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All it takes is a conversation

The educational landscape is undoubtedly ever evolving and changing. As the sun sets on one idea, view or approach, so the next day starts with more thoughts opinions or aspects to consider. After working in education for nearly two decades, I have come to see this as an essential part of the Teaching Profession, which allows it to expand the opportunities for young people and push the boundaries of what it means to be a learner in the 21st century.

As a school we aim to have learning as our core purpose; to ensure our children gain a mental or physical grasp of things, make sense of the world around themselves, interpret the events and actions that unfold, whilst also processing the words and actions of others. Learning and teaching come hand in hand and with that comes the relationships that exist between a school and its community. These relationships are the key to ensuring that all children, parents and staff are able to create the right climate for learning to take place and at the heart of this are the conversations that help shape and mould the way in which a community evolves.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had lots of conversations as usual with all sorts of children and adults who are both within and beyond our school community. Many of these conversations arise naturally from planned meetings, routines, visits or opportunities, but what I have found fascinating overtime is the power a conversation has to sow a seed of thought, bring about a different perspective or sometimes hold up a mirror to reflect on the way we do things.

As a school it has been great to start to work as part of Oak Learning Partnership and through the conversations between all three schools, start to see how collaboration across a primary school, secondary school and secondary special is in such a short space of time already starting to have an impact on the offer we want our children to have as learners.

Our newly established parent forum is another example of conversations that we are engaging with as a school to further expand our motto of “Together We Build Understanding”. As part of our forum launch we looked at the remit of the forum and its purpose, which was further enhance by a presentation from Bury2gether, who are going to work with us to establish a forum which allows parents of children with SEND to feel empowered to share their views and opinions. For us as a school we would like it to be owned by our parents and it is a real opportunity for us to work together as a community to continue to enhance the opportunities for learning that all our children have. The conversations within our forum between parents, members of staff and Bury2gether highlighted to me that our school community want to have more conversations and have lots of ideas and suggestions that will continue to help us move forward together.

Sometimes it is those conversations that happen by chance or that occur because of an opportunity which go on to change how things are. A parent once said to me 4 or 5 years ago “I would love to be a fly on the wall and see the things that my child tells me all about when they come home” and from that came our use of Tapestry and Twitter to bring the classroom to peoples finger tips.

We all want to do the best for our children, but at times there can appear to be challenges or systems and structures that seem to get in the way of this or somehow disrupt what we want to do. All it takes sometimes is a conversation to take us back to our shared purpose of ensuring our children get the best deal as learners and the future of society. Unsworth is always a place that is open to a conversation, a conversation that may almost seem insignificant, but a conversation that has the power to be the catalyst for change. The late Rita Pierson was an educator who believed in the power of human connection and always had time to listen to all those conversations that fill our daily lives and the shared spaces in which we exist as a society.  

“How powerful would our world be if we had kids not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think and who had a champion. Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them. Who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” (Rita Pierson)

So as simple as it sounds, all it often takes is a conversation to bring about understanding or bring about change. Our lives are filled with conversations and it is empowering to think that as a teaching profession our Chartered College came from our collective conversations about pedagogy. Our  growing engagement with digital apps such as Twitter shows us that conversations about education and ways to move forward are always possible.

All it takes is a conversation and somebody to start it off.

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New Beginnings

Last week saw the start of a new beginning for Unsworth with us officially converting to Academy status alongside our new partners Elms Bank and Broad Oak to form Oak Learning Partnership. For myself and Mrs Reynolds it is also the start of something new as we move forward into our different roles. I started at Unsworth thirteen years ago in 2006 as a class teacher within KS2 and when I look back overtime I can reflect on how the school has changed in that period of time.

I feel incredibly proud of all of the pupils and staff within the school and it really is a privilege to now be the Head teacher as Mrs Reynolds starts her role as Director of School Improvement and Executive Headteacher of the partnership.

It is true to say that Unsworth in 2019 is a different place to what it was in 2006, but what we have always protected at Unsworth and what we will continue to promote is that all our children are at the centre of what we do. I have always believed that “Together We Build Understanding” captures all that we do as a school and community. Our new partnership will continue to take this forward and our colleagues at Elms Bank and Broad Oak will help us to continue to change and evolve.

Our partnership unites our schools with one vision:

To give our learning community a highly effective education in a truly inclusive environment.

