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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pedagogy may not be a common term, but it simply refers to the method and practice of teaching. Having a well-thought-out pedagogy improves the quality of our teaching and the way students learn, helping them gain a deeper grasp of fundamental material. Being mindful of the way we teach also helps us better understand how to help children achieve deeper learning.
At Piper’s Vale Primary Academy, and in every other school in Paradigm Trust, our pedagogy is about teaching the right things effectively. It’s about how we know what to teach, how we teach it, how we know what has been learnt and perhaps most importantly, what we do if learning hasn’t happened.
With children only having a finite number of hours in school, the time we have to educate them is limited. This is why it is absolutely crucial to optimise those hours, using every second as efficiently as possible. If we teach efficiently, at the end of a child’s school career s/he will be well prepared to flourish and lead a positive, fulfilling life.
We base our pedagogy on two evidence-based works – the first is Teach Like a Champion, a collection of techniques which combine to deliver incredibly effective learning to the children. Over the last three years we have added Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, which establishes ten different strategies for teaching and assessing. The two works complement each other, providing a well-rounded base on which to build our pedagogy.
By using the same pedagogy across Piper’s Vale there is consistency in the way we teach, in the way we behave and in the way we apply our rules, from Early Years right through to Year Six which hugely benefits both pupils and staff. And when children move to Ipswich Academy, another Paradigm Trust school which uses the same pedagogy, they will already be familiar with the way things work, allowing them to settle more quickly and resume effective learning sooner.
However, we understand every class and every child is different, so our pedagogy is designed to be flexible, giving our teachers the tools for each individual situation and allowing them to adapt the strategies intelligently to fit the needs of our pupils and subjects, while still fitting the underlying rationale.
We are always working to improve our pedagogy, and one way we do this is to record ourselves teaching so members of staff can see how the strategies work in our context. We also have weekly drop-ins to observe teachers and give feedback, so they are continuously developing their practice and evolving over time. And when someone makes a successful adaptation, because of the shared pedagogy it is easy to put into practice across every Piper’s Vale class and at the other Paradigm Trust schools. In the same way we benefit from improvements made elsewhere in the Trust, so we can be sure we are doing the best for every child at Piper’s Vale Primary Academy, improving their outcomes and enabling them to have the best chances in life.