Thoughts on School Development Themes, Feb 2003

We are a very successful school! We have talented and dedicated staff and teaching is very good. There is something very special about a place where ‘the caring attitude seems almost to be part of the fabric of the building’. There is an ‘excellent shared commitment to improvement’ and a great sense of teamwork. And yet ………….

As we know only too well, especially in the City, many children are not achieving the successes they might, in academic, emotional or social terms. We know that some lack solid foundations of love, security, consistency and support for learning from home; they are not able to truly thrive in the school environment and we have to deal with the consequences in terms of ‘poor’ behaviour and attitudes. Our SATs results are pretty good, but could be better. Anti-social behaviour seems to be endemic, however good we are at preventing and dealing with it. By all current external standards of assessment, our teaching of Literacy is very good, but are our children delighted by the prospect of another Literacy Hour? Are they enthusiastic, imaginative writers? Does our curriculum reinforce the ‘natural’ curriculum where children’s curiosity and engagement with the world around them produces learning easily and simply?

I believe we are in a great position to examine these issues seriously and be inventive and flexible in our responses. There is a moral imperative to do so, if we believe, as we all do, in the power of education to make a positive difference to people’s lives. And I am convinced we are in a ‘win-win’ situation – the changes we make will have a positive impact on children’s learning (both in terms of SATs scores and much wider) and on our own job satisfaction (which is itself a very powerful determinant of children’s successes).

Here are some rather unstructured thoughts about lines of development. Many of these things we are already doing, and doing well. Nothing should be taken as criticism of anything or anybody, but as the logical next step of thinking if we accept the premises of the above conclusions. We can make things better for children and better for learning – our own as well as theirs! We may not know exactly how we’ll do this but we do know some general directions.

1. Focus on Learning rather than Teaching to make the curriculum more relevant, interesting and exciting for our children.

2. Concentrate on an ASK curriculum (Attributes, Skills, Knowledge in that order), rather than the current knowledge/skills focus.

3. Ensure that the Learning Environment is as appropriate as possible ie relaxing, calming, stimulating, giving security and physical and psychological comfort.

4. Ensure that children find school enjoyable, interesting and stimulating.

5. Ensure that adult-directed activities are relevant to children and build on existing skills and knowledge.

6. Have confidence in children as effective and independent learners.

7. Build on children’s natural curiosity, imagination and sense of wonder, and their innate abilities as learners.

8. Ensure that assessment systems focus on attributes and skills rather than knowledge.

9. Build a more effective home-school partnership so that parents understand the science of learning and their role as facilitators of learning and home and school work co-operatively to help children.

10. Use the resources of the whole community to support the work of school.

11. Develop teaching systems which support individual learning differences and preferences.

12. Ensure a culture of self-evaluation, celebration of success and constant desire for finding more effective ways of helping children.

13. Ensure all adults in school see themselves as successful learners.

14. Ensure all members of the staff team are enthusiastic and committed and happy in their work.

15. Recognise that as far as possible, children should have exactly the same rights as adults.

This means:

1. Explicitly recognising multiple intelligences and different learning styles and reflecting these elements in planning and teaching.

2. Using Music, visioning, relaxation techniques, Brain Gym and other elements of movement to enhance learning.

3. Examining the fundamentals of our teaching and management to ensure that the hidden curriculum is supportive of learning.

4. Making contact with parents as early as possible in the life of their child; building close contacts with school through home visits and parents groups in school.

5. Ensuring that children have lots of fun, and lots of opportunities for play, and self-initiated and self-directed learning.

6. Using topic work to integrate discrete subjects into a meaningful curriculum.

7. Providing the maximum opportunity for one-to-one or small-group work with adults.

8. Ensuring all children have regular opportunities to share books with an adult in a physically and emotionally comfortable setting.

9. Avoiding situations which actually or potentially label children as low or non-achievers, such as target groupings.

10. Giving lots of time to imaginative play and creative and problem-solving activities.

11. Making the primary assessment activity self-evaluation of how much children find our lessons enjoyable and interesting.

12. Ensuring all staff are skilled in assessment by observation.

13. Developing an effective whole-school approach to assessing learning attributes.

14. Remembering that preparedness for learning is emotional: learners need to be Relaxed, Alert, Motivated and Positive (remember RAMP)

15. Being more flexible in our planning and teaching; building in self-initiated learning and being prepared to go off on tangents and new directions in support of children’s enthusiasms.

16. Making sure all members of the school community can express concerns and discuss relevant issues openly and honestly.

17. Re-examining the necessity or sense of procedures from a child’s point of view eg lining up, length of time spent sitting still, etc.

18. Using visual display to reinforce our aims and ethos eg posters, photos, affirmations.

19. Using all opportunities to get adults and older children into school to help children – reading volunteers, grandparents, students etc.

20. Spending time observing each other and children and discussing all aspects of teaching and learning.