Your voice matters - 19/6/20
Dear parents / carers,
Thank you for your ongoing support over this challenging time. It seems like such a long time ago that we closed school to the majority of children and - although it can't move as quickly as we'd like it to - it is fantastic that we are slowly inching closer to a full return to school.
We will continue to support both the children in school and at home with their learning. Both teams of staff report that it is a pleasure, as always, to work with such delightful children. The children in school have adapted to their 'new normal' and have been fabulous at following all the new rules. They've also shown that, despite all the restrictions in place, we've made it feel just like school! I video-visited every classroom recently and had a chat with each individual child present and it was lovely to be able to see and hear all about their time in school. Hopefully, they enjoyed it as much as I did, although I'm certain that the Nursery children were more interested in my dog than me!
Throughout this period, the real challenge has been in ensuring that the children continue to engage with their learning. At the very start, our aim was clear - to keep the children curious about the world. Our children love to learn and it was our number one priority that this did not change. It is vital to maintain a love of learning at this time. We were also very clear in our belief that you are not teachers and shouldn't be expected to be so. Many of you have your own jobs to continue from home and we did not want to put additional pressure on any of you. Many of you have more than one child at home and helping children of different ages, with different lessons is not easy. You are not teachers and we did not expect you to teach. So we asked that you support your children without turning your homes into school. We asked that you support them with the various projects that we set and encouraged them to accept the challenge across a range of learning. We sent every child home with their own book or and delivered them to children who were absent when we closed. We provided printed packs that concentrated on the basic skills of English and maths.
We also felt that given the changes the children experienced during March, that it was right for the Easter holidays to contain optional learning activities, as the children (and you) had just settled to your new way of filling each day of lockdown.
As partial opening went on for longer, in line with government policy, we offered an optional structure to your child's day. We encouraged you to make use of the Oak National Academy and BBC Bitesize daily, providing your child with access to high quality lessons. For those that were responding well to a more creative style of project work, the option to continue was there. Throughout these times, it was lovely to communicate with you and the children in a range of different ways. It was also lovely to be able to celebrate the learning the children were completing. It was important to give you the flexibility and support that you needed. Equally important, during the May half-term break, was that the children experience a 'school holiday' and so, we encouraged you to give the children as close to a school holiday experience as possible.
The government has given clear guidance about what children's learning should focus on at this time, with their wellbeing given absolute priority. As a school, and a profession, we entirely agree with this stance and agree that this should continue well into the future. The basics of maths and English are equally as important and so, throughout, you have supported your child to engage with daily learning in these areas.
Throughout this entire period, we have remained open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children, providing them with a focused curriculum built around those priority areas of PSHE, key maths and English skills. We remained open across school holidays and Bank Holidays and throughout there has been an additional focus on maintaining good reading habits, daily exercise and creativity.
From 1st June, schools gradually began the process of re-opening to more pupils and it became apparent that another adaptation to our provision was appropriate. So on 2nd June, we launched our Summer Term curriculum (in both school and at home) with a focus on the areas dictated by the DFE. As a school, we value a wider, richer curriculum and so decided to enhance our weekly learning with a virtual visit and associated activities. We introduced virtual assemblies in a further attempt to widen the children's learning and provide wellbeing support. We launched our new Home Learning curriculum with a Home Learning Team to support you and your child. We also continued in the tradition of the Staff v Pupils battle, Daily Art Challenges and the Move It! Move It! Challenge with the introduction of Mrs Wagg's Daily Reading Challenge and my Doodlemaths Challenge. You engaged with and supported all of these learning activities. Alongside all this, we have asked you to continue to support your child's daily reading, as well as providing them with daily physical activity. You have done all this - and more - and we thank you for this.
We are still not sure of what lies ahead, of when school will be able to re-open fully or what learning will look like. Today's announcement has clarified that there will be a national catch up programme and that this will be funded by the government. We had already begun to make plans about how our school will 'bounce back'. We know that the children will not have achieved all that we set out to achieve with them during this academic year. Neither has any child in the country. We know that some of you will be concerned about this, as are parents all over the country. We know that gaps that existed between different groups of pupils may have widened. Our teachers are concerned about this, as are teachers all over the country. While we wait for further details on the government's catch up plan, rest assured that we have our own bounceback plans in place for your child. We will continue to communicate this plan to you over the coming months - it will be responsive to the children's needs and therefore, will adapt. It is not a short-term plan. The government's catch up programme has been announced as a three year programme. Our bounceback plan will last for as long as your child needs it to.
