[First published by Headteacher Update magazine April 2015]
Beyond Outstanding: Why together we are greater than the sum of our parts
Led by the remarkable Executive Headteacher Dame Vicki Paterson DBE, each school has its own personality, community and staffing including its own very able Headteacher, but there is a very distinct set of values which bring the schools together to serve their local and shared community of children and families. Each of the individual schools; Brindishe Lee, Brindishe Green and Brindishe Manor have blossomed into Outstanding schools from very different starting points, and significantly, each school has a very different ‘feel’ to it; one being very close-knit community school, one a traditional local family school and one an exciting global village school.
There is something very unique about the ways in which the schools work together; attributing their individual and combined success to a strong set of values and shared beliefs which keep a clear focus on children and their learning, working non-hierarchically in close partnership and collaboration, building creativity and securing a rich and engaging curriculum, and recognising that strength can be found in diversity and difference.
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”
As well as the practical benefits that scale brings such as shared resourcing and bulk ordering, the mindset of all staff is of working across all 3 schools and this permeates both professional and practical activity – sharing knowledge, skills and capacity – not just through leadership and teaching but through premise, business and support staff. Professional development, training and INSET includes all staff across the schools with many moving between the schools as they develop their careers.
A relentless focus on Children and their Learning
Teachers are empowered to focus on teaching and constantly and consistently focus on key questions – how does this child in my class learn, why do they need to learn this, what’s the best way for them to do that, how will I know when they have, how can I make that sharper/better. The wider team from Headteacher to housekeepers, technicians, attendance staff and support staff play clear and powerful roles in allowing teachers to focus on teaching, and children to focus on learning.
A curriculum for life, not just for the school
Brindishe Schools share a curriculum that they designed and wrote forthemselves. It is one which recognises that the children across the schools are a very diverse group of learners, and that communities can learn to live and share with each other. Linking this from local specifics to their mantra that ‘The world is my classroom’ has been intelligently and diligently planned and enabled. Introducing the curriculum the schools explain that ‘in order to learn what we need to learn we must look beyond the classroom and our own school and take responsibility not only for ourselves but for the progress and well-being of others’, and this can be clearly seen in both the organisation and delivery of the curriculum itself.
From year 1 through to year 6 the Brindishe curriculum is organised into six areas of learning – building on the strengths of Early Years – and the inference of each curriculum area shows how vitally the Brindishe community see the links between the classroom and the wider world;
- Communication, Languages and Literacy
- Maths, Economics and Enterprise
- Scientific and Technological Understandings
- Creative and Expressive Arts
- Historical, Global, Social and Spiritual Understanding
- Physical, Wellbeing, Health and Lifestyles
These areas of learning each have their own focus which clearly link the area of learning with the impact it will have on children’s learning and lives, and each area then has a set of ambitions that will be achieved for every child over the course of their time at Brindishe, and clearly identified content through which these ambitions will be enabled.
What is striking about the Brindishe curriculum is that it incorporates both local, national and international curricula and mindedness, but also that it is relentlessly focused on children developing the skills, knowledge and understanding that they will need for their lifelong journey – of which only a small part relates to national assessments and expectation.
“Its all about the children and their learning”
Seeing this curriculum in practice is insightful, inspirational and invigorating. Staff have very clear beliefs about how to best enable children to learn, for example;
- Creativity is seen through every day experiences in everyday learning – not just in specific areas of learning – through outdoor activities, bringing nature’s materials into the classroom, vocabulary, questioning or sensory stimuli.
- Collaboration is an expectation – with cross class partnerships, students supporting students, parents being supported through home learning, the use of space for small groups as well as the myriad of staff collaboration and children’s group activities such as play and arts leaders, young interpreters, tea parties and team building work.
- Environment is understood as a tool – with intelligent use of physical spaces within, around and outside of the schools, as well as robust and powerful uses of display ranging from working learning walls, positive postcards, modelling and learning tools. The schools have unique ways of using every available space for learning, ranging from gardens and forest school spaces, shared open plan learning zones and atria to rooftop astroturfed games areas. They create different kinds of learning areas for different kinds of learning. The schools are beautifully resourced and have adopted the William Morris sentiment that everything in the classrooms “should be either useful or beautiful”.
- Consistency is critical – and this underpins both the curriculum, expectations of children and staff, precision of the learning environment and interaction between people across all of the schools.
- Everyone matters, and together we are more – there is a deeply embedded culture of respect and responsibility within both children and adults across the schools, with children given significant responsibilities and staff working non-hierarchically within and beyond the classroom.
The significance of relationships in the ways that Brindishe Schools have grown together is not to be underestimated. For example, the shared curriculum was developed by a group of 30 staff from across all 3 schools, first establishing shared values and then what to evolve to suit the very diverse range of needs and backgrounds of children from across the family. Parents and governors were part of the review process, and teams rather than coordinators then led specific aspects. The approach to developing the detail of the curriculum was diligent and innovative – identifying the tasks that needed to be undertaken and identifying who wanted to help and who could support the task in part or full. This non-hierarchical approach has made a huge impact on the mindsets, sense of community and consequent learning, and is reflected also in the Governing Body who meet for tea and eat together before meetings and then work across all three schools with shared roles and responsibilities focusing on tasks and outcomes.
Lessons for us all
There are key messages here for us all in whatever role or context – and what is striking about Brindishe is the way that across 3 very different schools, the same success journey has been undertaken carefully and sustainably. With Brindishe featuring in the top 10% of schools nationally it is clearly a formula that works for children, staff, parents and the broader community.
Perhaps take a moment to reflect on some of the words which underpin activity at Brindishe – Collaboration, Consistency, Relationships, Environment and Creativity – to what extent can we enable and empower these in every child, every colleague and every moment in our own schools?