- Article Information
- Category: Good Practice
- Written by Mervyn Benford
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We have cited material from Langdale’s wonderful termly newsletters, packed with school and community news. Now we present matters written in the last Ofsted Report. The report had a few modestly critical remarks but the overall tenor and tone reflects how impressed the inspectors were. Reports like this and the many others UK inspectors have produced about small schools compellingly underpin our pleas for children in large city schools, many often struggling with learning, to enjoy the same benefits from small scale.
"Set in its own woodland, this smaller than average sized school is situated in the village of Chapel Stile on the Cumbrian fells. Pupils are drawn from a wide range of social backgrounds. The area served by the school is rural and isolated. A number of families live outside the immediate locality. There are no pupils entitled to a free school meal and a higher than average percentage has a learning difficulty and/or disability. The school has gained the ‘Go4it’ award which recognises its achievements in bringing risk and fun to everyday learning.
As part of a recent 1940s project pupils from the school, dressed as evacuees, complete with name tags and balaclavas, arrived at the school one morning unsure of how the day would unfold. Hesitancy and uncertainty filled the air. Waving goodbye to their mums and dads, a period coach transported them down to the next hamlet where they were greeted by the local vicar and quickly herded into the village chapel. To recreate events of the time and without prior warning, the pupils were then dispersed to unknown families in unfamiliar surroundings and were encouraged to express their feelings in a postcard to their loved ones back home. This unforgettable experience, described by pupils as ‘enjoyable but scary’, goes to the heart of what makes Langdale a good school with some outstanding features.
Creative, innovative, exciting opportunities based securely on first-hand experiences that bring learning to life are central to the school’s outstanding curriculum. Pupils’ achievements are good. They reach above average standards in their work and make exceptionally good progress in their personal development. They behave extremely well and are caring and considerate towards each others. Older pupils take good care of younger ones, relationships are very strong and pupils make confident decisions and show initiative.
They raise substantial funds for charities and develop a strong social conscience. They have an excellent awareness of the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise and a balanced diet. Pupils love their school and greatly enjoy their learning as demonstrated by their good attendance and by enthusiasm for the wide range of opportunities the school provides. When asked to identify the best things about the school pupils emphasised that learning was fun with plenty of outdoor activities. As one child said, "Everyday is a new adventure."
Being a small school, teachers know the pupils and their families very well. This means that staff are highly aware of the needs of every child and are extremely caring and supportive in their response to each individual. All required checks and systems are in place to safeguard the pupils’ health and well-being.
The school is well thought of in the local community and has forged outstanding partnerships with other schools and agencies. Its promotion of community cohesion is good. Pupils' awareness of the diversity of British society and racial equalities is sensitively promoted in ways that are meaningful through special themes and links with other schools and pupils in different countries.
Parents, quite rightly hold the school and staff in high regard. One parent's view was typical of many, "Since joining the school our child has returned home every day full of enthusiasm and excitement about her learning. We feel this speaks for itself." Another commented, ‘The school provides exceptional outdoor learning activities that give children the opportunity to really challenge themselves. It is hard to get my child home at the end of the school day.’ Parents are encouraged to be actively involved in their children’s learning at all times and there are effective links with pre-school providers which enables teachers to settle children quickly into school routines.
Pupils, including those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, come on in leaps and bounds from the moment they enter the school. By the time they leave in Year 6, the proportion of pupils reaching the level expected at age 11 is consistently above average in all core subjects. This represents good achievement considering their starting points. Nevertheless, the progress pupils make in mathematics is not as rapid as it is in English. This is because the level of challenge in some lessons is variable, which means that some pupils do not always achieve as well or as swiftly as they should.
A significant factor in pupils' good achievement is that teaching is good overall. Teaching assistants provide an effective layer of extra support, particularly for those pupils who find learning difficult. In the best lessons, pupils are encouraged to test and deepen their knowledge by taking responsibility and by discussing and sharing their ideas with others. Expectations are high, pupils are engrossed in their work and new learning builds well on their prior knowledge and understanding. For example, writing their own stories about being evacuated in 1940 was far more significant in the junior class because of their recent first-hand experiences.
The success of the school is underpinned by good leadership and management. The headteacher sets the tone, working with energy and commitment to drive the school forward. He is passionate about maximising the potential of the 'whole child' in a structured and stimulating environment where confidence and self-esteem are high on the agenda. He is well supported by an equally committed team of staff and the chair of governors, who share his vision and sense of purpose. Forward thinking and reflective they constantly seek ways to improve the school. There is clear agreement on strengths and weaknesses and where further improvements are required. The school's rapid response to potential underachievement is a strong feature of its work.
Senior leaders have correctly identified that that the achievement in writing could be stronger and have implemented action to raise achievement further over the last year. This is now bearing fruit, with increasing numbers of pupils achieving more highly across the school.
The good provision gives children a good start and ensures that they achieve well. When children enter the school their skills and levels of learning vary considerably but overall are typical for their age. By the time they start Year 1 many reach and often exceed the national goals for their age. Given their starting point, this represents good achievement. Whenever possible, children are taken outside to learn and the natural environment is seen as part of their classroom. They use the playground to learn about numbers and to develop an understanding of the world about them. Good use of educational visits, for example to Jonnie’s Farm, successfully extends their knowledge and has a positive impact on their learning and achievement. Through their exploits as they play and learn outdoors, children enjoy their activities and have good levels of physical development.