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Quality achievements

On Monday last week we welcomed two assessors into school to spend the day with us in order to evaluate our work for the basic skills Quality Mark. This is our fourth renewal of the Quality Mark which is assessed every three years.

The basic skills Quality Mark is an award that celebrates and supports continuous improvement in literacy and numeracy. It is awarded to a setting or school to recognise their provision, practice and performance in literacy and numeracy, and is valid for three years.

A school or setting must demonstrate a whole school approach to improving standards in literacy and numeracy, with evidence of the impact of its approaches. It should provide a framework for self-evaluation and continuous improvement of the basic skills of all pupils in a school, including those who underachieve and those who underattain.

To renew the award, a school must demonstrate that:

  • it continues to meet the criteria for all ten elements
  • there have been developments in basic skills that have had a positive impact on standards
  • there continues to be a whole school commitment to improving basic skills.

This year, we have also applied for the Early Years Quality Mark. This assesses whether a school provides a framework for self-evaluation and continuous improvement of the skills, particularly in communication, language and mathematical development, of young children through activities suitable for the stage of development they have reached.

At the end of the day we were delighted to achieve both Quality Mark awards. The assessors reported that they had been overwhelmed by the quality of our pupils’ work and their ability to talk about their learning. They were also impressed with the structures we have in place to ensure progress for every child. When we have the final written reports we will share them with parents and carers via our website.

We are rightly proud of our children and their efforts. The support and involvement of parents and carers is invaluable in their success as learners. The third element in this success is the commitment and sheer hard work of our staff. Without these three elements we would not achieve what we do for our children.

Together We Build Understanding

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Building community-then and now

There are so many activities across a school week, beyond our lessons, that help to build our children’s experience, confidence and enjoyment. We have done a lot of thinking about this and how a child’s primary school experience needs to be rich, varied and engaging. This week was no exception.

At the end of the week, the children engaged in a day of fundraising for Sports Relief by working hard on an obstacle course organised by Mrs McLoughlin. It is her responsibility to organise and promote our sport and PE curriculum and the event on Friday is another part of this. It was great to see how the children pushed themselves but also how much they enjoyed the day. Back in class, the children watched some clips about how the money raised helps children around the world. Some of our children were surprised to learn that some children do not have access to an education. It was good for them to think about this and realise how they might have had some impact on another child’s life by taking part in the event.

Events like the Sports Relief obstacle course help our children to develop empathy and a sense of community. This was the subject of Y5’s assembly on Friday morning. In their most recent historical enquiry, Y5 have been researching the history of Unsworth and further developing their mapping skills by looking at maps over time to see the changes in our area. The history of Unsworth was the subject of their assembly.

During the assembly, we heard about the origins of the Unsworth area, its legendary dragon and its contribution to the developing Industrial Revolution. We also heard about the greasy Unsworth Pole and the sacrifice made by our community during the two World Wars. The children ‘travelled’ back and forth through time via their time machine. At the end of the assembly, they brought everyone together by leading us in an enthusiastic rendition of our Community Song. It is through events like this, attended by so many parents and carers, that we foster the sense of community and belonging that is so important to children’s lives.

On Monday and Tuesday this week we will be welcoming parents and carers into school to meet with class teachers. This is an opportunity to look through the children’s books and to look at the work on display in their classrooms and in our corridors and hall. It is also an opportunity to speak to the class teacher about the progress that has been made over the last two terms. Each class teacher should give a picture of how children are progressing in their basic skills in particular and the things they will be working on over the remainder of the academic year. This is why we have our progress meetings at this point, so that we have time to work on any issues before the year ends.

We are very much looking forward to seeing you in school this week. I will be available throughout both sessions (3:30-6:30 Monday and Tuesday) if there are any issues you wish to discuss further.

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Thinking about collaboration

This week I spent some time away from school attending the Bury Primary School Head Teachers Conference. This is an annual event designed to help us reflect on current policy and practice. It is by reflection and collaboration with others that we think about the best approaches to take in order to ensure that our school is the best it can be for our children.

This year the theme of our conference was collaboration. We heard a variety of speakers who are working in and for schools. In particular we heard from Vicky Beer who is the recently appointed Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

RSCs are responsible for approving and monitoring academies and free schools in their area on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education. Their main responsibilities are to monitor the performance of the academies in their area and decide on the development of new academies. We also heard from representatives from Redcar and Cleveland in the North East about the ways schools there work together to ensure they are both supported and challenged.

