Freegrounds Infant School in Southampton has achieved IQM Flagship School status.
Warm and Welcoming
I had the privilege of visiting Freegrounds Infant School on 2nd July 2019. It was a warm and welcoming school where exceptionally well behaved, enquiring pupils enjoy a broad and outward looking education. Freegrounds Infant School is a school that proudly caters for the educational needs of all the children that walk through its doors. It is a strong school community united behind a core purpose and goal – to do the very best for all the children in its care.
An Outward Looking Perspective
This was a first visit for the assessor to the school in order to review the second year of Centre of Excellence Status for Freegrounds Infant School. Beautifully maintained, the carefully-extended 1960s building is spacious and welcoming, with neat furniture, a well-stocked school library and state of the art IT resources. The serenity of the local environment is replicated within the school where the business of education, with highly successful outcomes, happens with skill, determination and an outward looking perspective for both staff and pupils.
Mutually Respectful Relationships
There were many opportunities for me to observe the interaction between the children and all staff. It was clearly evident that mutually respectful relationships exist which reflect the invitational and inclusive ethos of which the Headteacher and her team are very proud. The children were polite, showed confidence, spoke eloquently and understood the strengths of the school and the improvements they were making. The school’s attention to High Quality Inclusive Teaching means that each class teacher is held responsible for the progress of every child, with LSAs and teachers sharing responsibility for teaching both more and less able children. Freegrounds Infant School is led by a hard-working, charismatic and enthusiastic Headteacher, Mrs Riches who is extremely proud of her staff and pupils.
Strategic Leadership is Outstanding
The strategic leadership of the school is outstanding. There is evidently a collegial approach to school improvement that is based on a clear, shared and child centred vision. From my visit and discussion with teachers, it was clear that leadership, at all levels displays the same pastoral approach, fostered by Mrs Riches and her Inclusion lead, Mrs Julie Watkins, and that their enthusiasm means they effectively work together with the whole school community to problem solve and surmount challenges. The inclusion agenda and the Equalities Act framework of 2010 are wholeheartedly supported through an ethos of well embedded values and there are good structures and systems in place to ensure an open dialogue with all stakeholders to continue to improve the experiences for all pupils. At Freegrounds Infant School the SLT do not work in isolation. The involvement and commitment of the whole staff are significant reasons for the school’s success.
Impacting Upon all Learners
Mrs Riches and her team are forward planners, self-evaluators and prepared to challenge current practice in order to improve outcomes in Freegrounds. The assessor was able to see the impact of just how their strategic planning, high levels of preparation, discussions and consultations, attention to detail and due diligence was making an impact upon all learners. At the heart of Inclusion and working seamlessly are the school’s self-evaluation processes, signposting future improvements and their impact on the pupils’ learning. The leadership team here are relentless in their pursuit of excellence and high quality teaching and learning.
Striving to Achieve Educational Inclusion
The IQM Co-ordinator at Freegrounds doesn’t take educational inclusion for granted but instead strives to achieve this through a continual process of monitoring, adaption and improvement. Mrs Watkins was able to relay how the inclusion agenda in Freegrounds celebrates diversity and adapts in response to diversity. She evidenced how inclusion is a process that involves reflection, striving and positive action to counter inequality. She also praised the partnerships that exists with the wider community, particularly the parents at the school. The school is delighted at how, through events like the Hedge End Fun Fair and the tireless work of the FISHES, that inclusion at Freegrounds, can be seen to be about seeking to secure the participation of all members of the community in the full life of the community so that everyone can benefit.
Exciting and Stimulating Environment
The Principal and her SLT make the most of the spacious building and its grounds to accept the diversity of needs of pupils and create an exciting and stimulating environment for all its learners in order to ensure that all children are welcomed to Freegrounds Infant School. The Classroom Organisation Booklet helps to embed the school vision and values and ensured consistency in how all the classrooms are organised and managed.
Sources of Evidence
The Assessor had the opportunity to speak to stakeholders including parents, PTA (FISHES) treasurer, teaching assistant, pupils, teachers, the IQM Co-ordinator, the Deputy Headteacher and the Headteacher. The meetings with the senior leaders and others evidenced how mental health support, curriculum development, improvement in assessment and self-evaluation are improving outcomes and giving teachers a focus for intervention. In Freegrounds Infant School inclusion values permeate everything they do. Parents also feel valued for their contribution to the life of the school and in turn appreciate the dedication of all the staff in the education of their children. One parent beamed when she said that this school ‘ought to be given acknowledgement because it is genuinely inclusive, because every single adult that works here takes a real pride in what they do for all children and particularly those with special needs.’
The fantastic Cosmos Learning Hub cluster group is an outstanding example of what Centre of Excellence schools can achieve by working together with IQM. Freegrounds had hosted the cluster just the previous week and this assessor was impressed with the work showcased by the Deputy Headteacher to her colleagues and peers. Her presentation, detailing the work being undertaken by all at Freegrounds, acted as positive vehicle of celebration for the on-going good practice that is evident by her team. Freegrounds active involvement in the cluster also widens the potential for action and development by recognising and sharing strengths and diversity with other inclusive schools. Evidence of the work undertaken by the school in this cluster has underpinned my overall findings.
