[First published by Headteacher Update magazine June 2016]
Making that extra 1% difference…
…where you live, which school you attend,
…where you work, who you know,
…where you are, or what you can afford,
define the boundaries of your learning,
and therefore your chances in life?”
Particularly since the introduction of the Pupil Premium, there has been a huge focus on how we can ‘Close the Gap’, with attention largely focused on disadvantaged children. But of course there are gaps for all our children in the learning experiences they are able to access.
This is the first in a series of articles that will share ways in which headteachers across the country are making ‘that extra 1% difference’ to the lives of their children and staff, and we start by considering one of the most obvious issues – that of community.
Community: Means many things to many people
When we join a school, we become aware of features of the community around it – we might observe the type of catchment, the style of home-school relationships, or the nature of the partnerships that the school has for example. But whilst we can’t change the location of your school, we can certainly change the school community; who’s part of it and what difference that makes to the learning of those around us – both children and adults.
Community: Where the child is the centre
Raynham Primary School
Raynham Primary School in Enfield, led by the inspirational Marva Rollins, very much blurs the lines between the school and the wider community in such a way that has ultimately led to the school being consistently amongst the highest performing primary schools nationally for children’s progress. Marva’s view is that every child faces a unique set of barriers to learning, but every child equally deserves to have the best possible start to their lives. As Marva so poignantly puts it ‘Society doesn’t have expectations of our children because of their backgrounds (81% EAL, 28% turnover, 45% PP, 12% SEND); no-one is looking at these children to see the next Prime Minister’ and that social injustice is very much the driver behind the relentless dedication across the staff at Raynham Primary School. Staff deeply and passionately believe in their children and will stop at nothing to make sure that each and every of the 880 children attending the school, has the right support to achieve the national expectations across the curriculum. For many children who have arrived at Raynham from war torn countries, or children whose home environments are unable to support their education, this belief is literally life-changing. As one child puts it ‘When I am at school I feel safe, and I feel like people believe in me. That makes me want to do well.’
The team at Raynham Primary School have carefully considered the key barriers that their children face, and have invested time and resource in appropriate and often innovative and creative solutions. Through family liaison; the school are on constant look out for issues that are preventing a child from learning – and work with families to overcome these. Examples include supporting a parent in accessing medical help so that the child does not have to be carer to their parent and thus preventing them from attending school and learning. This is far beyond the official remit of the school but Raynham’s approach is very much to go the extra mile because they know it makes a life changing difference to the children.
Another issue facing the children at Raynham, as with many other schools, is where children are going without breakfast and families are dependent on food banks. Raynham’s solution has been to seek out funds through charitable funds in order to provide a nurture breakfast club which not only provides food but also nurtures the children’s start to the day and showing them that they are valued and supported.
Above all, it is the belief that stems from Marva as headteacher – that everyone can achieve, with the right support. This is probably the biggest single influence on the school. But belief is hard to teach – and how do you spread this passion across a staff of 200 professionals and further afield? Marva provides extensive professional development for her staff through Learning Breakfasts, Lunch & Learn sessions, Peer Mentoring and Coaching. These sessions are vital because they empower the staff with skills, understanding and knowledge – both spreading the passion as well as the practical solutions, and ensuring sustainability across the staff and consistency for the children.
Another wonderful example is this can be found at Harbour Primary and Nursery in East Sussex – a pioneer for Achievement for All work, and multi award winning school. Christine Terrey the Headteacher has an infectious enthusiasm for learning, and says “We share a common vision that seeps into and across the curriculum that we offer, and the values that we promote. We have a short and simple school motto ‘Always Be Curious’ our ABC! We expect all staff, parents and children to remember that at Harbour Primary we aim for everyone to ask questions, be keen and eager to learn, be inquisitive, be enquiring and to appreciate the wonder of discovering something new and different.
It is important to us that our children feel safe and secure and that they develop a sense of belonging, that strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed as the children grow. We try hard to ensure that our environment is vibrant and rich, and that activities are planned to excite and inspire children to learn. We give children the opportunity to mix with, and learn with and from each other. We use peer tutoring within school and learn from children in other schools using technologies such as Skype. We also maximise the use of technologies to share our learning at home, for example through our on-line learning journals”.
Harbour Primary and Nursery School
‘A strong sense of community runs through the school.’ (Ofsted 4-5th May 2016, Harbour Primary)
Community: Underpinned by Meaningful Values
The Compass Partnership of Schools
The common thread across school leaders who are passionate about the importance of their learning community is of course shared Vision and Values. Whilst we all have these in place, the meaningfulness and the embeddedness of them makes a significant impact across school operational outcomes.
The Compass Partnership consists of seven primary schools with very contrasting communities in Greenwich. Led by executive headteacher John Camp, these schools have built a community which share a vision and set of values which underpin the work of the schools, but also are deeply and sustainably embedded within the culture within and between the schools. This means that the community of schools – including staff, children, parents and partners – share an understanding about what the role of the partnership is and where they fit within it. This kind of focus on equitability between children, and in the interactions between children and all adults, not just teachers and leaders, is both profound and purposeful. For example, the partnership made a strategic decision to develop behaviour, learning, and learning behaviours all without the use of reward systems – instead focusing on creating a powerful and sustainable culture of conversation. Precision in conversation, and the tools to make this possible is found everywhere – from books to wall mountings – and all adults, not just teaching staff, are trained and supported with the tools and vocabulary for structuring conversations, phrasing challenge and providing support in such a way that exemplifies the values themselves. This subtle yet powerful and positive use of the environment is what empowers the schools to move beyond traditional behavioural systems – so that every interaction between child and child, child and adult, or adult and adult, is embraced by a cultural familiarity – a culture of conversation – and it is this impact on behaviours and social interactions which reaches far beyond the classrooms and school building.
Community: Coming Together
The New Wave Federation
The New Wave Federation is a group of three schools work led by executive headteacher Michelle Thomas, who says “We wholeheartedly believe our schools gain many benefits from working collaboratively and maximise the benefits of working in a group of schools. We have made a commitment to have a shared responsibility to the wider school community, through the provision of high-quality education and the improvement of life chances for pupils in the community beyond that of our own three schools.
We want to develop a passion for learning, inspired by high-quality teaching, developing and building upon individual strengths and talents. We expect all children in our schools to reach age-related levels, in line with national expectations, as a minimum, and we aim to ensure that the barriers to learning are removed, so that every pupil in all of our schools reach their full potential. We do this with innovation and collaboration at the heart of all that we do both for us as adults and the children.
Some of the many practical ways we work together include sharing specialist staff – for example we have a shared ‘Performing Arts Department ‘which offers all our children specialist teaching each week in Music, Dance, Art and Drama. We also share a fulltime Spanish teacher so all year groups are taught this language. As an Apple Regional Training Centre, we also share the skills of our staff within our federation and beyond; including 2 Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) and 2 Computing at Schools (CAS) Master Teachers.
Our children now go on joint trips together as we share the same curriculum through the 3 schools. This is a great way to utilise resources and teacher time as teachers plan together in much larger groups. This year this way of working has been a godsend as we cope with life after levels. For us, we have an instant larger group of staff and children to share and moderate our work with. Staff all see themselves as working for the federation and would not think twice about helping out in another school if there is a need”.
Reflecting on the examples above, consider for a moment how your school defines community, and what that looks like in practice – to what extent each stakeholder has a passive or assertive role, and how far the ripples of impact therefore flow…
Founder of One Life Learning