At Unsworth inclusion is something that we have thought a lot about and for us it is as simple as providing all of our children with what they need to be successful. For us as a school, the learning environment and the products of learning are what help our children to flourish. This is achieved through our enquiry curriculum, which has been designed by our staff to map out what we want our children to experience when they come to us at 4 up until they leave us at 11.

It has been lovely this week to hear from lots of our new families who will be starting with us in September and I look forward to welcoming them into Unsworth with the rest of the staff across the summer term.

We see this new beginning as the next chapter in Unsworth’s story; a story that belongs to all of the characters past, present and future who have helped shape it into the place that it is and will be. A place where learning about each other and the world around us is at the heart of what we do.

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If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.

Earlier this week, the government published its latest response to the review of assessment in primary schools. The full report can be downloaded here. In primary education, we are used to constant change. We have experienced numerous changes in the assessment system since SATs were first introduced in 1990 for all seven year olds. The response paper has recommended that SATs for seven year olds be scrapped by 2023 and that the methodology for assessing writing in Y6 be changed this year. It also recommends the introduction of a times tables test in Y4. The check will be introduced in the 2019 to 2020 academic year.

As we do with all changes, we will look at them and adapt our practice accordingly. We have to comply with the accountability agenda without compromising our broad and balanced curriculum offer. For some pupils in some schools, Y6 has become a ‘preparation for SATs’ year. This is not the case at our school. We do prepare the children, but it is important that their last year at primary school is full of rich experiences and opportunities. For instance, during this last week they have enjoyed our celebration of Roald Dahl day (see the picture that accompanies this blog!); they have left school to become evacuees at Stockport Air Raid Shelters and then next week they will be going to Robinwood to experience their residential adventure holiday.

Professor John Hattie is a researcher in education. He is Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has conducted extensive research into what works in education and has become one of the most influential academics in education today.

In his work, Hattie analyses the effects of numerous strategies and approaches on pupil achievement. His analysis has some surprising findings. What he does believe, however, is this:

“What does matter is teachers having a mind frame in which they see it as their role to evaluate their effect on learning.”

This seems an obvious statement but to do it successfully is not so easy. Teachers and other school staff need to see themselves as learners. Constant evaluation of their teaching and its effectiveness is key. It is too easy to collect a bank of teaching resources and approaches and stick to ‘what you know’. Those of you who have had a number of children go through our school will know that this is not our approach. We are always researching and looking for answers to that important question of how to improve children’s learning.

In our School Development Plan this year, we are looking at how we can improve the range and quality of what we are calling ‘pupil products’. These are the outcomes of learning. Of course, many of these products will be in the children’s books but we also want to consider how we will use technology and the range of products of learning that are not written down. It will be an exciting challenge to develop this research with our staff and with our pupils. We will look to share this work with you on a daily and weekly basis through our twitter feed @unsworthprimary and through this website.

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That September feeling

The first week in September is a special time in school. The wider school staff have worked hard over the summer to make sure school is shiny and new for our children returning this week. On Wednesday morning our classrooms were ready to receive our children for another school year.

It is always lovely to see everyone arrive on the playground on the first morning of the school year. Our children looked very smart in their brand new uniforms and were excited to start in their new classes. Our Reception class have settled in very well. 

In our first whole-school assembly, we spoke about our school motto, our five core values and our golden rules. As usual, the children were able to talk about these things with confidence and understanding. It’s a great pleasure to listen to their wise words. 

As the week progressed, the children agreed their class rules and reward systems. They also decide on the types of sanctions they think are fair if they make poor choices. They really do understand how their good behaviour contributes to their learning. 

As the week ended, the children started to use their new exercise books. These have been personalised with our school motto and have shiny new covers which the children love! They take a lot of pride in producing their personal best work in their ‘learning windows’. 

We are looking forward to another successful year for our children and our school. 

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The things we’ve done..and the things we will do.

As the Easter break starts we can reflect on the fact that we are now two thirds of the way through the academic year. Our Reception class are now settled and confident in school and our Y6 pupils are approaching some big changes and challenges ahead. During this last week we held our progress evenings with parents and carers from Y1 to Y6. During the meetings, we asked parents to complete an Ofsted-style questionnaire in order to seek views on a range of issues. We have analysed the results and we are delighted with the overwhelming support we have received. If you would like to read the report then you can find it here.

 Questionnaire Results March 2017.

