This case study is taken from a ‘Best Practice in Action’ article published in May 2016 issue of Teach Primary magazine. To read the full article please visit: www.teachwire.net
"THINKING & DOING"
"What do philosophy, horticulture, cookery and filmmaking have in common? They’re all part of the Open Futures CPD programme, and they’re all expanding children’s horizons at Calverton Primary School, says Jacob Stow...
In her final term as head of Calverton Primary School in Newham, London, Shabana Khan has much to reflect on. Her nine years leading the school haven’t always been easy, she’s happy to admit, but having overcome the challenges set in her way, and assembled a staff team upon whom she can rely, she’s leaving a school and community far more united than they were when she arrived. A big part of success in recent times has revolved around a programme that is making a measurable difference to children’s learning in what is a catchment with historically high levels of disadvantage and disengagement with education, particularly among white British families.
The programme in question is Open Futures, which provides teaching staff with CPD designed to develop children’s ability “to think and to do”. In practice this means supporting enquiry skills (askit, in Open Futures parlance), and then putting these to good use in three strands of hands-on learning, dubbed growit, cookit and filmit. Rather than all this existing in glorious isolation, the idea is that Open Futures can be a useful tool to deliver a school’s curriculum, resulting in increased motivation for pupils, a greater understanding of the world and an improvement in academic outcomes, too, across literacy, numeracy, science and technology. At Calverton this blueprint is very much in evidence, as is an enthusiasm for Open Futures from staff and children alike.
“I asked staff how they would define the school, what it is that makes us special,” Shabana says. “It was unanimous – it’s Open Futures. It’s something we’re very proud of; it’s what makes us different.”
Askit equips children with the ability to explore options and to make decisions more effectively as part of a team. It engages them with their learning and, by offering them the chance to explore important new concepts, helps to improve thinking, empathy and critical judgement.
“We’ve grown with Open Futures,” Shabana tells us. “I was lucky. The timing was right. It was 2014, and a new national curriculum had been introduced. We were recommended the programme by another school at a conference where they were sharing good practice. The first step,” she explains, “was to roll out askit across the whole school.”
Askit, as the name suggests, is all about enquiry-based learning. Developed from Philosophy for Children (P4C), it shares that approach’s ambition of developing pupils’ critical and collaborative thinking skills. At Calverton it’s a fixture on the timetable, delivered in discrete sessions, although the skills children acquire during those sessions are used far more widely.
“Enquiry-based learning is about asking quality, higher-order questions – and about there not being a fixed answer. It’s about the children bouncing ideas off each other, giving opinions and justifying them,” Shabana says of the strand in practice. “Today a lot of the projects children work on are open-ended. They’re setting the agenda for discussions. They’re given a safe environment in which to ask questions and talk about their thoughts and feelings.”
In one askit session, held on the day TP visits Calverton, children are choosing what they would like to debate around the subject of technology. Suggestions are submitted to the teacher – ‘Why do we need technology?’, ‘Is technology good or bad?’ and more – and then a vote is held to decide on a winner. The former is selected and a lively discussion ensues. The impact this type of learning is having is felt long after the sessions end:
“We were doing a reading group a couple of weeks ago, and I asked for a boy’s opinion on something,” says Year 5 teacher Mags Phelan. “He said, ‘Actually, if I may, can I challenge you on that?’ This was a nine-year-old who normally just wants to charge around playing football. Askit is becoming part and parcel of how they operate in and out of school.”
Growit helps children to learn about growing and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables, acquire new skills and develop their knowledge of literacy, numeracy and science.
“I was very conscious that Open Futures was something new, and that it would involve more work for teachers who already had a full timetable,” Shabana says. “So we decided to pilot each of the three hands-on strands in a phase. That gave us a chance to identify any issues, and also see what worked well. We started with filmit in Key Stage 2, cookit in Key Stage 1 and growit in the early years.”
Besides giving children an appreciation for plant life, fruit and vegetables, and the turning of the seasons, growit, which is delivered in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society, promotes healthy lifestyles and has become an integral part of Calverton’s science curriculum. It is also supporting the development of many other important skills. From its early years roots, it has overcome a slow start – “because it’s cold outside and things haven’t always grown!” Shabana explains – to feature across the phases.
