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Retirements and Revivals

What a busy time we have had since my last blog! Last Friday we said a very sad goodbye to our cook, Mrs. Walsh. She has looked after us all at lunchtimes for the last 21 years. In a school you want to be surrounded by people who see their work as more than just a job; people who are committed to our children and who care about doing the best they can. Mrs Walsh is one of those people and it was clear on Friday that she is a highly valued colleague and will be missed. Enjoy your retirement Mrs Walsh!

The absolute highlight of this week had to be our dance performances on Thursday. For the last two weeks, the children have been learning about the changes in popular culture across the decades since 1964 when our school opened. We decided that we would focus on dance skills and invited some students from Bury College to come into school to coach our classes at the beginning of their enquiry. Each class then worked with their teacher to create a dance sequence based on some of the steps from their chosen era.

When we conduct an enquiry, we plan an ‘exit’ activity to showcase the children’s learning. On this occasion, we decided that we would hold a ‘school disco through the decades’. As the enquiry is part of our ’50 years of learning’ celebrations, we thought the children would enjoy it if the staff joined them at the disco! We planned our opening number by choosing our favourite dance songs and then rehearsed and rehearsed…

What amazing support we had from our families at the two performances. The atmosphere in the hall was brilliant and our children were incredible. Every class showcased their learning and their costumes really helped them get into the mood! The staff thoroughly enjoyed dressing up and strutting their stuff across the floor-huge thanks to Mr and Mrs Power for their help with the music and choreography and to Y6 who helped to disguise our mistakes!

What an end to the half term. The messages of support we received on the day and via our website were really special. These are the memories that the children will carry with them forever. They might forget the steps but they will always remember the day when they danced with their teachers and their families came along to clap and cheer and feel proud. Thank you.

Half term has now arrived. I am off for a lie down…

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Have courage

I spent a lot of time this week thinking and talking about assessment and tracking systems. The staff met on Monday, after school, to discuss their thoughts about how the implementation of our new assessment system is going. Our system measures what individual children can do against the elements in the reading, writing and mathematics curriculum. Class teachers discussed the positives and negatives of using the new system when they made their end of term judgements. We have agreed that we will continue to evaluate what we are doing throughout this academic year.

Whilst the assessment system measures what children can do and informs teachers about the next steps in their learning, our tracking system looks at how well groups and classes are achieving as a whole. In 2016, the government expectation will be that a minimum of 85% of any class achieve age expectation in reading, writing and mathematics. Our leadership team and our governors look at our data at the end of every term in order to judge the performance of each class and to consider any actions needed. At their meeting this week, the Attainment and Progress Committee of the Governing Body looked specifically at the attainment and progress of our Y6 class as they approach their SATs in May.

On Friday afternoon Mr Rhodes and I gave a presentation to the Bury primary school headteachers about our work in this area. We described our system and the tools we have created to assess the new curriculum. Other schools have, in fact, started to purchase our materials and we have had a very positive response from them about the approach we are taking.

On Wednesday afternoon I met with two of our governors, Mr Stanley and Mr Howarth, together with our School Business Manager, Mr Vidler. We have started to work on putting together a Risk Assessment Register and individual risk assessments covering all areas of our work. I am always very grateful for the expertise of our governors in areas such as these and appreciate the time they give in order to assist me in the management of the school.

I really enjoyed working with the children in two assemblies this week, our fortnightly Well Done Assembly and my usual Monday morning assembly with the whole school. On Monday I introduced the theme of ‘courage’. We looked at a number of images of people showing courage and discussed what Nelson Mandella meant when he said,’I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.’ I am always so impressed with the children’s answers and opinions when we hold these discussions. We can feel proud of who they are growing up to be.

Our week ended with our community cinema night on Friday evening. It was lovely to see so many parents and children back at school to watch Penguins of Madagascar on the big screen. Great fun was had by all!


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One small step for man..