During this term, we have worked hard to provide the children with a range of memorable experiences. We have increased the sporting activities for our pupils which culminated in our pupils taking part in the Greater Manchester School Games. We have also enjoyed hearing about their achievements in football, rugby, netball and cross country. Many of our Y5 and Y6 pupils have achieved their level 1 and 2 Bikeability awards after improving their cycling skills on the road. Our Y4 pupils continue with their weekly swimming lessons and will do so until the end of the year, when it is our aim that every one of them will be able to swim.

In addition to sport, we have also planned opportunities for the children to develop their skills in other areas of the curriculum. Our choir continues to work with Miss Geelan and we are planning an event involving the Halle later next term; many of our children are enjoying learning to play instruments with Miss Geelan and with tutors from Fiddler Music and Bury Music Service. In February, we enjoyed great feedback from our parents when we held our Great Unsworth Exhibition. During the weeks before the exhibition, we worked to develop the children’s design and technology skills as inventors. They proved to be both skilful and creative.

We were pleased, this term, to be awarded the E-Safety Award in recognition of our work with the children. This week we asked Bury Teaching School Alliance colleagues to conduct a safeguarding review in our school. The aim was to test our procedures, our policies and our staff knowledge of the whole safeguarding arena. During the process children were asked about how the school helps them to keep safe. They were clear that they felt safe in school, knew that they had people to speak to and that they understood the issues around bullying and e-safety.

During the summer term, we will continue to provide the children with a broad curriculum experience. We will also be planning a number of end of year trips for them to enjoy. During the term there will be a number of class assemblies culminating in a very emotional final assembly from our Y6 class. In the meantime, enjoy your Easter break-we will see you again in a few weeks.

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A busy half term

 

We have reached the end of the first half term of the school year. What a busy time we have had. On Thursday evening, the governing body met for their Autumn term meeting. We were able to welcome our new parent governor, Mr Cooper, and we were able to discuss the start we have made to the school year and the priorities contained in our School Development Plan. If you would like to know more about our governors and their role then you can follow the link below:

 

Our Local Governing Body

Earlier in the week, we held our Parents’ Progress Meetings. Three of our governors attended the sessions to ask parents their views on the progress of their child and the information on progress provided by the school. Our staff governor, Mrs Channon, also asked our new YR parents their views on our transition processes as children enter our school, during the Welcome Assembly a few weeks ago. It is our intention to issue a report on what parents think and any actions arising from those views. We have also asked two of our senior leaders, Mrs Ali and Ms Sinclair to conduct a parent survey on homework as part of a review of our approach in this area. They will communicate views on this once all the responses have been analysed.

Our children have settled well into their new classes and are working hard. We continue to welcome many visitors into our school who attend the raining courses we run. When visiting teachers and school leaders visit our classrooms, they always comment on the engagement and independence of our children as learners and the outstanding behaviour they see. On a number of occasions this half term, I have had ‘learning conversations’ with individual pupils. This involves them showing me their books and talking to me about their learning challenges. I am always so impressed with the pride they show and their understanding of the learning process. This is also reflected in the comments we receive from our visitors.

The children have also had the opportunity to enjoy a range of activities beyond the classroom. We have welcomed our partners, QFirst Sports into school to increase the range of sports and PE activities on offer to our children in lessons and as extra-curricular clubs; our own teaching staff have also been involved in leading extra-curricular clubs and activities such as football, netball, tag rugby and table tennis. We also had a great day playing (and exercising!) on scooters.

A number of classes have also been out of school on trips and visits including our Y6 adventure holiday to Robinwood. School trips and visits to places in our locality enrich the children’s learning. First hand experiences are memorable and more meaningful to children. We are grateful to the PTA who work hard to raise funds to subsidise the costs of these trips by providing the transport, which can be costly. The parents of three of our classes have been invited to see their class assembly and we have all enjoyed seeing how all children do their best to participate in these.

Across this half term, we have worked with the children to think carefully about our new ‘core values’. Last year we held a vote to select five values which represented our community. All members of the school community were invited to take part in the ballot. When the votes were counted the values of friendship, respect, happiness, honesty and learning had been selected. In assemblies each Monday, I work with the children to unpick the meaning of these words. It can be a very special experience to talk to our children and hear their views on these issues-they are often very thoughtful, not to mention wise, in their thinking.