Throughout this time, we have provided individual learning / emotional support for any child who has needed it and we will continue to do so. We have contacted the parents of children who have special educational needs and provided alternative learning each week, based on their individualised learning plans. If you are at all concerned about your child - or you need further support with supporting your child - please speak to your nominated member of staff. This information can be found on our website.
As I have hopefully made you aware throughout, we appreciate the support you have given not just to your child at this time, but also to the school and the staff within it. As I always say, the most effective learning takes place when school and family work closely together and I know that this will continue in the future. Many thanks for your continued support.
We have launched a parent voice survey (details have been emailed to you) but if you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me on my usual email address or via the school website.
A new start near to the end of the school year 1/6/20
A special blog update from our Deputy Head, Elaine Wagg
Now that schools are beginning to open more widely, we feel it is the right time to increase our school work expectations for your child. We have produced a ‘Summer Term 2020 Curriculum’ that will be delivered both in school and at home.
In line with government advice, and taking into consideration the challenges that our children have recently faced, we have narrowed down the curriculum areas that we will cover during the next term. Our biggest curriculum priority will be Personal and Social Education (including online safety); during these ever changing and challenging times, it is important that children have regular opportunities to explore their feelings, their relationships and their similarities and differences. It is also imperative that we teach and remind them, how to be healthy and safe in all aspects of their lives.
The summer term is when we would usually have a focus on transition in school and this year is no different, as all of our children will soon be moving onto the next stage of their education. As we won’t be able to prepare them in the usual ways before the summer holidays, it is more important than ever that we allow them time to discuss their hopes and fears for the next school year.
We will also be working on some academic aspects of learning. All year groups will be focusing on reading, spelling, maths and handwriting, in order to begin to close some of the inevitable gaps that will have been created during the past two months.
In addition, we will be streaming live assemblies and taking your child on a ‘virtual trip’ each week; providing them with some fun links to explore this further.
Although many staff have returned to teach and support in school, we have a dedicated team of staff (teachers and learning support assistants) who will be available to support the children who are learning at home. Each year group will have allocated staff who will be your point of contact during this time. You will be able to contact them on Classdojo or by email (email addresses will be on the year group pages on the website).
Some children with Special Educational Needs, will be contacted by a teacher in the next few days and given work that will be in line with the individual targets they are working towards.
We would like your child/children to complete as many of the weekly learning activities as possible. This will ensure that they have the smoothest start possible when they return to school.
Many children have enjoyed sharing their learning with us on Classdojo over the past few weeks and we would love this to continue. When your child has completed the learning activities, please, if possible, upload them onto Classdojo and then a member of staff will be able to provide them with some feedback.
We hope that your child enjoys their learning, whether it is in school or at home and we look forward to seeing what they achieve over the next few weeks. Your ongoing support is very much appreciated.
Elaine Wagg - Deputy Head TeacherThe Importance Of Doing Nothing 22/5/20You: "What are you doing?"Reply: "Nothing!"How many times have you heard this?You may not think it, but this is a good thing!There are many reported benefits to doing absolutely nothing. Doing nothing helps your body and mind to relax. Your body needs to rest and recover. Your brain needs to rest and recover. Doing nothing is good for us.In addition, research shows that doing nothing can help you to see things more clearly; it boosts creativity and can allow you to see the bigger picture. Being busy is great but being too busy is counter-productive.Even though the majority of children have not been in school, they have certainly not been doing nothing! They've been focused on home learning - learning in new ways, with new 'teachers' and new classmates. They've been following the new rules on how to stay safe, stay alert, maintain social distance and wash their hands properly. They've been trying to make sense of this new world they find themselves in. They've been processing what they feel about this strange - and possibly frightening - time. They've been dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing when school will re-open, when they will see their family and friends again and wondering when they will get their old life back.So, at the start of the half term holiday, we're asking you to spend some time next week doing nothing! Do nothing as a family. Let the children do nothing by themselves. You do nothing too! We're not setting any home learning projects, tasks or challenges for the children at home. As a school, we will continue to provide restricted care for the children of key workers next week. We may even teach them how to do nothing!We want all our children - both in school & at home - to have fun, play, choose what they want to do and when they want to do it. We want them to do nothing sometimes to give them a chance to rest and recover. You need to try it too - you all deserve it!