It was clear that the development of multi-academy trusts, groups of schools entering into formal agreements in order to manage their own improvement and to increase effective collaboration, is growing. Is is becoming a schools-led system and opens up some interesting lines of enquiry for us as a school.

Unsworth and its community has always embraced change. We believe in shaping our own future for the benefit of our children. We also believe in a ‘no excuse’ culture for all children, not just those at Unsworth. That is why myself, Mr Rhodes and a number of our teachers continue to work in other schools to support their improvement. We believe that working in other schools helps make our work in our own school even better.

In the next few weeks the governors will debate when to pursue this issue. With the passage of the new Education and Adoption Bill reaching its final stages in parliament, it is clear that the academisation process is moving at pace. If we are to shape our own future we need to be well informed to be ready to consider all possibilities. Obviously, our parents are very significant partners and full consultation will take place following any governor decisions. As ever, our children come first and will always be at the forefront of our thinking if any change is recommended.

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Working together

We have had an exciting week since our return after half term. Three times each year we plan a ‘whole-school enquiry’ in which we develop a set of skills across every class. Our current enquiry is entitled ‘If you go down to the woods today..’ and focuses on developing mapping skills in geography. We have worked hard to plan some intriguing hunts and puzzles around the school and in the grounds.

The children have been using maps and plans and investigating how they help us to get about. It has been lovely to see their excitement and enthusiasm build across the week. You can follow our activities on Twitter or take a look at our special enquiry page by going to the curriculum tab on this website and following geography. We will further develop the enquiry next week.

On Thursday morning, we enjoyed seeing our Y1 children leading their class assembly. They have been working on a theme about being special and ‘being glad to be me.’ They wrote their own lines and spoke with confidence. They told us how they are different but how we should respect our differences and celebrate them. Well done, Y1, we were very proud of you!

On Friday, we held a training event in school for 17 primary school head teachers from schools all over Bury. We have designed this course to focus on assessment and to encourage schools to work together to develop their thinking when it comes to assessment. We spent time discussing the national picture but more importantly, we discussed what assessment looks like in the classroom.

In small groups, the head teachers visited our classes. They saw guided reading, PE, geography, mathematics and writing lessons. They considered how teachers and teaching assistants work with our children and assess what they can do. They were so impressed with the behaviour and attitudes to learning shown by our children. They noticed their independence and engagement with their learning. They were particularly impressed with our Y4 tour guides who directed them from class to class and who demonstrated such pride in their school.

We asked for some written feedback from our visitors and were very proud when somebody said the our school motto ‘Together We build Understanding’ is evident throughout our school and shines through in everything we do. Thank you to all of our children and to their adults who work so hard to give them such wonderful experiences.

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Castles and courage

This week I watched children as they pushed themselves to do things they thought they couldn’t. I saw them jump off poles 4 metres tall and fling themselves off zip wire towers even when they had been tearful a few moments before. 26 of our Y6 children went on our annual trip to Robinwood Activity Centre on Wednesday and spent three days pushing themselves with activities and developing their teamwork skills.

This year we tried a different activity centre and visited Dobroyd Castle near Todmorden. We were dropped off by the coach in the town and then walked up to the activity centre along the canal, over the railway bridge and up the hill to the castle. The children were so excited to see their dorms and even enjoyed making up their own beds. After a quick lunch we were straight into the activities.

Our first activity was the giant swing. What fun to be winched up high and then to ‘chop the banana’ to release the swing. Following that we were straight on to the trapeze, a 4m wooden pole with a tiny platform on top. Once on the platform, the children have to fight their fears and trust their harness as they reach for the trapeze and swing forwards.

Across the three days we were there, the children experienced a number of challenges, puzzles and new experiences. At times they thought they ‘couldn’t do it’ but often they overcame their fears and felt a sense of achievement when they did so. One of the great pleasures of such a trip is watching their faces when they do this and listening to how they encourage each other.

By the time we were ready to return to school on Friday afternoon we were all really tired but agreed that we had enjoyed a great trip. As ever, we were pleased to hear from our instructors that the children from Unsworth had impressed them with their enthusiasm, teamwork and excellent behaviour.

Thank you to all of our Y6 children. We were very proud of you and enjoyed spending time watching your efforts at Robinwood. Enjoy your half term, everybody!

