Thorntree Primary School in Middlesbrough achieves Centre of Excellence status.
Thorntree Primary School is larger than the average-sized primary school with nursery, currently providing education for 350 pupils aged between 3 and 11 in the Thorntree area of Middlesbrough. The proportion of disadvantaged pupils is nearly three times higher than the national average. The proportion of pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities is also above the national average. The vast majority of pupils are of White British heritage and nearly all speak English as their home language. The school runs a daily breakfast club which is free to attend. Thorntree Primary School is part of the Middlesbrough Cooperative Learning Trust.
A Warm Inclusive School
Thorntree Primary School is a warm, inclusive school whose practice in action ensures that the wellbeing, social and emotional needs of all pupils is given the highest priority. The school strapline states From the seeds of hard work grows a tree of success and all within embody the belief that together they can plant the seeds to make success happen. They have begun the journey by developing clear, inclusive and nurturing policies which impact upon the learning environment, promoting strategies to improve equalities, teaching and learning and behaviour for learning.
A Strong and Passionate Commitment
The welcoming reception, clear signage, ease of access and positive interaction gives parents and visitors a good first impression of the school and it is clear you are entering an inclusive school. The Headteacher and her staff demonstrate a strong and passionate commitment towards creating an environment which gives purpose and focus to what pupils can do so that the foundations are laid for the future. Children are cared for; their opinions are valued, and they are encouraged to participate and take on increasing roles of responsibility around school thus developing their confidence.
Mutual Care and Respect
Recent developmental actions implemented have been selected based on how strongly these will support positive changes in the social, emotional and mental health of the children so that they subsequently impact positively on attitudes and behaviour. The calm and settled attitudes seen, the mutual care and respect and the shared pride of belonging to this happy school demonstrate the building blocks of school improvement.
They wish to measure that which they value and children’s emotional readiness for learning has been a driving force behind this. “The school’s work to promote pupils’ personal development and welfare is good”. Ofsted May 2018
Tackling Learning Challenges
The shared aim of giving pupils greater confidence to tackle learning challenges, to enjoy success and celebrate this and to remove the fear of failure is helpful in creating a learning community where aspirations can flourish and progress can be made, especially for pupils with low attainment.
The Headteacher is a Visible Presence
The Headteacher is a visible presence within school, which pupils appreciate and parents and staff welcome. She has realised ambitious plans to develop the old 1950s building into an attractive environment for the pupils in her care. Corridors, classrooms and spaces for learning are light, bright and vibrant with colourful display, providing evidence of the rich curriculum on offer; for example a display celebrating the recent Shakespeare for Schools’ project and another linked to the book Skellig draw you in to find out more about what pupils have learned, can achieve and are proud of. Spaces created for therapeutic services have been carefully resourced and developed to meet the needs of vulnerable pupils who may have been affected by adverse experiences and are wonderfully calming and enriching.
Spacious Outdoor Learning Environment
The spacious outdoor learning environment is imaginatively resourced to suit different interests and has been planned to consider the emotional, social, physical and mental health of pupils. One pupil invited me to
“Come outside to play and see what’s there for us, you’ll love it. We do”.
Pupils Value and Care for Their Environment
There is a MUGA, Trim Trail, playground games equipment, buddy benches, a large field, polytunnel garden area and orchard, all of which are accessible. Equipment was shared, pupils supported one another and were proud to show off their resources; there was an atmosphere of happy cooperation. Quadrangles offer further defined breakout spaces full of nature for study and quiet contemplation. Provision in the EYFS also offers delightfully creative and secure spaces for developing imagination and social skills indoors and out, for children to express themselves through play and to develop the foundations of learning. Children in Nursery showed good concentration when writing and were well supported with their language by attentive adults. Outdoors, Reception children ordered and counted ducks as they concentrated to create a water chute to gleefully watch them slide. Pupils value and care for the environment and resources because they have been involved in the decision-making process.
A Calm, Purposeful and Happy Atmosphere
A poster designed by the Headstart group said Pupils, welcome to Thorntree Primary School. You will be valued here, and this was very much the message received from speaking with them. Pupils are proud of their school and show acceptance of, and respect for, one another, their teachers and visitors. There is a calm, purposeful and happy atmosphere in school, with much enjoyment to be seen and heard on the day of the assessment as pupils enjoyed the company of the adults supporting them; in classrooms, intervention spaces, the lunch hall and playground. A pupil explained
“We can laugh and have fun with the teachers, but we know we have to get on with our work too”.
