St Helen’s Catholic Primary School, London, has achieved Flagship School status again.
Successful and Happy Inclusive School
St Helen’s Catholic Primary School is a successful and happy inclusive school. They are part of Our Lady of Grace Academy Trust in Newham which was established in April 2015 as a Multi-Academy Trust with St Joachim’s. St Helen’s offers both part-time nursery places as well as full time. This two-form entry school takes 500 pupils, mainly from the local community. The Catholic ethos is strong, with the admission criteria being practising Catholics within the local parish also non-Catholic children from the surrounding area. They are described as being ‘key in the local community.’ They have ties with the local church and are establishing wider links to support their families. St Helen’s staff will do everything they can to help children in difficult circumstances. They can refer families to food banks and community support organisations. The Early Help coordinator is described by the Headteacher as being very experienced, knowledgeable and working tirelessly to ensure that the children’s’ needs are met. Staff continue to be very happy at St Helen’s and this is seen not only in the conversations had during the day, but also in the staff retention rates.
“Retention is good for many reasons; there is the ability to forge a career here and staff can shadow the subject leads, before becoming a lead themselves. Everyone’s well-being is good; we have a fabulous curriculum and building. We have the freedom to explore the curriculum and make it our own.”
A Rights Respecting School
The school has become a Rights Respecting School; The RRS leader guided the school to reach bronze status.
“The Rights are displayed prominently in each class and rather than plan assemblies based around each Right, assemblies or lessons promote discussion as to which rights are being discussed. This gives the children the opportunity to embed their knowledge and understanding in real life situations.”
The curriculum is described as being:
“broad and very well organised and kept constantly under review by subject leaders. Teachers have ownership as we have input into the overall plan. The curriculum makes sense and is ongoing. We feel we can respond to local events and national priorities. It is a flexible, excellent curriculum.”
Children throughout the school were polite and welcoming. Behaviour was exemplary. A variety of lessons were seen today with all children in every class focused and clearly engaged in their learning. Individualised personal support continues to be a strength of the school. Children with high needs fully take part in their lessons and are included in everything. Teachers plan carefully to meet the full range of needs in their classroom.
What it’s Like to be a Pupil
Children were keen to share their thoughts and feelings about what it is like to be a pupil at St Helen’s. Friendships featured a great deal:
“I like playing with my friends; tag and it.” “I like all the things I learn and do!”
Science and mathematics were favourites, with students saying:
“I like doing a science experiment with a teacher.”
When asked how their teachers help them to learn, they said:
“by helping! They try to always help and if you are stuck and get it wrong, the teacher tells us the answer after we have tried it first.”
Children were confident articulating how they feel about their school. They made the link between home and school and it was lovely to hear a child speaking about his science lessons at school, which he loved, and how his Dad helps him at home too. His Dad had helped him learn an amazing fact about space which he enjoyed telling me about.
A Wide Range of Extra-Curricular Opportunities
Staff have retained opportunities for children to experience the community and there is a wide range of extra-curricular opportunities available. These include residential trips to Devon in Year 6. Children loved visiting Beam House and visiting Cheddar Gorge on the way there. They explored aspects of Geography and learnt about the local folklore, British values and history. It was amazing for them to experience body boarding and climbing. Other international links include those with France and Holland. The value of these experiences cannot be underestimated; it was one of the topics the children wanted to talk about and was also seen in the displays, photographs and written accounts from the children. The school ensures that access to trips is inclusive. Many trips are subsidised to help families. Other community events last year included attending the Festival of Voices at the Hackney Empire. Staff described the experience as:
“…so lovely and the children had an amazing experience, saying I performed there!”
Music and Performance
Music and preforming continue to be a feature of St Helen’s. They recently performed at the Christmas tree ceremony at Rathbone market, having had music lessons from a member of staff who has taken on this responsibility. Children have also performed at the Royal Albert hall.
“The quality of the musicianship was fantastic! The children have such good musical knowledge and what a wonderful experience.”