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Feeling proud

Having spent most of this week reflecting on the quality of education at Unsworth I find I have been reminded about why we work with children and how rewarding that work can be. As you may have read, and perhaps been told by your children, we have had a number of visitors this week in our classes. It has been a delight to hear the opinions of other professionals about our work and our children.

A great school should always be evaluating its practice. We do that continually but we also need to look outside of our school for validation of our views. I have been working with five other Headteachers to create a system of peer review. On Tuesday this week, it was time for our review. Two of my headteacher colleagues visited the school for the day. They observed in classrooms, held discussions with pupils, staff and governors and looked at the pupils books. They also examined the environment in terms of displays and pupils’ work.

At the end of the day they delivered their verdict! They described it as a ‘joy’ to be in our classes. They said that ‘together we build understanding shines through’ and that the behaviour for learning of our children was ‘exemplary’. They were impressed by how welcoming and articulate our children are and how their ‘voice’ is evident throughout the school. On Wednesday, we took a group of teachers, who were on a training course at the school, on a learning walk. This is where you walk around the school and look at classrooms and the environment and describe the school’s philosophy when it comes to teaching and learning. Again, it was great to hear the positive feedback from our guests.

All of this happens because we never take our eyes of our core purpose. That is the happiness, safety and well being of our pupils and promoting learning to be the best it can be. It happens because the partnership with parents and carers is strong. The support children get at home and the support we get from parents means that children do well. We tell the children all of the time that we are proud of them and this week our visitors experienced just why that is!

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Freedom to be you

I have been really enjoying our Monday assemblies since we have been working on the ‘big ideas’ or ‘values’ that are important to our school. This year we have also introduced our assemblies board at the front of the hall. This has allowed the children to make more of a contribution to the themes by posting their thoughts as the week progresses. This week we talked about freedom. I told stories about Nelson Mandela, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai. One of the children wrote that they thought freedom was ‘the right to be who you are’ whilst another admired the three women highlighted because ‘they said no when things were wrong.’ Great thinking yet again!

Mr Rhodes and I spent Tuesday really thinking about our school, our approaches and our beliefs when it comes to education. We set off nice and early to travel to Sheffield to listen to Dame Alison Peacock, the executive headteacher of The Wroxham School which is in Hertfordshire. We were really impressed with her ideas and the approaches being used at Wroxham. We recognised her philosophy as being very similar to ours. We were particularly interested in some of the teaching approaches discussed, in particular the ideas around offering children more choice in terms of the challenges undertaken in their learning. We also felt we could learn something from the systems used to involve parents and children in learning reviews rather than traditional parents’ evenings. Mr Rhodes wrote an excellent blog earlier this week that captures our thinking on this beautifully.

Next week we will be welcoming a number of visitors into our school. On Tuesday two Bury Headteachers will be spending the day in school to work with us to look at how our school works. The idea is that we get a different view of our school and get the opportunity to really engage in some professional dialogue with colleagues from a different context. On Wednesday we welcome back some teachers who have been working on the Outstanding Teaching Programme to a training day at Unsworth. They will spend the day with us and will visit some of our classes. We know that all of our visitors will enjoy the time they spend with us. We are looking forward to seeing them.

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Swimming strokes and Greek dances

My week ended with a delightful trip to Total Fitness with our Y4 class. This year we have decided to use a different provider for our swimming lessons and the class had a strenuous afternoon walking there and back with an hour in the water in between! They were so excited to be starting the swimming programme and had such fun. It was a pleasure to watch them enjoying themselves and working so hard whatever their present skills in swimming. Some children started the afternoon a bit nervously but by the end of the session every child was jumping into the water with enthusiasm. Hopefully, by the end of the year all children will have learned to swim or will have improved their strokes significantly.

On Thursday, we all enjoyed Y3’s class assembly when they showcased their learning about Ancient Greece and demonstrated their Greek dance moves. They all dressed in costume and delighted their special guests who turned out in large numbers. It is always great fun to watch our class assemblies and see the creative ways our class teachers and their classes choose to show their learning.

Across this week I have visited or met with a number of other Bury Headteachers. We are all looking at ways to embed our new curriculum and our new assessment systems. We are also looking at different ways of collaborating or supporting each other. Mr Rhodes and I have recently created a development programme for assessment which we have offered to Headteachers across Bury. We were delighted when 15 schools signed up for the course which will run from our school in the next half term. Our colleagues will get the chance to visit our classrooms and see our children at work and see how we are assessing their learning. We are looking forward to collaborating with so many new partners.