It was such a pleasure to watch Y1’s assembly this week. The children have been finding out all about the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and then they presented their learning to the school and their parents. Every child was able to stand up and tell us about Armstrong and his achievements. They also sang songs. Their enjoyment was evident on their faces and I couldn’t help but reflect on how much they have developed in confidence. As ever, the children were so well supported by a large audience of parents and grandparents and there was such a positive atmosphere in the hall. We all really enjoy our class assemblies.

Mrs. Canning, our SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), led this week’s staff meeting. As you know from previous blogs, we have introduced some revisions to our SEN/D provision this year after the Code of Practice was changed in September. We have revised our paperwork and, in particular, we have created new Learning Plans which will replace IEPs (Individual Education Plans). We have tried to simplify these and have considered how to make them more child and parent-friendly.

On Tuesday morning I had my fortnightly meeting with our Attendance Officer. During these meetings we look at the attendance and punctuality of every child. A child’s attendance becomes a concern if it falls below 90%. Very good attendance is above 96%. If a child’s attendance stays consistently below 90% we will hold a meeting with parents to try and consider how to improve the child’s attendance or how we will support the child to make up for lost learning time. We were very pleased last year to achieve our highest ever overall attendance figure of 97%.

On Tuesday afternoon I attended the Bury Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB) Schools Group. The group is made up of a wide range of representatives from Children’s Services, health, schools and colleges. We meet every half term to consider safeguarding issues which affect schools and colleges. It is really important that we keep up to date with developments in this very important area and being part of this group enables me to do so. Our safeguarding policies and procedures are monitored every term by the Governing Body who receive a report from myself at each of their meetings.

Safeguarding is the umbrella term used to cover all aspects of work that relate to pupil safety and well-being. This was a subject covered when I met with our Midday Supervisors on Thursday morning. I meet with our MDS team every term and we discuss our lunchtime provision. At this meeting we looked at our staffing rota and our risk assessment for wet lunchtimes. When the weather is bad our classes play in their classrooms after they have had their dinner in the hall. Each class has a dedicated MDS who looks after them. The team were really positive about their classes and their excellent behaviour at lunchtime.

Mr Rhodes and I met with Mr Waddington and Mrs Jacques, the Headteacher and Deputy Headteacher, from Hollins Grundy Primary School this week. We have agreed to do a project together over the next term connected to the developing assessment systems in each school. All schools have been working hard to put new systems in place this year and we have decided to work together to do some moderation of our assessment judgements. Year group teachers from each school will be meeting in a few weeks time to look at pupils’ work in reading and writing. They will be sharing their judgements about the work and then reporting back to their respective Headteachers. We believe that this external moderation will be beneficial to both our schools and look forward to developing our partnership.


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Let’s Dance

We welcomed the children back after the Christmas holidays by discussing new beginnings and linking it with the start of a new year. In assemblies this week we used the opportunity to consider our goals for the remainder of this academic year.

In our staff meeting on Monday we planned for our next whole-school enquiry which will take place at the end of this half term. Each year we do three whole-school enquiries and each one develops skills in a particular subject. This next enquiry is a PE topic which will develop the children’s dance skills. Dance is one aspect of the PE National Curriculum. During the enquiry, each class will develop age-appropriate dance skills in order to take part in a final performance. Our enquiry will be linked to our 50th anniversary and we will be looking at how the ‘school dance’ has changed over those years. Parents will be invited to come into school and see the performance at the end of the enquiry.

This week we have also been looking at our end of Autumn term assessment data. This helps us to judge how our children are progressing and decide if any additional interventions are needed for individuals or groups of children. Over the next week I will meet with each class teacher to discuss with them the actions they intend to take in order to address any of the issues identified.

On Friday I met with Mr Armitage, the Headteacher from Mersey Drive, and we planned the work we are going to do to support another Bury primary school. Engaging in this work gives myself and our staff the opportunity to work outside of our school for short periods. Hopefully, this collaboration will benefit all three schools.


