Case study: Woodlands Infant School

Woodlands Infant School is a two form entry school with it’s own Nursery with two part-time classes teaching through to the end of Year 2. It’s location is in Shirley, Solihull not far from the east of Birmingham’s border.

changing cultures Directors all worked with Woodlands during its time as a Creative Partnerships School in 2008 to 2011 with Claire Marshall supporting them throughout and continuing to work with them into 2012.

From the beginning the school was keen to look at how the arts and wider creative approaches could be used to transform the teaching delivery and the learning experiences within the school. This began with a small enquiry project with one year group focussing on improving the maths learning of the children in Reception (ages 4-5). They worked with a drama specialist over two terms exploring through the stories of the Three Billy Goats Gruff and the Gingerbread Man many maths and other problems to be solved that actively involved children and staff in the learning experiences. This project was a huge success and impacted on the children’s understanding and achievements in maths and other curriculum areas, as well as impacted on the Teachers and Teaching Assistants who changed their practice as a result of the project. They learnt from the process and could see how a different approach to planning and delivering the curriculum could have greater engagement for the children and therefore improved outcomes for the children.

From this a two-year change school programme was developed in line with the schools new priorities of creating a thematic and creative curriculum to engage all children and staff actively, meeting Ofsted Outstanding criteria and ensuring progress and attainment for the children. Learning from the enquiry project, each year group was partnered with a creative practitioner: Nursery with a visual artist (cc’s Nicola Richardson); Reception with a storyteller/dancer (cc’s Nikky Smedley); Year 1 and Year 2 with drama practitioners (Gillian Thwaite and cc’s Michael Supple respectively). cc’s Claire Marshall continued to provide the school with guidance and support from planning to evaluation and supported the creative team in designing the whole school inset; development programme for staff and the projects with each year group.

After joint planning with staff and whole school inset, each Year group delivered a new curriculum approach for a term to pilot the approaches, record impact and effectiveness as well as note areas for development. From this success planning began for a whole academic year of a new curriculum. In essence the team enabled staff to: pair down planning to its essence; include some new elements to enable the content to be engaging, accessible and respond to the children’s interests; provide a role for parents to be involved; include a visit or visitor to make real the learning experiences; provide a creative and written outcome of the learning.

In July 2011 the Creative Partnerships programme came to an end but with legacy money the school brought back Claire to deliver a school inset session and mentor a member of staff stepping into the Assistant Heads role to support her step up.

One of our skills is being able to understand schools priorities and needs to provide support and a framework to help the school meet it’s vision and goals.

During the time at the school we took some risks in radically transforming planning and delivery of the schools curriculum. Elements of it to someone not looking closely could think that perhaps the ideas were ‘frivolous’ as we had lots of fun in the devising and the delivery. However the creativity, fun and enjoyment were equally matched with robust educational principles, knowledge and experience.

At the early stages of the school’s curriculum developments an Ofsted Inspection team found the school to be a Grade 3 ‘Satisfactory’ and sighted that one of the areas that the school needed to address was to “enable pupils to develop greater independence as learners”. When they returned less than two years later Ofsted found the school to be Grade 1 ‘Outstanding’ and said “Teaching is outstanding. Teachers throughout the school have extremely high expectations of what their pupils can achieve. They provide tasks that are very well matched to their individual abilities so that all groups of pupils are appropriately supported and challenged… relentless focus on improving the quality of teaching, has resulted in the dramatic rise in pupils’ achievement since the previous inspection.”

It is has been four years since the Directors of changing cultures first worked with the school, it is clear to see from their curriculum that the principles and approaches developed with the Head and her staff is embedded in the school and that they have continued to build on this and take it further.

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