In the classrooms, new initiatives have been developed. The Math’s subject lead has recently delivered INSET for staff in the effective use of manipulatives in Math lessons. This inspired staff to use a wider range of resources to support the children enabling both support and challenge for all children. Staff said how much they leant from the INSET session.
Active Member of the Inclusion Cluster Network
St Helen’s are an active member of the Inclusion Cluster Network of schools who have attained Centre of Excellence and Flagships School status. In January 2019 St Helen’s hosted a Cluster Meeting, where they shared their provision for parental support and their whole school reading priority actions and development. Staff felt that:
“People really enjoyed seeing the reading staircase and our reading corners, they got lots of ideas to take away with them and gave us very positive feedback.”
Following a Cluster visit, St Helen’s decided to develop the idea of pupil ambassadors.
“This year children are working towards achieving the NACE award and have taken the role of subject ambassadors who greet visitors to the classroom and can articulate their learning to them. They are very good at explaining both prior learning and the next steps in the sequence.”
Forest School Accreditation
Since the last review, one of the teachers has received Forest School Accreditation and is now leading on this. She has developed provision to include a special group for children with additional needs to experience sensory work.
“They are out there even in the rain; the little ones from aged 2-3 have fun and learn. They are creating special memories such as how they made fairies out of twigs. Children really remember their Forest School experience and want to talk about it. It really develops their language.”
Well-Being is a Priority
Pupil well-being is a priority and much development in this area has taken place since the last review. They have extended fitness opportunities for the children, not only at lunchtime but also during morning play. Children enjoy Let’s Dance and walking around the pitch.
Art therapy provision has also evolved since the last assessment visit and is much spoken about:
“Absolutely amazing, the children are confident and love attending. The art therapist is such a good practitioner.”
The scope of the Zones of Regulation groups has also widened which has had a positive impact on the children.
Dedicated Well-Being Team
Last May (2019), St Helen’s launched their new Well-being team with a staff breakfast where staff discussed their ideas for developing this team and shared ideas on how they could improve the well-being of staff. Ideas implemented have included designating some extra PPA time and having someone take the role of resource manager, all of which support the mental health and well-being of staff. They have thought carefully about ways that staff can feel valued and receive recognition for their work. A lovely idea that has worked well included advent angels which has little cost but huge impact.
“These thank you’s are important, people don’t have to participate if they don’t want to but is open to all, the advent angel covered someone’s playground duty.”
Key to the success of the team and impact on staff is inclusivity; timings enable all to attend and all participants are representative of the whole school community. They firmly believe it is important to keep things fresh, to change things up e.g. hug in a mug and will meet next in January to decide what is next. They will have informal chats with staff who can bring new ideas to try out. At St Helen’s one size does not fit all. Staff can contribute in various ways; through looking at Facebook and Pinterest groups which are good for sharing ideas for well-being. Staff have relaxation classes after school which are funded. Planning time has been arranged so that support staff can join in these sessions after their clubs have finished.
These well-being ideas have been extended to children to include well-being friends. Children make chatterboxes for other children, leave a note for them and have benefitted from opportunities to feel good, feel reassured and have fun playing activities like Lego and mindfulness activities.
Developing Children’s Resilience
Last year, staff embedded their learning on growth mindset. They looked at the impact of growth mindset on developing children’s resilience and have used Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) assessments to identify fragile learners and discover hidden barriers to well-being and learning. PASS assessments are specifically designed to identify attitudinal or emotional issues in children and take just 20 minutes to complete. These act as an effective early warning system for schools to support children’s well-being. Staff say:
“The traffic light reporting is easy to read and act on, helping to pinpoint who is at risk and identifying children whose issues are still invisible, so you can plan interventions early and sensitively. All staff are now trained to use the growth mindset language and differentiate lessons through school to promote this understanding. A staff meeting was allocated to help analyse the results. Some children were closely monitored whilst others were given something to help them in class or supported through well-being interventions.”
The impact so far is very promising. Staff say that throughout the year pupils became more confident and resilient, this was seen through their participation in competitions, presentation in lessons and their behaviour.
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