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Partridges and the Pied Piper

We had a lot to pack into the last week of 2014 in school but we managed it and thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas celebrations. Our Key Stage Two classes excelled in their performances of the Pied Piper of Hamelin on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Y3,Y4 and Y5 were in fine voice whilst Y6 took the main parts on the stage. They were all brilliant and our audiences appreciated their efforts. Following our performances, over the last two weeks, we have collected for ‘Grace’s Place’ which is a children’s hospice recently opened in Radcliffe. We raised over £300 which demonstrates the generosity of our parents and carers, particularly in the lead up to Christmas.

On Monday evening, I felt privileged to attend a Carol Concert at Bury Parish Church with the children in our choir. We joined with choirs from the other schools in our music collaborative and the evening was directed by our music teacher, Miss Geelan. The quality of the individual choirs and the massed choir was outstanding. We were also entertained by Miss Geelan’s community choir and the young people in the Bury Youth Band. It was a very special evening and raised over a £1000 for Bury Hospice. The children created an atmosphere difficult to describe with their singing but all who attended felt it. What an experience!

On Tuesday morning we had our Christmas Big Sing. This is when children and staff attend assembly together and Miss Geelan leads the singing. It has become an annual tradition that it ends with a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas with actions performed by the staff. The children roar with laughter as they watch their teachers become partridges, calling birds and swans whilst others leap and drum and even become 5 gold rings (Mr Rhodes). Great fun!

By the end of the week we had clocked up three evening performances, three Christmas parties, two Christmas assemblies and a visit from Father Christmas! People often think the children ‘don’t do much’ at the end of term but all of these activities contribute to the cultural and spiritual experiences that school has to offer our children. These are the moments children remember forever.

As the Christmas holidays begin, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and thank you for your continued support. Enjoy the holidays and on behalf of all of the staff I send our best wishes for a very happy 2015.


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Pass the sprouts..

The main events this week were the two performances of ‘A Midwife Crisis’ – our version of the Nativity story. Every child in YR, Y1 and Y2 took part in the singing, acting and dancing. They all dressed up and did their best on the stage. The children are very excited to come back to school when it’s dark and perform for their families. We always have amazing support in terms of the numbers of people who come to watch. It is lovely to be part of a community and it is very important that our children experience positive communal events with the adults in their life.

On Thursday we had great excitement when we had Christmas dinner in the hall. Many of the children entered into the spirit by wearing Christmas hats and coming into the hall singing Christmas songs. The staff served the dinner in their best Christmas jumpers and a range of headgear! It was great fun and was enjoyed by all.

As the end of term approaches, all class teachers are assessing the progress of the children in their classes in the core areas of reading, writing and maths. As I have mentioned before in my blog, we are using a whole new assessment system to judge what the children can do against the content of the new National Curriculum. We have a system of moderation in place whereby teachers work with their colleagues to look at the evidence presented in all three areas and discuss whether or not the evidence is secure. Next term we will be conducting some external moderation with the staff of Hollins Grundy Primary School as a development exercise for the staff in both schools.

Throughout the week all classes in Key Stage Two rehearsed for their pantomime. There will be two performances next week. In addition, the choral group have been practising for a performance on Monday evening at Bury Parish Church. They will be performing as a group and then as part of a massed choir with children from a number of other Bury schools. It is going to be very special.


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Christmas is coming..

We welcomed Christmas into school this week as we entered the month of December. The Christmas tree arrived and was decorated and our YR, Y1 and Y2 Children began their daily rehearsals for the Nativity plays which will take place next week. Y6 have also begun to practise the lines for their pantomime which takes place the week after. We are looking forward to seeing both productions.

Even though Christmas is approaching, it is important that we continue to focus on quality teaching and learning in all of our classes. On Tuesday, the leadership team from another Bury school visited to take a look at how we organise our classrooms and how we display children’s work. We walked from class to class and discussed the way we organise the room and use displays to give prompts to children in terms of their writing and maths through our working walls. We also talked about how we have a prominent display to celebrate children’s good behaviour and a number of displays which showcase the children’s work. I was really proud to receive feedback from the Headteacher who visited which said how impressed they were with the quality of our children’s work and the efforts made by staff to value it through displays.