When we return to school in November we will be stating one of our whole-school enquiries. These take place each term and last for two weeks. Every class is involved in the enquiry. They are planned collaboratively by staff and involve a focus on particular aspects of learning and on particular skills. This next enquiry will focus on our five core values. The children will hear all about it during our whole school assembly when we return after the holiday. Look out for news of our enquiry via our website and Twitter feed.

Enjoy half term, everybody, and thank you for helping us to have such a positive start to the school year.

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Back to school

Welcome back to school, everybody! It is always a pleasure to see the children on the first morning back-proud in their new school uniforms and ready for the challenges of the new school year. Our new Reception Class children have arrived and have settled in beautifully. This year we have introduced a new app called Tapestry which we will use to document the activities and learning of our new class. This will be accessible to parents and carers and there is a facility to comment back. This, together with our Twitter feed and our website, means that our school community has never been as well informed as to what is happening across the school day.

Prior to the children starting, our staff attended a couple of training days in order to prepare for the coming year and to re-visit our core values and principles. We reminded ourselves of the meaning of our school motto, Together We Build Understanding, and what this means to our children. We know how important quality teaching and learning is for a young person’s future, but we also discussed the importance of their well-being and happiness. It is interesting that happiness and friendship were two of the values which received most votes in our recent poll. This year we will use the five core values, as selected by our school community, as our assembly themes-happiness, respect, honesty, friendship and learning.

It has also been a pleasure to welcome back some of our Y6 leavers this week. Many of them have visited after school to show us their new uniforms, their homework journals and to tell us how they have settled into their new schools. They understand the importance of our values and know they will always be part of our community and are happy to pop in and chat.

On Tuesday 20th September, we will be officially welcoming our new pupils into school during our Welcome Assembly. Any child new to the school, including all of our Reception Class, will be welcomed by our Y6 pupils. All parents and carers of pupils new to school are invited to attend. The assembly starts at 9:10am.

On behalf of the staff and governors, I would like to thank you for your on-going support. I have always felt that it is a privilege to be part of our community and I hope you will continue to feel the same way too as we move forward this year.

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Goodbye, Y6

Every year, at this time, we wonder at how quickly the school year passes. For those of us who work in the school, this is a regular occurrence. For our children it can be both an exciting and a difficult time. Some children look forward to the adventure of a new class whilst others worry about the change. For our Y6 pupils this week is the start of a momentous change in their lives; the step from primary to secondary education.

On Monday morning, they will be inviting their family members into school to see their final assembly. They have been working hard with their teacher, Ms Sinclair, in order to plan what they want to express as they leave our school. It is always a very emotional experience for everyone and one where all the adults in their lives, both at home and in school, feel incredible pride when they see who they have become as young people.

We hope that as they leave the school this week and as they develop in the next few years into young adults, that they carry with them the values we have promoted in partnership with our families. If you speak with any one of them you notice how able they are to articulate what it means to be part of the Unsworth community. They can talk about ‘Together We Build Understanding’ and what it means to them. They can talk about our core values, recently selected through a democratic vote. They have been successful in terms of their academic achievement this year but their qualities as people and the values they hold and demonstrate every day will stay with them in their future. It is that which gives us the most satisfaction.

Someone once said that to achieve excellence you should:

 

“Risk more than others think is safe.
Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.”

 

Taking safe risks, caring deeply, dreaming about possibilities and having high expectations of yourself and others is what we are all about. Our wonderful Y6 pupils are equipped to move on to the next part of their lives and we wish them well. Good luck, Y6, we will miss you!

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Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.

On Friday, we had the privilege of inviting a second group of Bury school leaders into our school to start another of our leading assessment programmes. During the morning, they visited our classrooms with their Y4 guides to see assessment in action. Whilst they were visiting classes, I spent a half hour in the hall with Y2 watching their gymnastics lesson. I was so impressed with their skills and the quality of teaching from Mrs Darby and support from Miss Hackett and Miss Lloyd. During the session, the children were practising gymnastic sequences. At the same time, they were filming each other using iPads and then reviewing their attempts immediately and improving their next attempt. In addition, Mrs Darby used her iPad projected on the big screen in the hall to help individuals and groups assess the accuracy of their movements. Fabulous!

As I sat watching this, I listened to our Y4 guides explaining to our visitors about how peer assessment is done in PE lessons. They were so articulate and confident. I felt really proud of our children but also of our staff. We have worked very hard over a long period of time to improve all aspects of our curriculum, including sport and PE. This is reflected in the increased numbers of opportunities for extra curricular sport; an example being the cricket tournament we entered this week at Stand Cricket Club. Our Y6 team were delighted to return to school after winning through to the Bury finals later this term.

