Maths Mastery Matters
When we teach maths we take what’s known as a mastery approach. This means pupils revisit the same core areas throughout their schooling, so they can achieve a level of knowledge which gives them greater capabilities in the subject.
It’s an approach which puts depth of knowledge ahead of breadth of knowledge. By teaching maths consistently, from EYFS through to KS4, as children move through the school they’re able to grasp the fundamentals and build on them, every time they revisit the topic. The way we teach is constantly tested, evaluated and modified to achieve the best results. This ensures our lessons are taught with evidence-based methods, and it also gives teachers the freedom to try new things.
At our school we have a ‘talk for learning’ ethos, which means we want a lot of conversation about maths in our lessons. A key technique we use to encourage this is the Agree, Build, Challenge (ABC) model. For ‘Agree’, we give students two answers and they have to say which they agree with, then explain their rationale to justify their answer. ‘Build’ requires the teacher to ask a student to build upon another student’s answer, elaborating or giving new information. ‘Challenge’ involves the teacher asking a student whether they would like to challenge each other’s answers and opinions in a positive and constructive way. This all leads to better discussion and thinking.
Having a strong foundation in maths gives a pupil a good advantage when they come to the more advanced topics at secondary school. From when they first join us, we build pupils’ mathematics vocabulary so they become confident in the use of maths terms such as coefficient, highest common factor and lowest common denominator. This helps pupils to have easier conversations around the subject and better success answering examination questions when they reach their GCSEs.
The most recent progress 8 score at Ipswich Academy, the Paradigm secondary school, was a strong +0.29 and Key Stage 3 attainment is above the national average. The number of students achieving between level 4 and level 9 at Key Stage 4 is also increasing. Across the five Paradigm Trust primaries, 71% of pupils are attaining level 4+ and 53.7% are working at 5+. These outcomes are solid proof that this approach is delivering great results for our pupils.
PE: Improving bodies and minds
It’s common knowledge physical exercise is vital for keeping our bodies in good shape but the benefits of Physical Education in school extend far beyond the sports field.
In 2020, after the national lockdown, children’s charity Youth Sport Trust carried out a survey of 1,396 young people aged 6–15 to discover how they now felt about sport and exercise. Over a quarter said physical education, sport and exercise had made them feel better during that time. Additionally, 40% said not being able to play sport had made them feel worse. Clearly, sport and exercise has a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
At Piper’s Vale it’s easy to see the positive effects PE has on our pupils. In lessons following PE their attention is noticeably greater, their ability to focus is far better. And in the long-term PE builds self-confidence, reduces anxiety and improves self-esteem. It also helps children develop attributes which help them cope with difficulties and setbacks.
In PE lessons, we take a skills-based approach. Rather than simply playing different sports and games, lessons are designed to improve the fundamental movement skills – running, jumping, hand-eye coordination, balance, agility, throwing and catching – especially in the younger year groups. This way pupils can develop these core abilities which are used in multiple sports and physical activities. Then when they come to play different sports, which are usually introduced around upper Key Stage Two, students will be competent in the necessary skills the sport requires, whether it’s throwing a ball in cricket, jumping in basketball or having the hand-eye coordination to play a racquet sport such as badminton.
When it comes to choosing between fitness and getting children healthy versus simply playing team games and having fun, we work on creating a good balance. For example, after lockdown children had lost much of the fitness they had previously developed so for an entire term the focus was working hard to get them back to the level of fitness where they were previously. After that we incorporated games too, to reintroduce the other aspect of PE.
To be able to track our pupil’s progress effectively, measurement is really important. We use five assessments each term to check how they’re improving in areas such as speed, fitness, coordination and strength. We then use that data to adjust our lessons accordingly, so the pupils continue to make progress, term after term.
At the core of sport is competition, which is important for helping pupils develop a winning mental attitude and equipping them to handle both success and failure. To do this we take part in inter-school competition, both within and outside our Trust, including SEN-specific contests. As well as teaching pupils about sportsmanship and respect, it fosters a sense of friendly rivalry and school pride, and boosts morale and self-esteem. PE is an essential part of our curriculum that builds strong character and develops qualities in pupils which are beneficial in all subjects, as well as their lives beyond school.
Striking the right note – music at Piper’s Vale Primary
In our everyday lives we are surrounded by music. And as a subject, music helps pupils understand and appreciate it in some way, whether that’s by learning an instrument, connecting on an emotional level or even using it as a method of self-regulation.
