ability to learn is used powerfully and effectively.
It is a powerful lesson to us all to reflect on how deeply we really understand the communities within which our children live. Do we articulate our understanding through the language of RAISE or the language of the community? How do we act on our understanding in such a way that makes a real, tangible, and positive impact on the children and their families?
The enabling power of language
“For us, for our children, our journey starts with language. Our children, when they arrive with us – at whatever age – have to learn;
- English as a means to communicate
- English as used by the community – so that they are choosing and using appropriate language for their home lives
- English of learning in the classroom – so that they can access the curriculum”
“We know it takes 9-10 years to reach the final stages of learning a new language and that this is in parallel to the 7 years in a primary school, so we have to think deeply about how we give each child the language that they need to succeed, despite the challenges that they face outside of school”.
Given these challenges, Marva’s view about the role of the school is simple and clear; “If you choose to come to Raynham Primary School, then you deserve to have a good day in school. Even children from the most challenging of circumstances embrace the environment that we provide for them. Because they know we care, because we love them. They don’t feel safe on the streets but they feel safe here”.
This feeling of safety, of knowing that the teachers and school community really and deeply care for each and every child at Raynham makes such a huge difference to what can then be achieved. Recently, a visiting group of headteachers from across SSAT’s Primary Network, witnessed what the Raynham team refer to as ‘Grammar Seminars’ (see photo below), which consist of 120 year 6 children, all in the hall together for 30 minutes, absolutely captivated by a single teacher who was resourced with no more than a paper flipchart and a pen.
Every single one of those 120 children were fully engaged, fully participating, and fully able to access the learning underway. Every single child was making progress with their language development, and every single child behaved impeccably. But even more remarkable is when you think about the catchment and context that all this takes place within.
It has taken great dedication and perseverance by staff to introduce Grammar Seminars not just to Year 6 children, but throughout the school, every week, and the impact that this has had on the children is profound, not least that the school are well above the national average in their results.
Marva explains her view of the role of the school as being absolutely central to the community, and that belief being at the heart of making such a huge difference to so many lives; “We can’t sit around wondering why our parents will not help their children. If they could then they would. Those who can do. So we need to help our children. They’re in a tough little environment but we can make a difference”.
“For example, we have breakfast booster classes where children eat and learn; not just Year 6, but many children, every day from 8:15am. These children then get the right kind of start to their day”.
“Every child in the school has fruit, and every child has a water bottle. We keep bread and food on site so that if a child is not getting fed at home we can feed them. We have families who need to access food banks, but sometimes pride can be a barrier, or the time it takes to access the food bank means that these children are hungry, so we keep food at school so that they are cared for straight away. We have a charity that supports us with funds enough to be able to do this, for which we are so grateful”.
Leadership: of the School or the Community?
Raynham is also a hub for community support that extends far beyond education which Marva explains “Community Services come here, into our school and our pastoral team close the gaps; we have midwives, library service and classes for parents amongst others. The staff leading these have responsibility to identify the neediest families, and to help parents to help their children to learn– so that the families are supported in helping their children”.
One of the things that is so striking about the gentle, and unassuming yet powerful leadership which Marva provides to the community is the dedication and commitment to solution-finding. Marva does not see problems. She sees situations that need a solution, and this belief has permeated throughout the school at every level, and has transcended the belief into a culture where ‘anything is possible’. Significantly, the schools leadership team recognise that to lead the school, they also play a significant role in leading the community.
Consistency and sharing: vocabulary, data and solution-finding
Put simply, you wouldn’t hear the staff of Raynham talk about problem children, targets or Ofsted. There is a shared, consistent and powerful vocabulary that gently focuses on the expectation that for Raynham children, solutions need to be found – through a shared responsibility for seeking them out. Marva explains “We have had to learn all kinds of things to enable these children to succeed; ranging from restraint training to learning support to social intervention and pastoral programmes. It is the responsibility of the year group to ensure that the children attain well, and the responsibility of the leadership team to enable them to receive the support that they need to make sure that this happens – whatever that takes. The earlier we close the gaps the better it is for the children – that’s why we use teachers for interventions. We spend a lot of time looking at the huge range of data that we collect – what is the gap that means that child has not succeeded in a particular area, and then we spend a lot of time talking through with the child to understand what it is that has led to the problem, or misunderstanding or gap, so that we know exactly what intervention they will need, and how best to make that happen”.
For more about Raynham Primary School, visit www.raynhamprimary.co.uk