During our visit we observe a group of Reception children outside planting bulbs in a raised bed, while their teacher offers guidance, repeating key words, which the children echo, building their vocabulary. Then later, in a growit-focused lesson, we see meaningful science in action, in the form of a seed-growing project that children are working on with British astronaut Tim Peake. Pupils have planted and nurtured two sets of rocket seeds – one that has spent time on the International Space Station and another that has never left terra firma. “We need to decide which we think is which once the seeds have grown,” one of the budding scientists explains. “We think the seeds that have been in space might not grow as healthily as the ones that haven’t because they’ve been up in microgravity.”
Cookit gives children the opportunity of really understanding where their food comes from and how it relates to who they are, both in terms of their physical development and their wellbeing.
“We did have to buy in a lot of equipment, which we weren’t necessarily expecting,” admits Shabana of the school’s efforts to get the programme up and running, “but we started small to make sure we weren’t paying for more than what we needed. We also chose to create dedicated areas for growit, filmit and cookit.”
Open Futures aims to support teachers in unlocking the cross-curricular benefits of cooking, and staff at Calverton haven’t had to wait long for them to appear. Like growit, cookit plays an important role in the school’s science curriculum: every class has a scheduled cooking session each half term, with children accessing a kitchen area in small groups. And again, the strand has proven a useful tool for boosting children’s communication and engagement.
“We have a lot of children who don’t speak English when they come to us and cookit has become a really good way to get those children to repeat words back, and to give things a go, whereas in class they might be a bit more reluctant,” says Michelle Brunt, Early Years Coordinator.
This influence is stretching beyond the classroom too, to play a vital role in parental engagement. “Open Futures doesn’t exclude anyone,” Shabana stresses, “so it’s great for making contact with hard-to-reach families. We’ve had some particularly successful cooking projects, especially where we’ve invited in the parents and targeted certain families – perhaps those who weren’t cooking at home. The parents were quite nervous at first, but the feedback has been great.” “We’ve even had parents come in and say that their children have led little cooking sessions at home,” adds Mags.
Back at school, cookit is also seen as a tool for building independence, right from the early years. “It’s great for giving children ownership and for developing maturity,” Shabana says. “Snack time is part of our curriculum in the early years. Children create their own snacks every day – everything from pitta wraps to hummus. They use knives from an early age. The children love it and the parents have really embraced this too.”
Children work in teams to explore, shape and articulate their ideas through the process of making films. Filmit helps them to communicate with each other, to see the experiences of children in other Open Futures schools and, most importantly, to share their own.
Embracing the Open Futures programme has been made easier for Calverton because of the support there is available to help staff put it into practice. “The training was provided for us, for teachers and support staff,” Shabana tells us. “Open Futures were very supportive. We were given a link person, Bob Pavard, a former headteacher, who would talk through ideas with us and make suggestions. And there were qualified people leading the training.”
Filmit was initially intended to support Open Futures’ growit and cookit strands, but has become a core part of the programme in its own right over time. At Calverton it is ostensibly linked to the computing elements of the curriculum, but like the other strands, it has come to play a broader role in children’s education. Thus pupils might be found creating Scratch animations in their science lessons, capturing and editing a recording of the annual Year 6 production, or using a green screen to create images of themselves alongside celebrities to sell during Enterprise week.
“We’ve used a lot of filmit resources, like Photo Story and Audacity, to teach the foundation subjects,” Mags says, reflecting on the strand’s impact.
“Using technology comes naturally to children – it gives them more confidence in sharing their learning. If we did a topic and at the end asked the children to produce two pages of writing telling us everything they knew on the subject, we’d lose half the class in an instant. But if you give them a computer, a camera, an iPad and tell them you want them to show you their learning, they embrace it. We can still assess their work, regardless of whether it’s a webcast or on a sheet of paper.”
“You don’t lose anything by not having two pages of writing,” Michelle agrees, “and I think the children’s learning has deepened because they’re so engaged.” “And it’s had a particular impact on those we consider hard-to-reach,” Shabana concludes. “I’ve seen the difference; they thrive on technology, they want to use it to share their ideas.”
SOURCE: Stow, J. (2016) 'Best Practice in Action: Calverton Primary School',Teach Primary (10.4), pp.30-33 @ Maze Media (2000) Ltd.