Dear Year 6 children 10/5/20
Dear Year 6 children,
This week would have been Key Stage 2 SATs week. Every year, I write to Year 6 children to remind them that, although the tests are important, they have learned important life skills during their time at The Grange and that these skills are just as important as academic achievements. This has never been more true than now. Your world has changed in ways that we simply could not have imagined a few months ago. Throughout this strange time, you have shown the qualities that you need to be successful in life. You have shown tolerance when the world around you has changed so much. You have accepted that everything is different and you have adapted to your new normal. You have shown resilience; you keep going even when life is completely changed. You have shown respect for the new rules we all have to live by and respect for others by following the rules to keep yourselves, and others, safe. You have shown kindness by drawing rainbows, clapping for key workers and by socially distancing to protect others. You have demonstrated your creativity by learning to work in new ways; shown independence and self-motivation and continued your learning away from school. When you’re talking to us, through dojo or on the telephone, you continue to show curiosity, enthusiasm and confidence. I know that you are disappointed to be missing out on this time at primary school. You may even be disappointed to be missing out on SATs! I promise you that your secondary school teachers will not need SATs results to know how fabulous you are - we’ll tell them. I promise you that we’ll work with you to make your transition to secondary school a successful one. I also promise you that, at some point, you will come back to The Grange and celebrate your time at our school. At the moment, I don’t know when that will be, but I promise you that it will happen. You are living through a time that will be forever remembered in history. You are making history! School children of the future will learn all about you. They will learn about your bravery, resilience, kindness and compassion. They will learn why we are so immensely proud of you all. Stay safe, keep smiling and be fabulous,
Mrs Masters x
Supporting your child's learning at home 4/5/20
We’re all settled into this Summer Term now and, as always, your ongoing support is very much appreciated. We are enjoying speaking to yourselves and the children, and phone calls will be completed this week. If you and your child haven’t spoken to a teacher yet, expect a call from us this week.
We know that some of you have followed our lead on home learning and have been keeping it relaxed and informal. Our aim was clear - to keep children enjoying learning. Lots of you have been making use of the weekly projects and electronic learning opportunities that we have suggested. It was lovely to see so many children joining in with the daily Art Challenge; especially when we received pieces of art from the adults and the children in the house.
We are trying hard to support you at this challenging time and, as our time away from school lengthens, it may be necessary to adapt routines. Some of you have said that you are finding it more difficult to organise your days; that the longer lockdown continues, the harder it is to engage the children in home learning. So, we’ve adapted the advice and guidance we’re giving to you. On our website you will still find weekly themed projects. This is the work we suggest you ask your child to complete. It gives you a structure to work from and children can pick and choose the activities that interest them the most.
In addition though, each year group team has produced a daily timetable for you. Teachers have thought about how you COULD structure your day if you need to. Timetables are, like all other suggestions, totally OPTIONAL. You could choose to follow the timetable exactly or follow parts of it. You could choose to not use it at all. We’re not dictating what you should do; simply trying to help. Daily plans can also be found here.
We’re constantly updating the Home Learning section of our school website, to help you to use a range of resources more effectively, including the Oak National Academy and BBC Bitesize Daily. Here you can also find lots of different resources that your child can use at home.
Oak National Academy. This is a fabulous resource and we would recommend that you encourage your child to access the lessons. You can choose lessons from any year group. Advice on how to use this site is on our school website.
BBC Bitesize Daily. This is also a resource that we would recommend and feedback from parents and pupils has been excellent.
We’ll also continue to make suggestions of daily activities to keep your children learning in fun ways. The Northamptonshire Virtual Games begin tomorrow (4/5/20) and we have organised a Teachers V Students Battle on TT Rockstars. The battle will commence on 11/5/20, so make sure your child has their log in details working by then. Ideas for Daily Art activities will now be published on the website and work will continue to be uploaded to the galleries there. Check out our Facebook and Twitter feeds for more ideas each day.
I’d like to continue to reassure you that we recognise that the situation is very difficult. We have no expectation of how much work children should do. We also recognise that not every child has access to a computer or digital device. If your children are unable to access the internet regularly and you need more support with supporting their learning at home, then please call school and ask for advice. We will be happy to provide paper resources to those of you who are unable to access the internet.
My previous advice to you still stands. We’re asking you to make happy memories with your children, talk to them about any worries they may have, help them to accept what’s happening at this strange time and make sure that they keep smiling.
