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Sprinting towards the finish line..

We have arrived at that time when we are racing towards the end of the academic year in a frenzy of activity! During this last half term, we have held our whole school enquiry, exhibition and trip; our two sports days and KS2 athletics, cricket, football and rounders competitions; our governors and new parents meetings and a class assembly. We still have a number of class trips to complete and our Party in the Playground on Sunday. Right at the end of term we will also be holding our ‘Meet the Teacher’ sessions, a music concert and our Y6 final assemblies. It has indeed been a busy time!

During the last couple of weeks, class teachers have also been writing the children’s annual reports. The children have reflected on their achievements during the year and on their targets for the next. I have been reading and commenting on all of these and I thoroughly enjoy coming to the final page where I find their comments. If you spend any time at all with our children, you cannot help but be struck by how articulate and thoughtful they are about their learning. Visitors to our school always comment on their behaviour and, in particular, their attitudes to learning. Any walk around our classrooms always demonstrates their engagement and enjoyment in their work.

This year we have reported on the children’s attainment and progress in the new National Curriculum. Our report format has stayed the same. We continue to give the children grades for attainment (where they are in comparison to age-related expectations) and effort. Effort grades reflect how hard they work and how much they stick to a task. Class teachers will judge this across all areas of learning according to the age of the child. Attainment grades will indicate whether a child is meeting age expectations, is working towards age expectations or is exceeding them.

Whilst the format of the report is the same, the attainment judgements have been made against a different curriculum. Apart from in Y2 and Y6, schools have been working on the new expectations from September 2014. The expectations in reading, writing and mathematics are more challenging than they were previously. For this reason it is not always possible to compare grades from previous reports. Class teachers have found that they have had to start the year teaching new content from the previous year. In the case of the maths curriculum, much of the work on fractions which was previously covered at high school is now in the Y5 and Y6 curriculum. Having said that, we have spend a lot of time this year revising our plans and working hard with the children plugging any gaps left by the shift in content. Parents will be able to comment on the reports as usual.

It has been interesting to see how the developments in our use of technology have allowed parents and carers a glimpse into every day life at school. Rather than wait for parents’ evenings or the annual report, our Twitter feed, in particular, gives the opportunity to see what is happening in classrooms each day. The blogs on the website are more extended pieces on classroom practice. Earlier this week saw our website’s two year anniversary and we were amazed by the statistics. Since it began we have clocked up 38,000 individual users and 650 blogs! Our Twitter followers now number 420 making @unsworthprimary one of the most followed schools in Bury.

We have been so pleased with the feedback we have received from parents on our Twitter account and on the website. We have had some lovely comments. We do the job we do because we love it but it is still very, very nice to receive such appreciative comments. Many thanks!

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Travelling to the past

What a wonderful week it has been! We have travelled back in time as we continued our whole school enquiry. On Thursday, we showcased the children’s work in our Living History Museum. It was fascinating to see how the children interpreted the primary sources they have looked at and to see how interested they were in the history of our school. During the exhibition it was lovely to receive positive feedback from parents about the work and I spoke to quite a few who had been taken down memory lane to their time at Parr Lane/Unsworth!

Our enquiry culminated on Friday in our whole school trip on the East Lancashire Railway to Nuttall Park in Ramsbottom. What an adventure – 220 children and 30 adults all packed together into a steam train. We were so excited as we pulled away from the station! Year 6 were particularly impressed with their special carriage which reminded them of the Hogwart’s Express! From Ramsbottom Station it was a short walk to Nuttall Park where our cook, Mrs Martin, was waiting with our packed lunches.

It was glorious day and after our picnic the children played games with their teachers in the sunshine. We we very proud of them. They behaved beautifully and had such fun. What a perfect end to our 50th anniversary celebrations.

After spending the last two weeks in the past, it was a contrast to think about the future on Wednesday evening when we had our annual meeting for parents whose children will become part of our school in September. During the evening we reflected on the fact that we have been remembering the last 50 years and all of the people who have been part of our school over that period. We talked about the special ethos of our school, the importance of ‘Together We Build Understanding’ and the close community we have created. We have all been reminded this week of how special our children are and what a great school we have!


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Living History

Someone once said that ‘History never looks like history when you are living through it.’ This week I have found myself to be both a historical artefact and a ‘primary source’! It has been a fascinating start to our whole school enquiry ‘How has school life at Unsworth changed over the last 50 years?’

We started the week with an assembly about 1964, the year our school opened as Parr Lane County Primary School. During the assembly, I read from the school’s log book which was handwritten by the first headteacher, Mr Higginbottom. In the first entry he had noted the numbers of pupils and the names of the staff employed at the school. We were interested to find out that the school opened with 135 pupils, one headteacher, three teachers and a caretaker.

