30th September 2013- Forever onwards

The start of a new school year is always a busy time, but especially so this year!

On Thursday we had a special parents meeting to discuss St Mary’s taking on a single year one bulge class. The decision to do so was not taken lightly. As with all decisions, the central question is: ‘what is right and best for our children?  Whether it is as a collective or as individuals.

Since we became a primary school a lot work has gone on in the background to ensure that the children’s learning journey from Nursery to Year Six is built around enabling our children to grow, learn and reach their full potential in the best possible environment: the quality of teaching is of the highest standard; the space they live and learn in is second to none and appropriately designed for their age and stage of development; and those in charge of the school are clearly held to account. As a school community we have achieved much in a short period of time. The leadership and management of the school has been structured to enable focused attention on the different phases to ensure that every child is known well and no child slips through the net.

With the school being split over 2 sites brings many advantages and educational benefits. Given a blank sheet of paper I would design St Mary’s like this:

Nursery, Reception and Year One—the lower phase. The focus here would be on early skills and emotional development. It would be a place where children can explore and engage with the world away from the home and begin to start understanding who they are. There would be no distractions with tests and assessments, and the flexible curriculum day means no need for a football pitch rota.

Years Two, Three and Four—the middle phase. At this stage children are introduced to a more challenging curriculum, where they can use and embed those early building blocks and skills. They are challenged socially and emotionally and begin to find their place in the world. A curriculum and timetable can be designed with their needs and their interests in mind, in order to foster a love of lifelong learning.  It would be an environment that allowed for a greater degree of independence, while keeping sense of home for them and their families. This space would be physically more accessible and significantly less daunting.

Years Five and Six—the upper phase. With secondary school on the horizon, learning becomes a little more serious. Children are faced with new opportunities for leadership and responsibility. They learn to be accountable for their actions, independent and self-possessed. They are encouraged to intellectually challenge themselves and others, and develop as learners. The curriculum is adapted to meet those needs and interests, and ensures that those children are equipped with the knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them for the next stage of their educational journey.  In this space, staff can be increasingly flexible in their support for the children, both educationally and pastorally.

Our vision is about building a team of skilled staff around the children in each phase whose sole responsibility is to know, understand and nurture them. This will enable every child to excel and be the best of themselves. It is also about responsibilities, for which each child is very much held to account. It is about utilising and developing the building and physical space we have to create the best possible environment for each age and stage of learning in its broadest sense.

So, I hear you ask, what has this to do with us taking on an additional Year One class. With every challenge comes opportunity. The Governors and I had to weigh up the potential disruption and inconvenience of taking on an additional class, the impact on the children and families we have with the benefits of scale in terms of staffing and the money that comes with such an undertaking. How can we best manage and adapt with minimal impact to our children? Does this opportunity help us realise our long-term goals more quickly? Is the leadership and management of the school in place where this project could be delivered to highest standard and quality, to the benefit of all, and improving outcomes for children? After lengthy discussions and debate the answer was a unanimous ‘yes’.

As a school we are more than aware of what is important to families, why they have chosen St Mary’s for their children and why we are a community school in demand. We know and understand only too well parent’s fears and anxieties. But we are absolutely committed to keeping and building on our success and the uniqueness of St Mary’s as we confront those concerns that come with having a child in school.

As my mother used to say, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had”. What we have at St Mary’s is great, but our children can have even better.