Thorn Grove Primary School, Cheadle Hulme in Cheshire, Achieves the Inclusive School Award with Centre of Excellence status.
Thorn Grove Primary School is a one form entry school. Pupils are taught in single age classes from Reception to Year 6. There are currently around 230 children on roll. It is an immensely popular and in-demand school within the community for a range of reasons observed during this assessment. The initial meetings and observations formed a clear picture of the context of the school, with a calm start for children who come in to read early in the day, those who need self-regulation strategies to begin their learning and staff preparing a range of well-organised lessons and interventions. The atmosphere was busy and geared up to provide the best possible support for their learners right from the start of the day.
Inclusion at the Heart of Everything
The school has a thriving Foundation Stage which consists of a Nursery class and a Reception class and there is provision for some children to attend full time, taking account of the 30-hour guidance, with many accommodations made to ensure the needs of the community are met. Within the school there are children and families who need additional support for a range of reasons including: English development, Special Educational Needs, and families with diverse Social and Economic needs. Leaders explained that this can differ from year-to-year, but vulnerable groups are represented within the school make-up consistently and provision is offered to match this need. Therefore, inclusion is at the heart of the school as a matter of choice and a matter of essential need. The willingness to share extensive strategies related to how these needs are met, show how dedicated and thorough that Thorn Grove is, in relation to their greatest challenges.
Building a Positive Culture
Leaders speak with a clear focus on the need to quickly build a learning culture and environment to ensure that all their children achieve their potential, to address additional needs early and with a concentrated focus on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Leaders explained their ethos for targeted support and intervention programmes that are put into place to ensure that children from Nursery onwards make rapid progress from whatever their original starting point.
Parents are keen to explain and thank staff for their support through challenging times, be it personal or national. They are very aware of the thought, dedication and hard work that goes into the success of their children and their education. They described ‘excellent workshops’ they are invited to and how this informs their willingness to give back to the school and help with activities such as book clubs themselves. They explained how impressed they were with the fluency of the live teaching provided by Google Classroom lessons, emails and resources shared. The consistency throughout the pandemic helped many parents and carers by providing much needed structure for home learning and they have also been able to take part in live lessons alongside children on site keeping the cohesion of the school day and community.
Successfully Embedded Systems
The learning walk showed ‘ground level’ application of the intentions explained by Senior Leaders. Talk Partners were promoted, displays were helpful to the learners and consistent, lessons were full of pace and purpose as well as high pupil engagement. This is a challenge well met. Especially when put within the context of online lessons alongside in-class sessions with split teaching inputs delivered by Teaching Assistants, all functioning with precision and with the added layer of vital individualised interventions. These were all delivered with the hallmarks of a system that is embedded clearly and fully understood by all involved. Later meetings with Senior Leaders explained to me how this was achieved, with scrutiny of the timetable to ensure interventions complimented the wider curriculum, related to timings and the reasoning behind curriculum choices.
Investment in Staff
The mid-assessment meeting with Senior Leaders contextualised interviews and learning walks that had taken place. Leaders detailed the logic behind them and disclosed the careful and proactive decisions made in support. It became apparent that time has been taken to ensure staff can utilise their skills and those available to them through a range of sources. Leaders promote live marking to aid workload and crucially provide real-time support for the children within lessons, they encourage Subject Leads (and all staff) to learn skills, develop those skills and finally have a climate of confident practitioners. They value pace, energy and consistency within lessons and training to ensure staff are only taking on tasks that they can all see the value in. It is clear from the additional clubs, activities, training, and shared skills – within the school, that this is happening and more than that – the school is a vibrant hub of collaboration. Everyone shares and ‘buys in’ to this vision.
Articulate, Engaging Pupils
The children interviewed were a delight! A product of their environment, they spoke kindly about others, showed wonderful manners and gentle humour indicative of the school. Each child explained an element of school they enjoyed as I quickly established how deep the inclusive roots of the school ran. Children explained how sessions reviewing their work and looking at areas they found challenging, individually, and collectively were their ‘favourite’ with great understanding of their peers. They were proud of the ‘Deaf Base’ and knew all children got support both with becoming independent and in areas such as their own ‘health.’
Committed Governing Body
Governors are dedicated with a focused and clear understanding of their role. Both Governors interviewed were driven by a deep respect for the school, through their experiences as parents who had children attending Thorn Grove. They have experienced other settings but knew that Thorn Grove helped their children thrive and wanted to give back to a setting which one Governor described as ‘deserving of my time.’ Governors are long standing and respected members of the school community, taking active roles to help Leaders provide the best provision in their power. They listen to staff in person and drive actions on committees related to curriculum development and premises development for example. They are a vital part of the culture of inclusion, and they explained the importance of striving for every pupil ‘at their individual level’ and they are passionate advocates for how the school supports children with Special Education Needs and know from personal experience that the school offers provision for these children on a par with many specialist settings. The Governors were especially proud of how Christmas Shows, and signed activities, songs and events support each individual and allow them to be a part of the whole school community.
Creative Support Staff
The Support Staff were a wonderfully diverse group and were exactly as described by Senior Leaders. They take on exciting new roles, seek out and drive interventions, support the most vulnerable learners in a humorous, professional, and dedicated manner. New staff are paired up on arrival, feel welcome and get the best of their colleagues’ experience, they are all flexible and aware of whole-school issues and through the trust and confidence placed in them, they are determined and excited to take on new challenges. The level of care put into Sign Language for children, families and other professionals is awe-inspiring to see. Added to this are strong inter-agency links and a thirst to develop the provision for their children, which would fill any parent with confidence and pride that their child attends Thorn Grove. The development and success in building such an effective team of Support Staff is a strength of the school and also a wonderful example of investing in those around you. The beneficiaries of this investment are the children.
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