“A new school year means a new set of challenges”. David Cregan at St. Matthew’s Academy shares with us all of the new things they are doing this year.
There is of course a significant emphasis on the changing curriculum and the government has effectively decided to strip things back, which we certainly see as a positive. A key part of the original academy ethos and ideal is looking for something to plug that freedom into. This isn’t new to us, but we would encourage other primary schools to follow the International Primary Curriculum which has proven a real success at St. Matthew’s. This particular curriculum gives us broad themes through which we can structure all subjects. The theme is communicated to parents as well, so if they are going to take their child out for the day, they can try to focus it on those topics; it is a really encouraging exercise and is extremely engaging.
One of the biggest focuses this year is phonics, and St. Matthew’s Academy has received matched funding to implement a new programme throughout the school. It will involve classes every morning where children will be put into ‘stage not age’ groups; so for example, we might have a child in Year 1 working with a child in Year 3, because that is where they are phonically. We have always been keen to encourage children of different ages to work together and these classes are a vehicle for enabling this to happen.
Reading is critical and making sure a child’s reading age keeps pace with their chronological age is a key challenge for us, and is something we constantly monitor. This simple system allows us to pair children off depending on their reading age and if a child’s chronological age isn’t the same as other pupils we have reading groups which are also ‘stage not age’, meaning that pupils are not being left behind. A constant challenge is simply finding enough adults to read with the children and this is critical if a child’s parent does not speak or read English.
Proposed reforms of the maths curriculum suggest a large emphasis on children knowing their times tables and knowing different number rules and bonds. In line with this, we will be having mental arithmetic tests as part of the morning routine and we’ve also reformed our planner, which sets what we expect a child to be able to achieve by a certain stage. Those will be reviewed three times a year with parents and will include things that parents can do with their children as well, supporting parental engagement. Our parental liaison officer will also run sessions after school where we’ll show parents different ways that they can teach their child times tables and other maths exercises. Our parents need help to support their children and we aim to distribute materials using our VLE, website and social media channels such as Twitter.
Collaboration is currently a key focus for the DfE and it very much fits with the ethos of St. Matthew’s. Our logo is a six pointed star and each point is a different length, representing the educational opportunity that we offer for each individual child. Building links with other schools, whilst building aspirations for our pupils, who could potentially go to those schools to do scholarships is important for us, some of our pupils now study Latin at a local private girls’ school, for example. Whilst we don’t want to lose pupils, we feel it is important that we show the mobility that is available to them.
The school was set up five years ago, and as the equipment we first invested in comes up for renewal we are deciding on
the next device that we might need for implementation. We now have a much broader digital broadband network that can take more devices, so we now have the thorny decision between Android which meshes with our industry standard Microsoft system and highly versatile Apple iPads. This has led to us creating some innovation in certain areas in the school to make a full assessment for governors this year.
Linked to this, we are looking to create a fully immersive multi-media room which is going to be our innovation centre. It will be a room where our pupils can be immersed in the International Primary Curriculum topics, so if they are learning about parliament for example, they will get to see exactly what that is like. It will also be a place where parents can come and see exhibitions of their child’s work, which is a crucial element to promoting the understanding and embracing of the new curriculum by students and parents.
We use Bett to benchmark resources; see what is new and crucially being used to support real learning. That is the most significant consideration when making any purchase as it is now the key criteria for OFSTED supporting pupil progression for us this year, so we look forward to visiting the show!
For more news and views from Bett visitors and exhibitors, download 2013’s Bett Update.