Music is also a subject which provides many benefits that reach far beyond learning an instrument or improving children’s musicality. Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. Practising music boosts creativity, helps with language, increases spatial awareness and improves IQ – it’s a full brain workout!
To give our pupils the best music education, we have specialist teachers taking all our lessons. Children at Piper’s Vale all benefit from their expertise, and as the teachers have regular, consistent contact with the children they are able to tailor lessons more effectively to the needs of the students.
So pupils have enough time to properly appreciate music, everyone in our school has one music lesson a week of around forty minutes, every week of the year. We also have a bespoke music room which is equipped with all the resources pupils need to learn effectively.
In addition to regular music lessons in school time, we provide extra tuition for eight instruments, which is taught by specialist tutors and available to all pupils from Year 2 upwards. We also run musical after school activities through the year which include ukulele club, guitar club, choir and musical theatre.
As well as musicality, in every Music lesson children are building their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. We always include a practical aspect in every lesson, usually group work and performance. These activities improve confidence and self-esteem, and help grow skills such as team-building and the ability to work with others. Learning to play a musical instrument also teaches resilience and patience – there’s no shortcut to being able to play well, just perseverance!
As well as learning about music theory, our pupils also learn about the cultural aspect of music and its history. As we learn about different genres of music, we also study the context and diversity of the genres; the place where it was born, the people who created it and the time period. For instance, when studying funk, soul and blues pupils also learn about slavery and segregation. In this way Music is a cross-curricular subject, linking pupils’ learning to many other areas on the timetable.
With religion and beliefs becoming more visible in public life locally, nationally and internationally it’s important that children learn about them and understand them.
Studying these subjects also allows us as a school opportunities to promote an ethos of respect for others, challenge stereotypes and build an understanding of other cultures and beliefs. This in turn contributes to promoting a positive and inclusive ethos at Piper’s Vale that champions democratic values and human rights.
Religious Education actually has no statutory curriculum, so Paradigm Trust has formed our current curriculum by taking the best parts of the Tower Hamlets syllabus and the Suffolk syllabus (the two authorities which Paradigm schools fall under), combining them in a way which reflects our ethos and values.
We teach RE systematically, so children learn about each of the chosen religions – Christianity, Hinduism, Humanism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism – twice in their primary career. The first time we establish their initial knowledge, then build on what they’ve learnt when we revisit it later.
To ensure the children make progress there is a different focus in each year. For example, Year 2 looks at how and why the religions celebrate festivals, and in Year 5 they will explore what it means to follow a certain religion in Britain today. This way there is no repetition when children revisit the religion and we can keep it fresh and interesting.
We take a ‘whole school’ approach to teaching religion, which means every year group studies the same religion at the same time. This evokes a great sense of community in the whole school; siblings from different year groups can discuss the same issues at home, albeit at different depths. When festivals come around the entire school can take part in the celebrations.
RE is a very artefact-rich subject so we make sure to use items from the religion, such as Bibles, kippahs and patkas, to enhance the children’s learning. We also arrange for external parties from different religions to come in and run workshops, so the children can enjoy a range of experiences as they learn.
We also go out and explore religion in our community by taking a visit to a different place of worship every year. This way they will have experienced a workshop on every religion, and visited every place of worship too by the end of Year 6.
RE provokes challenging questions, encouraging pupils to explore their own beliefs, enabling pupils to develop respect and understanding for others and prompting them to consider their rights and responsibilities to society, and helps them understand themselves.
Expert in Languages
By focusing on mastering the basics of foreign languages we are giving our pupils the foundation they need to succeed in the future.
While learning foreign languages is often seen as something for secondary school pupils we, and the other Paradigm primary schools, have a keen focus on teaching languages to children long before they get to Year 7.
We have chosen to teach French at Piper’s Vale as this is the language which is studied at Ipswich Academy, the secondary school which the majority of our students will join when they leave us. By giving our pupils this strong foundation, they have a greater chance of succeeding with the language and achieving better grades.
When teaching French we use examples not just from France but other French speaking countries too, such as Canada and Senegal. We are not just teaching a foreign language but also helping our pupils learn about different peoples and their cultures.
The ability to speak a modern foreign language and understand different cultures is more beneficial now than it has been for a generation. Recent events mean that as a nation we will be trading directly with more countries than before, and the ability to communicate effectively, and understand the culture, will be invaluable.
The demand for foreign language speakers isn’t restricted to the business and trade sectors either. Many organisations, such as the NHS and the police, require employees with linguistic skills, as do private companies in a range of industries.
