Currently, the teaching profession is experiencing a period of significant change, with a new curriculum that is in its infancy, the removal of assessment levels, the introduction of a new SEND code of practice, the reduction in capacity of Local Authorities to offer support and the growing pressure on schools to deliver more and more services to their communities. For schools, there are so many decisions to make and often choosing the right one is not an easy task.
Over the last few years we have worked really hard at Unsworth to think about and prepare ourselves for all the changes that we knew were coming our way, but also to develop a mind-set that change is something to embrace, as we don’t know what is around the corner. As a staff we have come to see change as an opportunity, as a necessary part of developing our provision for our children and as something that allows us to grow in our pursuit of providing the best possible education. Our children live in an ever evolving, fast paced society, where each and every day brings new challenges or uncovers new learning. On one hand, to prepare children for a future that we can’t yet see is such a difficult task, as how do we know if the latest trends and ideas are going to stay or what if we try something and it doesn’t work out?
Consider this though, 5 years ago we decided as a school to write our own “Unsworth Curriculum”, where we sat together and thought about what we wanted children at Unsworth to experience from the minute they walked in the door in Reception to when they walked out of the door at the end of year 6. This enquiry curriculum was built by staff and has evolved each and every year, as we have learnt about how our children learn best, as we have developed our own knowledge and understanding of curriculum subjects and as we have reflected on the things that have been successful and the things that haven’t worked. All the way along we have stuck to our principles that the way we teach our children is bespoke to their needs. They are always at the centre of everything and when we reflect on the way in which we do things we always take it right back to whether or not it makes a positive impact on our children’s learning. Most of the time we have to make decisions about the way we do things, without knowing exactly what will happen or the effect it might have, but it is these leaps of faith that have moved Unsworth forward and enhanced the way in which our children access our curriculum.
Some good examples of this would be the fact that as a school we rarely use whole class teaching, but instead teach groups of children across lessons, to ensure that children are instantly hooked into their learning, get regular personalised feedback and have every opportunity to develop their skills from their point in the curriculum. For us this approach started 8 years ago and looking back to when it started, it has truly transformed the way in which our children learn and the way in which we teach. At the time, it was bold and there were many outside the school who considered it to be a risk, but for us we felt that it was right for our children and we took a chance to do something to make a difference.
All our classes for the last 7 years have had their own sets of laptops or Ipads, because we felt that we wanted technology to be weaved throughout the curriculum and to be there when the children needed it, rather than in a given slot across the week. We got rid of the ICT suite and the moveable trollies and opted for in class storage solutions. The result was children embraced the technology, teachers had it at their fingertips and technology had the chance to weave its self into the daily practice of each and every class. Not all the decisions we make always work, but I think the saying “you learn from your mistakes” is so true, because like children learn from errors, we as a school learn from trying things out and reflecting on how to adapt. Our writing curriculum is a prime example of this, because it is after 10 years of development, that we feel we have now got to a place where we understand not only what good writing is, but how to develop our children’s love of the writing craft.
Throughout my time at Unsworth myself and my colleagues have always opened up our classrooms to a variety of different educational practitioners and we have had the opportunity to work with some of them within their own settings. Quite often we have not known what the outcomes of these visits or sessions might be, but many of them have resulted in partnerships or projects that have helped shape and develop both our thinking and curriculum . Crucially, each and every visit has developed our practice and, as a consequence, directly impacted upon the children that we teach. As a school we embrace this kind of approach and increasingly over the last few years we have opened ourselves up to our colleagues in other schools, because we see the value in school to school support.
Recently we have hosted a variety of different types of courses at Unsworth in our new training room, all of which have involved practitioners across Bury spending time within our classrooms experiencing how our children learn on a day to day basis. For me, these visits have made such a positive impact upon our school, because not only has it allowed us as staff to reflect on the way we do things, but it has also given us a wealth of feedback about the way in which our school works.
Sometimes the unknown can seem like something to step away from, but when you think of the current landscape, no one has any idea where things will go and in some ways we never know how things will turn out. If we don’t try things out or push the boundaries of the way we do things, our practice will never move on. As a school we like to evolve and develop the opportunities our children have. When you think about most of the ways in which we do things as a school, they have developed not only from us taking a leap of faith into the unknown, but from being rooted in us understanding what works for our children and putting them at the centre of all that we do. If you read some of the recent comments below that we have received from visitors, hopefully you will see further how important it is for us as a school to keep looking forward and taking every opportunity we have, even if we can’t always predict what the outcome might be.
“Wow Unsworth Primary. Your school makes us feel really welcome! Your focus on bringing out the best in every pupil and your honesty is refreshing.”
“Thank you for welcoming us into your school during such a busy week. There are so many ideas to share and celebrate, but I will take away how inclusive the school is and how you prioritise and celebrate individuality.”
“Classrooms were stimulating and supported children’s learning. Children were able to talk about their learning confidently and knew the purpose of their tasks.”
“The books are excellent. Marking signposts how to improve really well. The children work very much independently and are proud of their work and their school. Displays are beautiful and vibrant. Children are polite to each other and can talk eloquently. All this has clearly been developed over time. Great staff!”
“It was so good to see all the staff working together as a team. You could see this culture well and truly embedded throughout the school.”
“Thanks to everybody-our school motto is Happiness and High Standards. Your team seems to be as near to achieving it as possible. Well done!”
“Thank you so much for letting us see all the amazing things you are doing with your children. You clearly enthuse and inspire your children. I saw lots of fantastic teaching.”