I attended a meeting on Wednesday with a number of other Headteachers to consider how schools need to work together to support each other. I am convinced that no school can stand alone these days and we must commit to joint developments. By working together we can ensure that all children in Bury attend good schools. In my capacity as a Local Leader of Education I am currently being deployed to support another school. I have spent some time this week in the school and I am looking forward to developing my own learning by working in a different context. Unsworth always benefits when its staff work outside of the school as we always reflect on our own practice and learn from the experience.

On Thursday, I worked to revise a document which is known as the SEF (self-evaluation form). In this document we record our judgements about our school. These include judgements about the quality of teaching, leadership and management, behaviour, achievement and the Early Years Foundation Stage. The point of the document is to make judgements against the Ofsted evaluation schedule but more importantly, to consider the actions we need to take to improve further.

I met with the governors involved in the School Improvement Committee on Thursday evening. We looked carefully at the terms of reference for this committee and revised its purpose. We have decided that this committee will focus on developing the School Development Plan and the SEF. It will also look at the curriculum approaches being taken by the school and inclusion. During the meeting we looked at the requirements for school websites, funding for SEN/D (Special Educational Needs/Disability) and new guidance from the Department for Education concerning the requirement on school to promote ‘British values’.

In the next two weeks we will be having a very busy time. We have two Nativity plays, two pantomimes, one Christmas Carol Concert and three parties to organise. We can’t wait!


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Learning walks and tours of Europe

We had great fun during Monday morning assembly this week when some children from Y6 helped me with our ‘Thankfulness’ theme. We pretended that messages had been sent to the children from everyday objects thanking them for their thoughtfulness. The Y6 actors played their part and the rest of the children were very amused by the idea of a toothpaste tube thanking its owner for putting the top back on! The serious point was understood by the children that we should be thankful to a lot of people in our lives and not take things for granted.

Later on Monday, I visited Knowsley Place in Bury to be interviewed by a researcher sent by the Department for Education. The department are visiting a number of areas across the country to research how funding for Special Educational Needs is being used and the impact it is having. They also wanted to find out our views on the future of SEN funding. Whilst it was an interesting conversation to have, it did make me wonder whether further changes are around the corner!

On Wednesday morning Mrs Channon and I enjoyed visiting St. Andrew’s Primary School in Radcliffe. We met with a range of people from a number of other primary schools to discuss inclusion and the ways we work with our parents. It was fascinating to tour the school and listen to the Headteacher and the ways in which they were working with their children and families. We are going to continue to meet and consider how we can work together on a range of common issues.

On Thursday morning our Y4 children took us on a tour of Europe during their class assembly. They were so confident in their delivery and even sang songs in French and German. I was so impressed with their efforts and how grown-up they appear to be. We were all very proud of them.

On Thursday after school the Leadership Team conducted what we call a ‘Learning Walk’ around school. During this exercise we look at the learning environment in each classroom. We are looking for high quality displays and prompts which aid the children’s learning. We expect to see highly visible behaviour displays which encourage positive attitudes to learning and ‘working walls’ which help the children in their literacy and mathematical learning. We also expect to see the latest enquiry topics on display showcasing the children’s work. Following the learning walk, each class teacher receives feedback about their classroom. We really enjoyed seeing the quality of children’s work displayed in all of our classes.

Following this, Mr Rhodes and I met with the Attainment and Progress Committee of the Governing Body. In this committee we look at the results of our assessments and track the attainment and progress of our classes in reading, writing and maths. We discussed our new assessment system and how we are tracking our children’s progress in the new curriculum now we no longer have levels. The governors were interested to hear about how much more challenge there is for our children in the new curriculum and how we are recording the steps they are making.

On Friday I started my ‘Pupil Progress Meetings’ with class teachers. Mr Rhodes and I discussed the children in our Y2 class and considered how they are progressing in the three core areas of reading, writing and mathematics. We consider the actions that are needed to move the children on and who will be involved in supporting this in the classroom. It is really important that we are rigorous in this process to ensure quality learning for all of our children. These meetings will continue next week.