And because bilingual and multilingual people are scarce in this country, wages for positions which require these skills are higher. A recent study by Preply found that people with Arabic as a second language can earn as much as 74% extra, compared to the average UK salary, with Mandarin increasing wages by 45%, and French by 34%.
While it is impossible to teach every language, studies have proven once someone has learned one foreign language, they can pick up further languages more quickly. Learning another foreign language also develops a range of transferable skills, such as communication and presentation abilities. It also builds understanding and appreciation of other cultures, which are really important qualities in today’s society, and when dealing with other nations. By focusing on what works, we are ensuring our pupils are making great progress in foreign languages and will be able to take full advantage of the opportunities arising for foreign language speakers.
How we build Cultural Capital for our children – and why it helps
Our pioneering Hinterland programme is providing cultural capital for Piper’s Vale pupils so they can enjoy a richer life experience and improve their learning.
Cultural capital has existed as a phrase and a concept for decades, but was introduced by Ofsted into its framework in September 2019. They describe it as “the knowledge and cultural capital children need to succeed in life.” which dovetails smoothly with work we have been doing in this area for years.
The amount of cultural capital a child has can impact how much they get from their lessons at school. Due to differing circumstances and backgrounds, children inevitably come to the classroom with a range of different life experiences. For instance, some pupils may have been to the seaside, while others will never have visited the coast. If then, in an English lesson, the class reads a story set by the sea such as The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cat, everyone can understand it and answer questions on it to some extent, but the children who have actually been to the coast are able to relate far more readily and enjoy a richer experience than those who haven’t.
We are committed to levelling this playing field, ensuring all pupils have access to high quality experiences. We do this through Paradigm’s Hinterland programme, which it has designed not only to increase cultural capital in its pupils, but academic capital (the knowledge which supports new learning) and character capital (the knowledge which lets you engage with the world).
It’s a curriculum of thought-through systematic experiences which we expect every child from Early Years to the end of Y11 to benefit from. These include going to the seaside, the zoo, having a picnic, residential trips, museum trips, visiting backstage at a theatre, taking part in plays and other activities which prove beneficial to children’s learning. The activity is then brought back to the classroom and the teachers spend a lot of time unpacking and exploring it to ensure maximum value is drawn out of every experience.
By running the Hinterland programme we, and the other Paradigm schools, are working hard to ensure no child is disadvantaged in their education. In this way, we are able to broaden children’s life experiences and help prepare them for future study, employment and, most importantly, leading a fulfilling life.
Inclusive Learning – Giving Every Child Their Chance
At Piper’s Vale, we work hard to ensure every one of our pupils has the tools and support they need to be able to learn in the same manner as their peers.
Often inclusive learning is seen as something solely for children with special educational needs. While this is certainly part of it, inclusive learning is far more – it is a practice which includes everyone.
We approach it by looking at the individual needs of every child at our school. These can be academic, and often are, but we also examine other factors such as independence, resilience and attention skills. There are often other barriers to learning to consider, including social, gender and economic issues. This holistic approach allows us to see the whole picture, and from there we are able to take positive action and provide the most effective support.
There is often some confusion between the terms ‘inclusive learning’ and ‘integrated learning’. Integrated learning, where students with and without disabilities all learn in the same classroom can be very effective, and where this is the case then we will work to provide it. However, in other cases integration can actually be a barrier to learning. For instance, children who have needs such as autism and/or challenges with sensory processing may at times find it easier to learn away from the main class in our specialist SEN unit, enabling them to access the work in a more helpful environment.
Much of the support we provide is done from within our school, however if we feel we don’t have the right resources to give the most effective support we will use external specialists instead, such as Teenage Mental Health which helps support children struggling with anxiety or disruptive behaviour. We also work closely with other schools in the Trust, regularly meeting to work together and share best practice and expertise, which can then be applied successfully to our individual schools.
Due to Covid, the past year has required considerable work to ensure all children continue to receive the same learning opportunities. One major challenge was the ‘digital divide’ over the two periods of remote learning; many children, both at Paradigm and nationally, were unable to access online learning due to a lack of devices or insufficient internet access. To help bridge this gap we loaned out Chromebooks and dongles which were preloaded with data allowance. We also made sure our SEN pupils had regular sessions with support staff over a Google Hangout.
Now, children have returned we are identifying any gaps in their learning and effectively filling them through the careful grouping of pupils, strong teaching and effective interventions. This ensures that ALL our students continue to make the necessary progress, enabling them to achieve more through education.