Since the outset of the lockdown, we have ensured that children in receipt of free school meals receive food each day. If you think you might be eligible for free school meals now, please check at https://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/councilservices/children-families-education/schools-and-education/Pa ges/free-school-meals.aspx. If your finances have changed because of COVID19, you could now be eligible. If you are not eligible for free school meals, but you’re finding it difficult to obtain food, please call and discuss this with us.
I’d like to take this opportunity to, once again, thank you for all you have been, and continue to do, with your children at home. I know that life isn’t easy for anyone at the minute and so I’d like to remind you that we’re here for you too. Give us a call or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and one of the team will call for a chat. Keep smiling and stay safe.
Welcome to Term 5 19/4/20
I’d like to welcome you all to Term 5 of this school year, even if it’s like no other year that we’ve ever had! I hope that you are all safe and well and have enjoyed the sunshine over the Easter period. Being able to be in your gardens or leave the house for your daily exercise hopefully helps the days to pass more quickly.
This is a challenging time for us all and trying to juggle your own daily tasks with those of your children is not easy. I know that some of you have tried to take a ‘holiday’ from school work over the last couple of weeks and will now be thinking of how to have a ‘return to school’ tomorrow. My advice to you would be to re-establish the routines that you had during the first couple of weeks after school closed. Children like routine and planning your day with them will help them to settle back in quickly.
However, please don’t try to run a mini-school in your home. The vast majority of you didn’t choose to be teachers and no-one is expecting you to be a teacher now! We’re not asking you to teach your children everything on the National Curriculum while they’re at home. That’s our job and, because we can’t do it now, we’ll do it once we all get back to school.
We’re asking you to make happy memories with your children, talk to them about any worries they may have, help them to accept what’s happening at this strange time and make sure that they keep smiling.
We’ve put lots of optional tips, ideas and resources on our website (including a project / theme for each week), but these are to help you. The new Oak National Academy (https://www.thenational.academy/) launches tomorrow and so, throughout this week, we’ll support you to use this, if you wish to. It’s new to all of us too, so we’ll learn all about it alongside you. BBC also launch their new schools’ programme tomorrow and, again, we’ll support you with using that too. Make use of the things that are out there to help you. But remember, your house is not our school.
We’ve been really impressed with the work that children have uploaded to their Class Dojo portfolios. If your children haven’t been doing this, don’t panic - they don’t have to! But we want the children to feel connected to school so if they want to leave a message for the teachers, someone will reply to them. Some children have even been awarded gold Head Teacher awards.
However, I’d like to reassure you that we recognise that the current situation is very difficult. There is no expectation of how much work children should do. We also recognise that not every family has access to a computer or digital device. If your children are unable to access the internet regularly and you need more support with supporting their learning at home, then please call school and ask for advice.
Further information for parents in receipt of benefit-related free school meals will be sent out this week.
If you think you might be eligible for free school meals now, please check at https://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/councilservices/children-families-education/schools-and-education/Pages/free-school-meals.aspx. If your finances have changed because of COVID19, you could now be eligible. If you are not eligible for free school meals, but you’re finding it difficult to obtain food, please call and discuss this with us.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all you have been, and continue to do, with your children at home. I know that life isn’t easy for anyone at the minute and so I’d like to remind you that we’re here for you too. Give us a call or send me an email (email@example.com) and one of the team will call for a chat.Keep smiling and if you need something to help you to smile, check out our special message to you and the children at https://the-grange-school.eschools.co.uk/web/2020_be_happy/473054/cHJldmlld3x8MjAyMC0wNC0xOSAyMjoxOTo0Ng%3D%3D.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -The More You Read 1/3/20The overarching aim for English in the national curriculum is to promote high standards of language and literacy. It aims to give pupils a strong command of the spoken and written word, and to develop their love of literature through widespread reading for enjoyment. The national curriculum for English aims to ensure that all pupils: read easily, fluently and with good understanding develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage use discussion in order to learn; they should be able to elaborate and explain clearly their understanding and ideasEarlier in the year, we introduced our Recommended Reads (RR) for each year group in the school. You can find out more about these on the RR pages of this website. Recommended Reads are 25 identified books for each year group that cover a wide range of genres, styles and authors. Reading them - or sharing them with adults - will help children to experience a range of literature.The response to these texts was enormous and we know that children regularly read and quiz on these texts. We've listened to your feedback and you have also been very positive about these books. But you told us that we need to have more copies of each in our library. So we have begun to buy more copies of each of the books and will be putting these into the library as soon as we get them.Please encourage your child to read and quiz on these books and also to return books as soon as they have quizzed.Not only will their reading be rewarded but they may find a book, an author or a genre that they love to read. One of these texts could be the key to unlocking a lifelong love of reading in your child.