Pupils Feel Safe and Cared For
They have a clear understanding of the rules, applying the ‘Top of the Tree’ behaviour principles within work and play which reminds them of acceptable standards and recognises and rewards them when these are upheld. Pupils say they feel safe and cared for and enjoy participating in the wide range of after school clubs which place no barriers in the way of access. Pupils enjoy taking on roles of responsibility such as Mini Police, Play Leaders, Rights Respecting School Ambassadors, Buddies and as Headstart representatives. They are proud of the decisions they have made and implemented, for example, improving the lunches and lunchtime routines. They spoke articulately and maturely about what it means to hold these positions and about the pride and sense of belonging that they enjoy as a pupil in Thorntree. One pupil said,
“You won’t get better teachers anywhere who can help you be what you want to be.”
A Climate of Success
The SENDCo plays a major role in creating the climate of success for SEND pupils and works very closely with parents and families. Consistently good practice has resulted in good progress for the most disadvantaged children. Pupils are given clear support to improve their academic progress in incremental steps. She is ably supported by an extended pastoral team who recognise the need to support the wellbeing and emotional health of vulnerable learners, offering good support and developing a strong network of professionals. Parent Support Advisors give guidance and support to families in a range of parenting issues, for example through delivery of the Family Roots project and particularly with attendance, linking with Middlesbrough’s EWO services. The ‘family ethos’ continues beyond the school day as the school engages in a wide range of multi-agency support for families and is proactive at identifying needs then being swift to meet these. They know their community well and go the extra mile to support those who need this. Ofsted commented “Staff and Governors are rightly proud of the support and care they provide for pupils who have additional social and emotional needs. This area of the school’s work is particularly strong”. Ofsted May 2018
Developing Skills for Life
Sports funding enhances pupils’ opportunities to take up new activities, develop skills for life and to represent at school sport level through strong links with Middlesbrough’s Sports Partnership. There are many extra-curricular clubs for children to enjoy and it is clear that these, alongside lunch time activities, promote the good relationships and attitudes seen. A parent said,
“There is so much on offer here and they go out of their way to find things that children love to take part in”.
A Wide Range of Digital Resources
The school uses a wide range of digital resources to good effect with each class having its own web page. There is a well-stocked computer suite, class iPads, Kindles, VR and a green screen, with plans to enhance this provision further. The website provides a range of online curriculum resources linking home and school as well as guidance for parents for keeping children safe online.
“We Care Because You Care”
Throughout the day there were many examples of staff and children reminding one another
“We care because you care”.
Parents spoken to were very supportive of the actions leaders have taken to improve the school and the opportunities given to pupils and families, comments included,
“If this school says they’ll do something, then it’s done” and
“This school prides itself on helping children and families, it’s what they do best”.
Parents are Involved in their Children’s Learning
Parents spoken to were keen to talk of the relationships fostered between home and school, valuing the opportunities given to be involved with their child’s learning and engaging in family events such as fairs, curriculum engagement days and sporting activities. They say they feel welcomed and appreciate the friendly faces they encounter every day. They acknowledge the enrichment which comes from trips and visits out into the community and beyond, visitors who bring in new experiences in the arts and culture and have seen behaviour improve as a result of recent strategies which address personal development and overcome barriers faced. The curriculum is enriched through participation in memorable learning experiences, further supporting the personal development of pupils. This also helps to contribute to the many awards the school has achieved over time, which raise aspirations and of which all stakeholders are rightly proud.
“My child has never been happier or more settled”
as well as
“Staff are energetic and enthusiastic, always there and just absolutely brilliant”.
Purposeful Collaboration to Remove Barriers to Learning
Thorntree Primary School staff collaborate purposefully to remove barriers to learning, seeking out the appropriate resources, professionals and multi-disciplinary teams to bring about success. Those who are brokered to support do so with diligence and commitment, understanding the school community and the individuals within, for example the CAT’s therapist and Headstart key worker who add value. Staff within school are keen to take advice and work upon suggestions offered to create the right climate for success. They seek out relevant training to provide individual support in-house for example supporting speech and language through ELSA and BLAST, and emotional health through Thrive and Attachment Theories.
Developing Links with Local Schools
There are developing links with local schools in the Trust and beyond with a view to sharing best practice, supporting with moderation, teaching and learning and transition to the benefit of all.
Progress is Monitored
Progress is monitored so that the picture of where they are and where they need to be is clear. Recent new developments in tracking and data analysis are providing a more forensic approach towards identifying gaps in learning and draw on external advice and guidance and support with diagnostic systems and innovative resources.
A Sharper Focus on Improvement Priorities
Senior Leaders and the Governing Body have refined the monitoring and evaluation processes to keep a sharper focus on improvement priorities. This is a valuable approach to help them achieve the higher standards leaders wish to see for their pupils, for example engaging with the Maths Hub and STEM Centre for external support. The Headteacher has a realistic view of the school’s position and the challenges faced and, as a result, children have access to high quality adult support, enabling resources and inclusive practices.
An Oasis of Calm
The passion of those within has determined that Thorntree Primary School is an oasis of calm; a place where pupils can belong, thrive and be confident and happy, so that they can go on to become successful learners.
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