Polegate School in East Sussex achieves Flagship status for the second time.
A “Can-Do” Approach
In addition to the excellent work on the behaviour strategy, a lot of excellent work has taken place since the last IQM Flagship review and this has once again been a very positive year for the school, with many achievements prior to lockdown, including an outstanding inspection by OFSTED in January. During and since lockdown the school has managed the many challenges it has faced with its positive ‘can do’ approach focused on the needs of the whole school community including children, families and staff. The school has been open throughout for whole days, with breakfast provided for vulnerable children and the children of key workers with great success and it has also managed to keep in touch with, and provide lessons and activities for, the whole school.
Inclusive and Sensitive Approach
An example of the inclusive and sensitive approach to meeting the needs of children and families is the ‘Skills to last a life time’ booklet that was prepared for families during the lockdown to support parents and ensure they did not feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to play the role of teachers. Instead the booklet encourages parents and children to work together to develop ‘timeless, transferable skills, the skills that do not rely on subject context or job – we just need them’. The booklet encourages parents to get their children learning some of the practical skills that they do not always get the time or the opportunity to focus on together. Children are encouraged to tick off the skills as they learn them and take photos of them undertaking the various activities. These include using a washing machine, ironing, planting seeds and recording their growth, wrapping presents, tying shoe laces, addressing and posting a letter, making a bed, changing and washing the sheets, sweeping and vacuuming the floors, sewing on a button, learn about life saving, cooking and using a map. Children are also encouraged with their parents to add other activities to the list that they can learn. This emphasis on practical skills helped parents to feel reassured that they didn’t have to be teachers in the formal sense and it helped them to think of activities to do with their children, thus placing the emphasis on the emotional side of relationships at this difficult time. Parents really appreciated this support from the school and posted feedback on ‘Twitter’ and ‘Seesaw’.
Providing Online and Hard Copy Learning Materials
The school also provided online learning for children and they ensured that hard copies of lessons were delivered to pupils who did not have the technology required in their homes. Good use has been made of the ‘Seesaw’ tool with children able to upload photos and send messages to each other and their teachers. There have also been ‘Zoom’ meetings, a lot of information on e-safety and useful videos for children to access. Other support provided by the school has included useful information for families via the school newsletter with many phone numbers of support services highlighted, including resources to support wellbeing. Photos of children showing their work and doing their activities have also helped support families in doing things together but virtually. For example, ‘Virtual sports’ week’ activities have taken place with children divided into teams, with parents supporting the different sports at home and taking photos and videos of the children to share with the school. In addition, the online bedtime stories’ library that everyone can access has been built up by staff working remotely.
Unsurprisingly, the school has also managed the return to school for the targeted year groups in its very positive, well organised way. At the same time, children who remain at home from Years 2, 3, 4 and 5 are still provided with their learning and the school will be providing time in school for all children in these year groups this term to support transition to their new classes in September. A transition week for Year 6 pupils is also planned this term to ensure that these pupils are well prepared for secondary school in September. Parents will also be offered one-to-one meetings with new teachers and ‘Teams’ meetings are organised for the parents of new children. The school has made its plans for teaching the whole school in September with staggered starts, staggered lunches, full classes and thorough safety arrangements in place and is looking forward to welcoming everyone back to school. Daily briefings for staff will ensure consistency, confidence and support for all.
Encouraging and Supporting Staff’s Skills
At Polegate teaching and support staff are valued for their skills and they are encouraged and supported in further developing these skills through ongoing CPD. There are now 7 Specialist leaders of education among the staff of the school, a mark of the wide-ranging expertise of staff in the school, who work through the Training School on a number of levels to provide high quality training and enable the sharing of good practice across its alliance schools. For example, it caters for staff in this school and in a number of other schools on subject work, teacher training, a SENCO network, an NQT mentors’ programme as well as training, support and development of the NQTs themselves. The Training School also offers an NPQ training programme, access to teacher training advice, visits from potential teacher trainees and ‘Get into teaching’ courses. This year the programme has included courses on outdoor learning, Maths Mastery, Philosophy for Children, transition, skills in difficult conversations as well as courses on developing writing skills and safeguarding. Staff have also been very well supported throughout the COVID-19 period. Staff who needed to be shielded have been supported in this and the needs of all staff have been addressed and supported. In addition, good use has been made of time working from home by the provision of online training for staff, in particular for teaching assistants. They were given training related to the school’s new behaviour approach. This included webinars on behaviour and therapeutic thinking, which has helped consolidate the understanding they have already gained on the new way of dealing with behaviour in the school. Training for TAS has also focused on Maths Mastery and food hygiene. In addition, there has also been a lot of training for EY staff, including the development of writing skills. The school has a number of new staff starting in September who have already been participating in training through the Training School and have been introduced to parents via the school website and will be able to meet the children and parents before the end of term. An example of the excellent support and training for staff is the recent celebration for a member of support staff attaining her degree, who will now be able to undertake her teacher training at the school.
A Focus on Writing
The school has also had a focus on writing this year, following the successful developments in the school’s reading programmes over the past few years. There has been a particular focus on the writing of boys with a specific focus initially on EYFS where research finds that boys already delay behind girls in their interest in writing. One aspect of this has been the introduction of writing mentors in Year 6 who work with Year 1 children on a fortnightly basis. This has been very helpful in raising the profile of boys’ writing and has been very successful both with the Year 6 pupils, who have enjoyed supporting the younger children and also with the Year 1 children who have welcomed the support of the older pupils. In addition, to support this development, an external trainer has been welcomed to the school to lead workshops for Polegate and a group of schools in the area and also for parents. As part of this course, which is part of the work of the Teaching School, teachers were given a book of 100 ideas to motivate boys and to plan activities and lessons with their needs in mind. This also proved to be very successful and this work will continue in the coming year with an aim of producing a publication on this work for all Eastbourne schools.
Forward Thinking and Positive School
This continues to be an exceptionally forward thinking, positive school with very high expectations of all alongside very high levels of support. It continues to be a reflective community where very interesting work takes place to meet the needs of all its pupils and the community it serves. On a wider level, the school trains new teachers, its own staff and a wide variety of staff from other schools in the area through its Teaching School programme, which has also gone from strength to strength this year. Any challenge such as those faced recently through COVID-19, is taken on in a clear, positive and coherent way. The school never stands still and is always striving to do better. Its motto, “Learning without limits” is a genuine description of the ethos of this school, which has inclusion at the heart of all its work. The inspirational leadership of the Headteacher along with the Inclusion Leader and senior team ensures that the work of the school continues to thrive with the needs of children always at its core.
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