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Help us to help your child 15/2/20Free School MealsAll state-funded schools in England, including academies and free schools, have a legal duty to offer free meals for all children in Reception to Year 2, under the Universal Infant Free School Meals policy.As you know, all children in Reception, Year 1 & Year 2 are entitled to a free school meal. We know that you don't always want to take us up on this offer, but it remains available, free of charge, until the end of Year 2.After this, in Years 3 - 6, universal free school meals are not offered. You can pay for your child to have a hot lunch each day. But did you know that it may be possible for you to get a free meal for your child every day?Children qualify for free school meals if you receive any of the following benefits:
Universal credit (provided you have a net income of £7400 or less)
Income-based jobseekers’ allowance
Income-related employment and support allowance
Support under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
The guaranteed element of state pension credit
Child tax credit, provided that you are not also entitled to working tax credit and have an annual gross income of £16,190 or less
These benefits have now been rolled into a single benefit, called Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is being rolled out, with an expected completion date of March 2022. All pupils who were eligible for free school meals up to April 2018 will continue to receive free school meals during this period.
Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, any existing claimants who no longer meet the eligiblilty criteria will still qualify for free school meals until the end of their current stage of education (i.e. primary or secondary).
Did you know that it's really important that you tell us if you think your child may qualify for free school meals; even if they are in Reception, Year 1 or Year 2?
If your child is in Key Stage 2 and you think they could receive a free school meal, please tell us - even if your child wants to continue to bring a packed lunch.You, and your child, will receive additional funding - including a £100 voucher each year - if you qualify for this Pupil Premium.Should you & your child receive the Pupil Premium?
If your child is eligible for free school meals, they may also be entitled to a sum of money paid to their school to boost their learning.
Introduced in 2011, the pupil premium is a sum of money given to schools each year by the Government to improve the attainment of disadvantaged children.
This is based on research showing that children from low income families often perform less well at school than their peers. Often, children who are entitled to pupil premium face challenges such as poor language and communication skills, lack of confidence and issues with attendance and punctuality. The pupil premium is intended to directly benefit the children who are eligible, helping to narrow the gap between them and their classmates.
Primary schools are given a pupil premium for:
Children in Reception to Year 6 who are, or have ever been, entitled to free school meals based on their family income: £1320 per pupil, per school year
Children in care: £2300 per pupil, per school year
Children previously in care who have been adopted, or who have a special guardianship order, a child arrangements order or a residence order: £2300 per pupil, per school year
Children recorded as being from service families: £300 per pupil, per school year.
Schools can choose how to spend their pupil premium money, as they are best placed to identify what would be of most benefit to the children who are eligible. Often, all of the children in a class will reap some benefit from how the school spends its pupil premium: for example, if the money is used to fund an additional teaching assistant who works across the whole class, rather than providing one-to-one support.
Does your child qualify?
Children qualify for free school meals – and accordingly pupil premium – if you receive any of the following benefits:
Universal credit (provided you have a net income of £7400 or less)
Income-based jobseekers’ allowance
Income-related employment and support allowance
Support under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
The guaranteed element of state pension credit
Child tax credit, provided that you are not also entitled to working tax credit and have an annual gross income of £16,190 or less
These benefits have now been rolled into a single benefit, called Universal Credit.Once your child has received the Pupil Premium, they continue to receive it throughout their primary school education. You don't need to do anything else, after the initial application.
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Bedtime Stories 5/2/20
Do you read with your child still at bedtime?
New research from The Book Trust states that 90% of parents feel that reading together is a useful tool for opening up conversations with their children. Despite this, almost 70% of parents who responded had stopped reading to their child by the start of Year 3.
"Sharing a book is about so much more than simply reading a story together. It creates a wonderful closeness, and it’s also an opportunity to talk about the themes in the book, whether that’s separation anxiety, making friends, losing someone important or simply learning to be brave.
It’s so easy to stop the bedtime story or other shared reading once children can read for themselves, but that magical ten minutes doesn’t just help engage children in stories and reading; it also relaxes them, helps them understand the world around them, and often stimulates important conversations about what’s going on in their lives. Our research shows that children love to be read with." (Diana Gerald, BookTrust CEO).