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Let’s read together

Our assemblies this week focused on Anti-bullying Week. Each year in November schools are encouraged to talk to pupils about bullying and what it is and how it affects children. We talk to our children throughout the year about this subject so that they understand the differences between bullying and falling out with friends and classmates. It is also important that they know how to tell if they are worried about something that is happening to them. This is all part of our Personal, Social and Emotional curriculum. Over the last few weeks, Mrs Ali has been working to revise our policies for behaviour and has also revised our Anti-bullying Policy. These will be available on our website shortly.

On Monday, Mrs Canning and I met with a number of representatives from Bury Children’s Services to consider how the changes in the new Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs/Disability might affect the Speech and Language Resourced Provision at Unsworth. It is clear that it will have no implications for our current children but it will have in the future. We are in the process of revising our entry criteria ready for September 2015 to ensure that we are able to offer places to the children who need them.

On Thursday evening I met with the Resources Committee of the Governing Body. This committee considers issues around finance, personnel and our premises. At this meeting we focused on our Health and Safety Policy and agreed that the committee would work on a Risk Assessment Strategy which involves considering all aspects of school and minimising any risks to pupils, staff and any person visiting the school. I am very grateful to Mr Stanley and Mr Howarth, our parent governors, who have agreed to work with me to put our new risk assessments together.

After school each Thursday I meet with our school’s senior leaders. At these meetings we focus on evaluating teaching and learning across our whole school. This week we conducted a book scrutiny. We collect a full set of books from each class and look through them to check the quality of teaching, the quality of learning and how the books are marked. Each class teacher receives written feedback and I then write a report for all staff to state the strengths seen and any recommendations to improve things further. It was a pleasure to see the quality of work produced by our children.

One of the highlights of my week was working with a group of Y6 children in guided reading. All children across the school are taught to read and develop their higher level reading skills through daily guided reading. Guided reading happens in a small group of between 6-8 children. Texts are chosen that aim to challenge children and they are helped to respond to their reading through oral and written questions. I really enjoyed working with the group and hearing their responses to my challenging questions! Myself, Miss Sinclair and Mr French are impressed with how mature our Y6 have become in their attitudes to their learning. Well done, Y6!


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Enterprise and exercising self control

This week saw the culmination of our textiles enquiry. Each term we have a whole school enquiry to develop a set of skills based on one of the National Curriculum subjects. This one was based on an area from the art curriculum, specifically using textiles. In addition to this, we also linked the enquiry to the idea of enterprise. The children were challenged to mass produce their products to sell on a market stall. On Thursday we turned Y2 into a market and each class came to buy the items made by others. The market made over £200 which will be put into our fund to improve our playground.

I have spent a lot of this week meeting with a number of different Bury Headteachers. We have discussed a range of issues including training, assessment and Special Educational Needs. On Tuesday Mrs Canning and I went to listen to Lorraine Petersen, the former CEO of Nasen, a charitable organisation supporting all those who work with children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. She spoke about the implications of the changes in the Code of Practice for schools. Whilst there is a lot to think about and to do, we felt we have prepared ourselves for the changes and have considered the implications for our school.

On Thursday I met with Mr Howarth, our School Effectiveness Partner. We looked back at the areas I wanted to work on last year and decided my main objectives for 2014-2015. Everybody in school is set appraisal objectives which link to the areas in our School Development Plan. Each person has an appraiser to set the targets and who will meet with them across the year to discuss progress. As the Headteacher of the school, I have an external appraiser who meets with the governors at the end of the appraisal period to discuss how our plans have progressed.

At the beginning of the week I introduced the children to our assembly theme for this week which was ‘self-control, think before you act’. A huge part of our curriculum is connected with personal, social and emotional education. During assemblies we tell stories and hold discussions with the children about the weekly theme. I am always impressed with the sophistication of their thoughts during these discussions, we really do have amazing children!