In the next couple of weeks we will be holding our Infant Olympics and our Junior Sports. Every child in the school will take part in these events and parents and carers are very welcome to attend. The idea of the Infant Olympics is participation whilst the Junior Sports introduces the concept of competition. Our younger children spend the whole afternoon active. They move from activity to activity in mixed teams. Each activity practises a different skill. They skills demand concentration and effort but mostly are designed to be fun. It is important that young children see physical activity as enjoyable and are not put off by the addition of competition.

By Key Stage Two we introduce an element of competition. We do, however, stress to all of the children that taking part should be fun. When we stand on the finish line for the races we make sure we encourage and congratulate every child no matter where they finish. Some individuals struggle with the idea of not winning but it is often the way adults respond that helps them to come to terms with it. If we are still smiling and clapping at the finish whether they are first or last, if we tell them how much we’ve enjoyed watching them run, then they manage to have fun regardless.

We have also recently joined a limited number of primary schools in Bury in the I Will if You Will initiative. This is designed to encourage children and families to be more active. One of the activities is the WOW (Walk Once a Week) initiative. Some of our children initially thought that walking from the car at the end of Blackley Close constituted a walk to school! We have spoken to the children to encourage them to try a longer walk, at least ten minutes, just once a week. This is very dependent on parents and carers making the extra effort to do so. Not only would this increase health and well being but it has the knock on effect of pleasing our near neighbours who are regularly disturbed by inconsiderate parking at 9 and 3:30! We realise that this can be difficult for parents but it is well worth leaving home just a few minutes earlier on one day when you see the children’s delight when they achieve their WOW badges.

If you would like to read more about our PE curriculum or about how we use our Primary Sports and PE grant please take the time to read Mrs McLoughlin’s impact report under the Key Information tab. Also, keep a look out for information about our upcoming whole school enquiry based on Olympic and Paralympic values, due to start on Monday, 4th July.

“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.” Michael Jordan

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#LearningFirst Inspiration

In February 2016, Dame Alison Peacock, headteacher of the Wroxham School, a primary school in Potters Bar, Herfordshire, tweeted a message to ask teachers and leaders to put #LearningFirst. This single tweet resulted in over 500 educational professionals, including many teachers and school leaders, attending the Learning First conference in Sheffield on Saturday, including myself and Mr Rhodes.

The conference comes a matter of weeks after pupils nationally, including our own pupils, took summative SAT tests at Y2 and Y6. Many have reported the ‘chaos’ surrounding these tests, which has prompted calls for a total review of primary assessment. At our school we did what we have always done, we worked hard to prepare our pupils for the tests without abandoning our broad and balanced curriculum and by protecting them from unnecessary stress.

Throughout the day yesterday, we were urged to take control of our curriculum and our assessment system. We were encouraged to be courageous and make the system work for our own schools. We left the conference feeling inspired and knowing that we have indeed had the confidence to make our assessment system ‘school-owned’.

During the day, we heard from Sean Harford, Ofsted National Director for Schools. His message was that schools should start from their own principles, consider their ‘big ideas and milestones’ then assess it. He went on to say that the wider curriculum is really important and schools should utilise the freedoms offered since assessment levels have been abolished. It was so encouraging to hear the approach we have adopted at Unsworth articulated by Ofsted in the lecture hall yesterday.

Speaker after speaker spoke about the need to ‘tame’ assessment. One speaker expressed the concern that the ‘assessment tail is wagging the curriculum dog’. We know that there are certain national assessment points for our pupils, and all pupils nationally, but we have to take control of what happens in between. We have identified the experiences and skills we want our children to have and we have designed an assessment system to find out what they can do and how we can help them to learn the next skill. We firmly believe that it is dialogue between pupils and teachers, not data charts and graphs, that achieves this.

Coming away from the conference on the train yesterday, Mr Rhodes and I reflected on what we had heard across the day. We realised that we have made huge steps towards making our assessment system work for our children. We also spoke about possible next steps on this journey. In June we will be leading a second cohort of Bury headteachers in our ‘Headteachers Leading Assessment’ course. What is clear to us and to everyone who attended #LearningFirst, or who followed it on YouTube, is that collaboration between schools is what will make assessment ‘school-owned’ and fit for purpose; a system to improve teaching and learning rather than a system for accountability.