The Book Trust has re-launched its 'Time to Read' campaign; on a mission to get families reading with their children - even when they can read on their own. Shared reading is a fabulous way to further your child's learning, enjoy some quality time and also to benefit their mental health (and yours!) If you want to find out more, please visit The Book Trust website, where you'll find a range of resources to help you in supporting your child's reading.
I'm a busy parent and I remember how difficult it was sometimes to find the time to help my son with his homework. After a day at school, neither of us really wanted to sit down and start work all over again. We wanted to play together and have fun, rather than battling over reading - which was far from his favourite subject! If only there was a way to spend just 5 minutes a day making a HUGE difference to his reading.
Does that sound familiar? Well, we can help!
Reading whole words is what advanced readers do. Using phonics is an important early strategy when learning to read, but advanced readers rarely have to stop and sound out a word. Why not? Because they just recognise words; simply by looking at them. This is a vital skill, even for those who are still learning to read, as it speeds up our reading and stops us losing interest.
In order to read independently, your child needs to be able to instantly recognise approximately 95% of the words in the text. In order to be able to read fluently, your child needs to be able to read words by sight. In order to understand what they are reading, your child needs to read independently, with fluency and at a reasonable speed.
Phonics is important BUT so is reading words by sight! All children, from Reception to Year 6 have words they are expected to be able to read (and spell). I've put the links to these at the bottom of this page.
Now, here's the best bit. It takes 5 minutes a day. That's it. Just 5 minutes each day practising reading words by sight will make a considerable difference to your child's ability to read fluently, independently and with understanding. Your child's confidence will increase as they learn to read more and reading will become a more enjoyable activity for them. Before long, they'll be independently reading, meaning they can get on with the rest of their reading homework with more independence.
It can also be fun. The internet is filled with games, activities and ideas for how to make the 5 minutes of daily practice a fun and enjoyable activity - for both of you! We're always happy to help you to support your child, so if you'd like some ideas or resources to help you with this, then please come and talk to us. We'll be sending home a range of activities, over the course of the year, to help you to ensure that your child practices every day. As always, we appreciate your support - please make sure that your child learns to read independently, fluently and with understanding - all it takes is 5 minutes of your time.
‘Creating spaces for learning has been an art for too long - in practice, it is a science and very complex one at that. There are a huge number of variables - everything matters.’
There is clear evidence that well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths. (HEAD Project 2015). So, two years ago, we began to research an area that had interested us for a few years - were our classrooms optimising learning? We knew how we wanted our children to learn; what we wanted from them:
Children who talk, who share ideas, co-operate, collaborate
Children who are engaged, rather than contained
Children who feel ownership of their learning and their learning space
Children who feel in control of the learning process
Children who are becoming independent, lifelong learners
Children who learn different things in different ways, yet tackle each new piece of learning with confidence and enthusiasm
We looked long and hard at our Year 6 classrooms to consider whether they facilitated this style of learning. We spoke to our children, asking them questions about how well the classrooms suited them, without suggesting to them that we might make changes. They told us about the things that helped them to learn - feeling comfortable, feeling relaxed, being allowed to move around, having a choice. They also told us about the things that hindered their learning - having to sit in the same place for long periods of time, completing all learning at a desk or, worse still, trying to learn in an active way in a classroom filled with furniture that stopped them moving around. They were sensible, respectful and explained their thoughts well. From our research we knew that many children feel constrained by traditional classrooms, that they prevent them from learning in a range of different ways and they very definitely to not encourage collaborative learning!
We knew that some children preferred to complete some activities sitting on the floor, on cushions, on a rug, on soft furniture. We know that we, as adults, don’t sit at our dining room tables when we want to lose ourselves in a good book. We sit on the sofa, curl up in a chair or lay on the bed. We were actively trying to promote a love of reading, yet insisting that our children sat on rigid chairs at rigid tables.
When we want to talk something through with a partner; when we want to solve a problem or communicate with one another, we don’t sit side by side, both facing in the same direction and not making eye contact. We actively teach children to make eye contact whilst talking, yet we prevented them from doing so in the classroom.
So we conducted a trial. We removed some (not all) of the chairs and tables in our classrooms. We gave them rugs and cushions, sofas and chairs. Our research showed us that some children prefer to stand to learn, so we trialled standing tables. Some children told us that they’d prefer to use a clipboard, so we bought some!