Pupils are Knowledgeable and Articulate
Further evidence of the inclusive practice of the school was provided by the wonderful children I met from Year 1 and 2, all members of the school council. The pupils made it clear that they are very proud of their school and the opportunities afforded them. The pupils are knowledgeable and articulate. They were able to give a balanced report of the school environment, their targets, aspirations and how achievements are celebrated in the school. Pupils spoke animatedly about their curriculum and the learning opportunities provided for them. They especially enjoy trips out of school and were keen to talk about these experiences. The recent transition visit to Yr3 featured prominently in their thoughts. Pupils behave well and show care and courtesy to staff and their classmates. They feel that the pupil voice is valued and listened to at Freegrounds and they took time to point out the work of staff who are enabling them to be the best that they can be.
Committed Support Staff
While the children are encouraged in a positive way, so too are the teaching and support staff. In particular, the appreciation for the teaching assistants is very apparent. In fact, there are aspects of the school’s provision that could not happen without the commitment of the support staff. Their roles are fully integrated into the curriculum and credit for their work was consistently emphasised throughout the day. The diverse needs of pupils in a school also has its challenges for staff but the emotional attachment to their school community, the enthusiasm, professionalism and hard work are also the foundations on which inclusion is sustained. It was a pleasure to talk with assistants and the pride they felt at working in Freegrounds really resonated with the assessor.
Accepting and Inclusive Atmosphere
The well-being of all stakeholders is of great importance in Freegrounds. Senior leaders have created a school with an open-minded, accepting and inclusive atmosphere. Everyone is well cared for and well supported in their respective roles, both professionally and at a personal level. In fact, most people with whom I spoke commented on the positive ethos within the school and numerous comments were made about the growing warmth and friendly atmosphere, happy people and the fun experience in all aspects of school life.
Improving Pupils’ Self-Esteem
In Freegrounds Infant School the children are given the opportunity to take responsibility, show initiative and enhance their talents. This was observed by the assessor on the Learning Walk with SLT. Each class created class charters linking to the UNICEF articles (Rights Respecting Schools) and these were decided by the classes themselves. The displays around the school celebrate success, pupil effort and improve pupil self-esteem. The Dilemma of the Door ideal, is perfect for promoting critical thought in children and widens their perspectives when making decisions. The approach to, and success story of, how the school improved its teaching of Phonics is most impressive. Phonics is taught consistently well in all classes. Pupils are given lots of opportunities to apply their phonics skills independently, when writing in a range of subjects across the curriculum. Children in early years access high-quality learning experiences in their outdoor area. Opportunities to practise skills in English and mathematics are wide and varied.
Confident and Eloquent Learners
In practice and policies, the school values are shared by all members of this school community. The children’s behaviour in classrooms, the dining room and corridors is exemplary. Just as previously found by the last assessor they are welcoming, friendly, well-mannered and inquisitive as well as confident and eloquent. They enjoy engaging with each other and visitors. There is a real sense of community which includes yet protects the most vulnerable of its pupils. As one parent aptly summed up
‘the school includes everyone in everything.’
Unity of Purpose
There was a welcoming and friendly approach from all staff, pupils, parents, and all members of the school community throughout my very enjoyable one-day visit. Throughout the assessment everyone spoke with conviction and unity of purpose as to the inclusive nature of the school, thereby substantiating the school’s impressive review of targets and supporting documentation, which was considered as part of the assessment.
Communication with Families is Strong, Frequent and Effective
Another key to the success of Freegrounds is the team’s detailed knowledge of the needs of its community and their ever-changing social demographics. Staff consult parents and carers fully and they take steps to ensure the pupils are able to thrive and achieve as well as they can. This involves a high level of tolerance, empathy and support. Communication with families is strong, frequent and effective. The school ensures that all its communications convey respect and value to all types of family. All stakeholders have a sense of belonging to the school and inclusion is well embraced so that each pupil is valued for their individuality and can develop their enquiring minds and spirit of curiosity through participating in a range of challenging, fulfilling and happy educational experiences in order to reach their full potential.
A Consistency of Approach
All staff have availed of opportunities and bespoke training as part of a CPD prioritisation set out by the Headteacher. The training combined with clear commitment from all adults ensures a consistency of approach and means that whichever adults are in school on a given day, the message of openness and tolerance is the same.
An Excellent Example of Inclusive Practice
In summary, Freegrounds is an excellent example of inclusive practice, energy and aspiration for all members of the school community. Values are important at Freegrounds Infant School. The Values and ‘building blocks’ are clearly displayed in the school hall. Independence, Engagement, Motivation and Teamwork, all tenements for the pupils and values they will hold for life. Documents were well-presented and evidence was chronicled and well signposted from the Headteacher and her team. The child-centred, distributive and principled leadership of Mrs Riches is exemplified through the school’s message: Building The Future Together. This ensures that inclusion at Freegrounds Infant School isn’t just something that the school does, it is something that they breathe. An educationally inclusive school is one in which the teaching and learning, achievements, attitudes and well-being of every young person matter. Freegrounds Infant School is one such institution.
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