At the end of the assembly, I challenged the children to find out about the similarities and differences between school life now and in the past. I also asked them to find the evidence and look for something called ‘ primary sources.’ It has been really interesting to observe the results as the week has progressed.

Our enquiry has coincided with a sea change that is sweeping across our school. At our most recent professional development day, Mr Rhodes led the staff on training in the potential of technology to transform approaches to learning. We talked about how the ways we teach can not always stay the same. The way our children learn has and will change and, as educators, we must use technology to redefine the way we teach and the way children learn. If you are a regular user of our website and have started to follow us on Twitter you will have noticed the results of this training in our classrooms.

It has been very interesting to visit our classes and see the contrast between pupils using original documents, old maps, photographs and first-hand recollections of events and then seeing them use the most up to date technology to record their learning about the past. Our children have been thoroughly engaged by both the past and the new ways they are using to demonstrate their learning.

On Thursday 11th June we will be exhibiting the results of our enquiry in our ‘living history museum’. Each class will exhibit their findings and children will be available to answer our enquiry question. We would love to see you there.

It is a sobering thought to realise that I have been a part of Unsworth Primary School for 25 of its 50 years! This week has brought back a lot of memories and reminders about the many people I have known, children and adults, across that period. Our learning this week has illustrated the fact that whilst the tools we use are very, very different from the past, the one constant in life is that it is people that matter, it is people who make history.

Headteacher's Blog Latest News Year 6 Blog

No more levels!

This week has been all about assessment. Our Y6 pupils have had four days of testing involving reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation and mathematics. Some children have had additional Level 6 tests in the same subjects. We have all been very impressed with how they approached their tests and how determined they were to do well. They have worked very hard all year to prepare and so knew exactly what they had to do.

At 8:30 each morning, Y6 came into school early to have their ‘SATs breakfast’. This helped them to settle down and feel confident as the tests started later in the morning. It is very important that we strike the right balance with the children in terms of the importance of these tests. They have to be done and children need to ‘do their best’ but we have to make sure they do not find them too stressful. We had a few nerves but on the whole the children saw them as a challenge they were keen to meet. Well done to Y6 and all of those adults in school and at home who have contributed to the effort!

It was interesting to reflect on this testing experience on Friday when Mr Rhodes and I went to speak to the Bury Headteachers Forum about our approach to assessment. The system of testing will remain at Y1 (phonics screening), Y2 and Y6 in the future but the nature of some of the tests are expected to change. We are also about to find out about a new ‘baseline’ test that will take place as children enter our school in YR. Obviously, this will not be a ‘sit-down, pencil and paper’ test as in Y6 but it will assess what children can do in key areas.

When we spoke to the Headteachers on Friday, we reflected on the fact that levels have been part of our professional life since 1988. The levels assessment system no longer reflects the demands of the new curriculum. As there is no national system for assessing this curriculum, schools have had to create their own. Some schools fear this but we have embraced it. We have been able to create a curriculum for Unsworth children which allows for both a rigorous approach to the basic skills but also gives them a rich experience of culture, sciences, sport and the arts.

The challenge has been to assess all of this and consider the information staff need in order to plan next steps; the information parents need to be assured of their child’s progress and the information needed for external bodies such as the local authority and Ofsted to evaluate standards. Not an easy task. Mr Rhodes has tweeted an interesting take on the issue from a Nottinghamshire deputy headteacher this week. Well worth a read!

Our approach has been a fairly straightforward one though it has taken a lot of thought and work to put it together. Essentially, it has been to design a curriculum for each class, to plan the teaching approaches needed to deliver it and then to assess what children can do and record the findings. What children can do is assessed against a set of age-related expectations.

In July, parents will receive an annual report on their child’s progress as usual. In all classes, apart from Y2 and Y6, they will reflect the new curriculum. In Y2 and Y6 they will reflect the old curriculum in line with the system of national testing. We will attempt to explain all these changes with additional information sent home with the reports. If you click on the tabs within our Curriculum page on our website you can find information about Assessment without Levels.

I know Y6 had a special day of relaxation and fun on Friday as a treat for their hard work. Now the SATs are over we can make sure they enjoy the rest of their time at Unsworth and we can help get them ready for their transition to high school. We have many exciting experiences for all of our children coming up in the final half term of the school year. We will make sure you share it through our website and our Twitter account!