The feedback from our children was overwhelmingly positive. They rated their school experience at 85% positive; compared to 69% from the same group of children in the previous school year.
They reported that they appreciated having the right to make their own choices - they can choose where they work and this can change depending on the activity. They talked about feeling more responsible for their learning - they have the right to choose where they work sometimes, but with this right comes the responsibility to ensure that they are learning. They talked far more about independence; about being in control of their own learning; of being more engaged in their learning. The research agrees with their conclusions - ‘Flexible spaces, educators agree, alter the fundamental dynamics of teaching and learning, giving students more control and responsibility, improving academic engagement, and undermining the typical face-forward orientation of the traditional learning environment’.
We discovered that our fidgeters did not fidget as much when allowed to work in their preferred position. Equally, their excessive movement did not disturb other children as much as when everyone HAD to sit at a table. Our standing tables were immediately popular and in every class, we have children who prefer to learn whilst standing up. So we allow them to stand, but we also insist that they sit when it is appropriate for them to do so or when they are asked to.
Our new style classrooms support the way in which we teach and the way in which children learn. Research tells us that formal classroom layouts lend themselves to the ‘Stand and Deliver’ style of teaching; where the teacher spends the majority of the lesson standing at the front, talking at the children. Research also tells us that this is not an effective method of creating independent learners. ‘The move to agile spaces does not compromise the quality of teaching or the ambitions for each learner. It expands teachers’ options regarding how they might use the learning environment to support learning and teaching. It also shifts the teacher’s position from authority of power, to leader of learning.’
Interestingly, this isn’t a new-fangled idea for the 21st century. Primary school classrooms have often had soft furnishings and comfortable spaces for reading. They used to be called ‘Book Corners’ and children have always loved them! Children have always wanted to sit on the floor and in many primary school classrooms, this has always happened at certain times each day; at story time or during phonics for example. Children sit on the floor every day in assembly and there is often a child who wants to lay on the floor of the classroom to write their story. This can be seen as a problem; unless you are in a flexible learning space that encourages children to be comfortable and relaxed in their learning environment.
Our classrooms have enough hard surfaces for every child in the classroom. They are at different heights and allow children to sit or stand in the way in which they are most comfortable. We still value good presentation and neat handwriting and we still insist upon this. We don’t force children to stand for long periods of time. We don’t force children to sit on the floor if they do not want to. Rather, our classrooms allow us the flexibility to meet the needs of all children - no longer do we insist that children sit at tables regardless of whether this suits them and their learning. We give children choices - they can move wherever they want to, whenever they want to; but they have to consider the needs of others in the classroom. We encourage independence, responsibility and control of their own learning.
The 21st century will continue to bring new technologies, new industries, new job-roles that we cannot yet imagine. What we do know about the future that our children will inhabit is that the skills of independence, responsibility and collaboration will be highly prized and valued and we are delighted that we can begin to equip our children with those skills.
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Failing Fearlessly (Why we should teach our children to fail) 8/9/19
Can you remember the first thing that you failed at?
A spelling test in primary school?
Not getting picked for the school team?
Your driving test?
I’m thinking that most of you will remember the first thing you failed at and will vividly remember the feelings that failure produced. I do! I certainly remember how that failure made me feel and all of those feelings were negative. I was 15. Funnily enough, I don’t remember failing as a child. But I know I didn’t excel at everything and so I must have ‘failed’ over and over again. But I don’t remember it and I certainly don’t remember negative feelings around childhood failure.
But times have changed and there are different pressures on children today. They have access to a world that is much wider than my IT-free childhood. They have far more ‘friends’ to share their successes with, even if they’ve never met those friends face to face. Those same ‘friends’ also witness our children’s failures and there are so many more opportunities for bad news to spread, more quickly, in the modern world.
I wonder if this is the reason why some children struggle to fail and struggle to cope with failure.
At school, we actively teach the children that they will fail. We share our stories of times when we have failed. We tell the children the things that we cannot do well. We teach them that failing is how we learn. We teach them that they need to make mistakes in order to learn. We teach them that making mistakes is ok. We teach them that far from being bad news; failure is good news - it means we’re on the way to learning something new.
We need to teach our children resilience, teach them to persevere, to try, try and try again and that failure simply means that we’re just not quite there yet.
In assembly this year, we’re exploring our school motto of ‘Dream Believe Achieve’. We’ll be concentrating on failure too, in the hope that we can teach our children to fail fearlessly, as this will help them towards a lifetime of success.