We are still also looking at the possibility of more formal partnerships with other schools. As fewer services are available from the local authority and more demands are put on schools we need to consider the potential benefits of joining with others. There may be considerable benefits in partnerships with other schools, both for our children and for our staff. We are still at the early stages of these discussions but we are very interested in considering the benefits of joining a multi-academy trust. If this were to become a reality we would choose our partners very carefully and ensure that we retain the ethos of Unsworth Primary School.

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As 2016 approaches

We had an emotional end to our final week of the Autumn term when we held a special assembly for Mr Dean, our caretaker. The children and staff came together to present Mr Dean with a special book, cards and a Manchester City-themed gift for his retirement. Mrs Dean also attended the assembly to see just how much affection there was in the hall for him. We listened to the thoughts of our children and heard a special poem composed by Mr Evans which made us all laugh. We sang our community song and entered and left the hall to the sound of ‘Blue Moon.’

Mr Dean did very well to deliver a wonderful speech. He spoke about how much he had enjoyed the last seven years of his working life because of the children and his colleagues. He told the children about how he had recently been told a story via his granddaughter about how her teacher had visited Unsworth and told her class about how well behaved the children were. We were very proud to hear that. We are very lucky in life when we come across special people who make a connection with everyone they meet. Mr Dean is one of those people and he will be missed by us all.

Earlier in the week, we had three late nights; one at Bury Parish Church and two at school performing the Key Stage Two panto, ‘Aladdin Trouble.’ On all three occasions we experienced some stunning performances from our children. In the parish church, four schools came together to sing in aid of Bury Hospice under the direction of our music teacher, Miss Geelan. Every year I am amazed by the quality of the voices and moved by the experience of children working together for such a worthy cause.

On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, we all dressed up for our traditional panto. We had great audiences on both nights willing to boo, hiss and clap every song! Again, the singing was performed with enthusiasm and our Y6 children excelled in their acting parts! We thoroughly enjoyed watching them and seeing how they have all developed enough confidence to step up onto that stage and deliver their lines. Well done everyone! I would like to thank the whole staff for their hard work and commitment to our children. I see the work that goes on behind the scenes to give our children memorable experiences.

I would like to end this blog by wishing you a very happy Christmas and New Year. We have experienced another positive year and our school is going from strength to strength. This could not happen without our partnership with parents and carers.

Best wishes everyone,

Mrs Reynolds

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Preparations and performances

Our week has been filled with Christmas preparations, productions and performances. On Monday, Miss Geelan and I travelled with our choral group to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to entertain the patients and visitors with a repertoire of festive songs. The children were very excited to perform in public and they enchanted all who heard them. We also managed to raise some money for the hospital charity which is our charity of the year.

On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, parents and carers added to our charity collection at the end of the infant nativity,’Christmas with the aliens.’ Our children have worked very hard to learn their lines and the songs and we enjoyed two magical evenings watching them perform. It amazes us how much support we get at each performance. It means so much to the children when they see their adults watching them and it is a delight when they break off from their performance to give mum, dad or grandparents a wave!

On Friday, we all enjoyed our Christmas dinner in the hall. Our kitchen staff work so hard to make it a special occasion and the children love the fact that they can dance and sing for their dinner. They also enjoy that their ‘special waiters and waitresses’ are their teachers dressed in a range of silly hats! Great fun is had by all.

In between the activities, we continue to learn. We always plan a whole school enquiry for the last two weeks of the Autumn term. This ensures that learning takes place right up to the end of term and that we keep the children engaged despite the various distractions going on! If you follow our Twitter feed you will have seen the range of scientific investigations being carried out in each class. The results of these will be published on our website next week.

Next week we will be entertaining again with our junior panto,’Aladdin Trouble.’ We saw the dress rehearsal on Friday and we are in for a treat (oh yes we are!) We will also be having a special visitor on Monday and three Christmas parties. We will end the week by saying goodbye to our much-loved caretaker, Mr Dean. After 8 years at the school he will be retiring on Friday. He has worked so hard during his time at our school and showed nothing but kindness and good humour to our children and his colleagues every day. We will miss him very much but wish him all the best for his retirement. Thank you, Mr Dean.