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Democracy in action

During this week we taught our children about two national events, one historic and one current. On Tuesday morning we held an assembly to tell the children about VE Day, which took place 70 years ago this week. The school watched some footage of Churchill’s speech announcing the end of the war and people celebrating on the streets of London. Miss Geelan then taught some wartime songs. If you follow our Twitter feed you may have heard the results!

On Thursday we held our own Unsworth Election 2015. Our Y5 pupils prepared and then delivered some speeches to persuade everyone to vote for a certain quote which would then be painted on our hall wall. We were all very impressed with how articulate and passionate they were about their quote. After the speeches they sat at some tables in the hall waiting for ‘the electorate’ to arrive. I have never experienced such a busy polling station!

Each class from Y1 upwards came into the hall, received their ballot paper and then voted in a booth. The ballots were secret and were posted in ballot boxes. The adults in school lined up alongside the children to cast their votes. There was great excitement as the boxes were rushed into Y6 for the count…

On Friday morning the whole school met to hear the result. After announcing the third and second place quotes, a cheer went up when the children were told that the winner was the quote made by Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This will be painted on our wall in response to the vote. Democracy in action!

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Our Magna Carta

As ‘election fever’ hits the country with the upcoming General Election, we took the opportunity this week to ask the question ‘What is democracy?’ in our assemblies. Over the Easter break we have had a new assembly board put up in a prominent place at the front of the hall. We did this to allow the children to take a more active part in our assemblies both during and after by contributing their ideas to the board.

We started the assembly by asking what the children knew about the voting process and compared it to how they elect their classmates to the School Council. We then talked about The Magna Carta and how it will be 800 years in June since it was signed by King John. The children were asked to add their ideas to Our Magna Carta in order to list the rights they felt all children around the world should have today.

I was very impressed across the week to see how enthusiastically the children contributed their ideas to our charter. After starting with ideas at a very personal level such as ‘not wearing uniform’ and ‘doing no work’, the children then started to think about wider issues and we ended the week with some really profound thinking. Their ideas included:
“All countries to live in peace.”
” Everybody should be allowed to be who they are without being criticised or judged.”
” A good education for all children.”
” The government should make sure all adults and children have lovely food and a nice home.”
” No nastiness.”

What a manifesto! How could anyone argue with that? In next week’s assembly, we will continue with the democracy theme. We want to give the children the chance to take part in their own election on 7th May. However, we will be avoiding party politics and will give them a school-based issue to debate, decide and vote on. More news next week…


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What an eggs-iting day!

As the Spring term came to a close we welcomed parents and carers into school to meet teachers about the children’s progress. As ever, most parents attended showing great support to the school and the children. There is always great excitement amongst the children as we get their books ready during the afternoon. They are very proud of the work in their books and the work displayed on the wall and love to write and receive a message about their efforts.

We are very pleased that we receive positive feedback from our parents and that most parents are happy with the experiences and standards achieved by their children. You also report that your children are happy in school. If we receive any concerns we always do our best to resolve issues experienced by our children as quickly as possible.

We have received a number of concerns at this progress evening about the demands of enquiry homework. In response to this we will take a look at the issue immediately after Easter and consider the type of challenges being given to the children and the frequency of homework tasks. We will also put a survey onto our website so that more parents can give us their views on the homework being given. Following the results of the survey we will issue more information and guidance to parents.

During this week, we have welcomed the Bikeability instructors into school. You may have seen some of our Y5 and Y6 children riding their bikes around the streets near to school. They have been taught how to ride safely on the roads and how to be responsible cyclists. They have been working towards their Level 1 and Level 2 certificates. They have been taught the importance of wearing a helmet and being sensible on their bikes.

On Thursday we had a lot of fun with our egg-based activities! Children in YR, Y1 and Y2 enjoyed a competitive egg rolling event followed by an egg hunt. In KS2 the children spent the morning creating an egg model. We always have a very difficult job judging the winners. The main point is that the children have fun and they certainly did! As we left the building poor Mr Dean was preparing to clean up the mess and dispose of the eggy debris left over from the egg rolling!

On the last day we said goodbye to one of our midday supervisors, Mrs Holmes. She has retired after 22 years looking after the children at Unsworth every lunchtime. We gathered in the hall and the children gave Mrs Holmes some presents and the loudest cheers you have ever heard. Thank you , Mrs Holmes, for all you have done for us. We will miss you!



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Eclipse excitement

There are so many things that we need to pack into a school week. A daily English and mathematics lesson, a daily phonics or spelling mini-lesson, a daily guided reading session and then a lesson for PE, art, history, geography, RE, science, music and DT. We then have to think about how to weave computing and a lesson of German into our day.
So, the curriculum is complex and we have to come up with ways of combining subjects or linking learning or blocking subjects in our timetable to ensure it is broad and balanced.