The Science of Teaching Science
Having an effective understanding of science is incredibly important both for the individual and society. Children are entitled to know how the world works – without this knowledge their lives aren’t as rich. A good understanding of science will allow them as adults to make informed decisions on important matters, such as voting, or receiving a vaccination as has been seen recently. And it opens doors to numerous careers in a huge range of fields, not just the ‘traditional’ science professions.
Our approach to teaching science is different from some schools, as they will use an inquiry-based learning approach, which involves minimal guidance from the teacher and pupils designing their own experiments to check their own hypotheses. For example, this could take the form of asking the children to look at a bug and see what they can find out. However, an increasing number of studies show this is ineffective as, without having the right knowledge in place, children won’t know the questions they need to ask to get the most out of the approach.
To teach science effectively we, and all Paradigm schools, use a ‘knowledge-first’ system instead, which focuses on teaching children the scientific knowledge before anything else. The teacher breaks problems into manageable parts and shows the solution to each, before the children practice using similar problems. By doing this, the children then have the foundation they need to be able to do the inquiry-based learning effectively. It also helps the children develop essential skills such as problem solving, understanding scientific texts or extrapolating accurate conclusions from results.
Another way we improve science outcomes is to meet regularly with teachers from the other schools in Paradigm Trust to share ideas. A large proportion of time is spent discussing ways in which children can be better prepared for the move from primary to secondary school, and how to make science effective from Nursery to Year 9. We have found by doing this there is now less disruption when pupils move from Year 6 to Year 7 and their learning experience is far smoother. Much of this work is led by Ben Rogers who is on the Education Committee at the Institute of Physics, and on the editing panel for the Association of Science Education journal. He is also part of the Ofsted Science advisory group, with a particular focus on primary schools.
Since we have been working this way it is noticeable that children are achieving better results and becoming more engaged in the subject. Between now and the end of the school year our curriculum will cover a huge range of scientific topics, including Forces and Magnets, Living Things and their Habitats, Light and Sound, Renewable Energy and Earth and Space.
Learning Through Lockdown
Despite the current challenges around the majority of our pupils learning from home, we have started the term on a high by ensuring children both at home and in school experience the same quality-first teaching and learning they would get in the classroom.
This is as a result of the extensive planning and preparation we had done before the start of the year. We took the findings and insights we gained during the first period of lockdown last spring and summer, and with other Paradigm Trust schools built a robust plan of action which we could apply should we need to close and engage in remote learning again.
Our preparation continued when children were back in school, during the autumn term we investigated the best way to use the technology available, and our staff became adept with the tools they would need to teach remotely.
So when, with barely twelve hours’ notice, the official notification that schools would be closed to all children (apart from vulnerable and key worker children) was received, we were able to move swiftly to remote learning with a minimum of disruption. Now we are teaching with a mix of recorded and live lessons, including our fantastic RWI lessons as reading is our main focus and we want this to continue even though we are in different locations.
Our approach to teaching online adapts to fit the age group. The older children are more independent and able to concentrate longer for live and recorded lessons, while the younger year groups benefit more from shorter, more attention-grabbing snippets of input. As well as customising lessons to year groups we are also tailoring them to their learning groups so the work we provide is suitable to each child’s academic capabilities.
One of the major challenges during the first lockdown was the digital divide, with many families unable to access the online resources available due to a lack of appropriate devices and/or a reliable internet connection with sufficient data allowance. To overcome this challenge we have loaned school Chromebooks where needed, and purchased dongles and data for families who need them. We are also supplying non-digital resources for lessons such as Art and DT.
It’s important all our pupils continue to get the support they need, so we ensure pupils at home can get in touch with an adult throughout the school day via Google Classroom or a live video link. We are supplying the meal vouchers to families who are eligible, and our Pastoral Care team continue to support pupils where needed. Our EHCP pupils are able to come into school if they wish and our SENCO has arranged for support staff to provide interventions/extra support/speech and language therapy, as they would in school.
Lockdown is a challenge, but one we are meeting head-on. It is an opportunity to adapt and improve our teaching and learning, both in the classroom and remotely online. As we would do in normal circumstances we are seeking the most effective ways to teach, testing different innovations and then sharing those that have been proven to be effective with the rest of the school and the entire Trust. It is our goal to always deliver an effective, challenging and interesting remote learning experience for our pupils, so they can all achieve their best.