For this reason, it was refreshing on Friday to be spontaneous and abandon our usual timetable to experience the eclipse with our children and then spend some time helping them to find out more about what had just happened. If you are following us on Twitter you will have seen some of the images I was able to capture across the day. What the images don’t show was the buzz in the school and the enthusiasm and excitement felt.

When the eclipse came it was very cloudy in Unsworth and so the children found it difficult to see the images through their ‘pinhole cameras’. Mr Evans did his best with the colander from the school kitchen but to no avail. However, we did experience a growing darkness of sorts and a chill. The children just enjoyed being outdoors together and being part of such a rare occurrence.

It was afterwards that the real excitement kicked in. Some classes watched live feed from the BBC and others watched simulated models of the eclipse. They then worked collaboratively or individually to record their understanding of the event. During the afternoon I saw Y6 working hard in groups to produce news reports recorded on iPads. Miss Sinclair really enjoyed hearing the sophisticated language being used by the children.

Of course, we all know that as a school we are judged by results; results that focus on reading, writing and maths. We believe that every child has an entitlement to achieve well in these important areas and as a consequence we put a lot of time into developing literacy and numeracy skills. Having said that, there must be room for physical education, for the Arts, for the humanities and for science. We must dedicate ourselves to developing curiosity and creativity in our children whenever we can. Friday was one of those days when we succeeded!



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From chalk to QR codes

This week we launched our Unsworth Twitter account. This is just another piece in the jigsaw of how we communicate with our community and beyond. Over the last 18 months our website has transformed our communication with parents and our pupils. In the last few weeks, our children have started to respond and give their views via our website after having learning experiences in school. We have even started to record their work and their responses through the use of QR codes.

Douglas Adams, the author of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ described our reactions to technology thus:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

As a teacher appointed to our school in the 1990s I can relate to this! At that time the tools of my trade were a roller blackboard and a piece of chalk. A few of you probably remember the excruciating sound of a teacher’s fingernails as they scraped a blackboard! We were thrilled to receive our first BBC computer but then spent many an hour trying to make it work! Children had to be incredibly patient in those days waiting for programs to load or waiting for their turn on the only computer in the school!

Having said all that, we persevered with technology; recognising its potential as a tool for learning, as something that would motivate our children. Today, our children use netbooks and laptops, iPads and other technologies to enhance their learning. Our website has become an important source of information and we all wonder how we ever found anything out before the internet!

Of course, we all recognise the problems posed by the internet and by the advances in the use of social media. E-safety is an important part of our learning when it comes to the use of technologies and is something all of us need to keep up to date with. When we considered the schools Twitter account we thought about these things and we have written an ‘appropriate use’ policy. We will monitor its use just like we monitor our website but it is important that our children embrace the opportunities offered by technology whilst knowing how to use it safely.

If you would like to follow us you can find our twitter feed on our website. Look out for our tweets.



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Who is the most important?

At Monday’s assembly I introduced the theme of Tolerance. In this assembly I work with all of the children and so I use photographs or pictures or tell short stories which will illustrate the theme to all age groups. I then ask questions of different classes so that the children can participate and share their thoughts.

I started the assembly by showing this illustration and then this one on the left.


I asked the children how we are different and they talked about skin, hair and eye colour, age, personality, religion and interests. They also talked about how different people might react to things that happen in different ways. I think they were trying to get at the understanding that people think differently-a difficult concept for very young children. As ever, I was impressed with how deeply our children think about our world and their place in it. When I showed the picture of the hands above, one child said the ‘different colour hands represent the people of the world and the circle they have made represents our Earth.’

So why are we looking at difficult concepts such as tolerance with our children? One of the questions I asked the children in assembly was ‘Who is the most important person in school?’ Some children responded with ‘You’ or ‘the teachers’ but after I replied with no each time they began to realise that no one person is the most important. In the end they decided we are all important and special and we are a community together.

In asking such questions we are developing the children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development. Maintained schools have obligations under section 78 of the Education Act (2002) which requires them, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school. In November 2014, maintained schools also received guidance from the Department for Education which said that through ensuring pupils’ SMSC development, schools can also demonstrate they are actively promoting fundamental ‘British values.’

The document lists values such as democracy, the law, making a positive contribution to society, tolerance and respect for others. All of these have to be done in an age-appropriate way and school has to be a place where the children have a ‘voice’ that can be heard. Assemblies, class councils, the School Council and PATHS lessons are some of the ways in which we do this. If you would like to read the November 2014 guidance, ‘Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools’, you can find it here.