Woodhouse Primary Academy in Birmingham achieves Centre of Excellence status.
Embedded into Everyday Practice
I had the pleasure of conducting the IQM visit to Woodhouse Primary Academy in Quinton, Birmingham. Although this virtual assessment has rapidly become the ‘new normal’ for all of us in this COVID-19 period, this did not compromise the depth, breadth and integrity of the visit. The information from the IQM Self Evaluation Report, the school SEF and website and of course our online meetings, were all triangulated to ensure that the standards of the Inclusion Quality Mark, were not just established but embedded into their everyday practice. The assessment was compiled to an exceptionally high standard and with expert delegation and organisation, they ensured I spoke to the right staff who spoke confidently and passionately about each element.
Accessing Quality Education in a Pandemic
The Inclusion Lead gave me an intimate insight into the daily life at Woodhouse Primary School through her innovate ways of bringing me into the heart of her school. The imaginative use of ICT and the dedication to the preparation for the day was exemplary. I was able to join learning walks, hear from pupils and parents, meet with external agencies and see how quickly life at Woodhouse Primary Academy had adapted to ensure children could still access a quality education amongst a worldwide pandemic.
An Oversubscribed Academy
Woodhouse Primary School is a larger than average primary Academy, proud to be part of the University of Wolverhampton Multi Academy Trust, who have sponsored the Academy since September 2013. Currently there are 444 children who attend the academy and it remains oversubscribed, with waiting lists in most year groups.
A Resource Base for ASD Provision
The Academy has a 10-place resource base for ASD provision attached to the mainstream school named the Rainbow Room. This provision is also accessed by several other children from across the Academy to best support their needs. There is a high proportion of children with ASD, both diagnosed and those supported from families who are reluctant to engage with the assessments and diagnosis. Their reputation and success for supporting children with autism that would traditionally not fit into a mainstream, has led to Birmingham council commissioning additional places. Although there would be extra funding, the Inclusion Lead is reluctant to grow the provision to a size where it would compromise the integrity and personalisation of the current provision.
The Heart and Ethos of the School
The school deprivation indicator is in the highest 20% nationally. The demographic headlines although high, remain misleading; around 45% of the pupil population are Pupil Premium, but this ignores the vast amount of families earning little above the minimum income, either though part time work or universal credit. The team at Woodhouse has identified and consequentially support a large proportion of the school community who are deprived but are not entitled to any additionality in funding, but instead are supported through the heart and ethos of the school. Home visits to high rise flats to families living in poverty opened the eyes and the hearts of the staff; support was indiscriminately offered to families whilst maintaining their dignity. The increase in whole school awareness of the needs of the community has been a positive shift in a challenging time. The staff have elicited a pervasive culture of trust of a community that reputationally can be hard to reach.
Passionate about Inclusion
The Headteacher took up post in March 2018. He spoke about bringing his own child into the Woodhouse family where he flourished so there is a strong sense of ‘if it’s good enough for my child, then its good enough for yours’. There is a faith in the school, a faith from parents and a trust that is reciprocated from the Headteacher to his staff. The whole offer at Woodhouse seems personal, personal in its intention and love for the local community to which the school serves. He too was passionate about inclusion and his school ethos was not about paying lip service to inclusion, but empathetically described how it has become an indistinguishable feature of life at Woodhouse, that somehow, they have lost perspective of how invaluable their core values and practice are to the children of their school. The IQM assessment was an opportunity to recognise their achievement and dedication.
Professionalism and Dedication
There is a strong safeguarding ethos at Woodhouse Primary Academy and there are many staff trained at DSL level, beyond the level required on their job description. The Deputy Head spoke with passion and omniscience and is accurately aware of the challenges in his community. He instils in staff the notion that it can happen at Woodhouse. He spoke about the professionalism and dedication of the team at Woodhouse Primary Academy. He was also reflective and spoke of the need to always develop and grow the Safeguarding Team. The staff are eager to learn from other agencies, work collaboratively with other professionals, seek advice and intervention. Due to their location, they sit on the border of three local authorities often having to work across the boroughs, but they do so with tenacity and are not afraid to pursue answers for their children. They have a comprehensive training programme for all staff. They have made a special effort to ensure all lunch time supervisors have safeguarding training, they are perceptive to the idea that lunch time staff are traditionally the staff with the most contact with the most children but are often the least trained in the area of safeguarding. Woodhouse bucks this trend, with all support staff knowing who the DSLs are and how to report concerns. Children are also aware to whom and how to report their concerns and they were able to share examples of peer disclosure. They are also committed to upskilling children and parents, most recently in e-safety which is extremely pertinent during the heightened use of ICT in the COVID-19 lockdown. There is a culture of accountability and shared responsibility, the Attendance Officer is also a DSL. Another strategic move that demonstrated the value in support staff, who know the area, the families and are most likely to be receiving disclosures.
The Woodhouse Family
There have been many opportunities for reflection under the COVID-19 spotlight, offering both positive and negative insights. They have uncovered much hidden deprivation; furlough, redundancy, the move to benefits and those with jobs barely above the FSM threshold. They supported families of front-line workers who were working in excess of 60 hours per week but were still impacted by the school closures and lockdown, as life simply went on for these families. This sense of family epitomised in the welcome art showcase, of ‘when the world stopped, Woodhouse carried on’; a collective art display contributed to by the Woodhouse community of life during lockdown. Everything is a subtle reminder that the pupils here belong to the Woodhouse Family. Parents were supportive of the reopening of the school in June and were appreciative of the care and detail in the risk assessments to allow their children to return to school. Throughout lockdown Keyworkers were supported and bubbles ensured parents were still able to serve the NHS and other front-line services.
Opportunities for Online Learning
Attendance continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but all pupils are supported in their absence through opportunities for online learning and paper-based activities. The staff are considerate of the differences in access to ICT in the home and personalised packages are delivered in line with pupil need. Chromebooks were sourced through the DFE scheme and additionally through the leadership’s discretion by distributing refurbished ICT resources.
A Busy Backdrop of Educational Excellence
At Woodhouse Primary Academy, they support a significant number of families who require provision on a regular basis from school and external agencies. The impact of these needs, both social and economic, impact on the children and present a unique set of challenges to the individuals, acting as barriers to their personal development and learning. However, the green school uniform that the children wear with pride, masks many of these challenges and unites the children in a way that ensures additional needs are camouflaged against a busy backdrop of educational excellence.
Inclusion is at the Heart of Everything
It was a pleasure to meet such passionate staff in the most challenging circumstances. The current Headteacher noted her intrinsic value almost immediately, promoting her to Assistant Headteacher ensuring inclusion is truly at the heart of all that they do. The Inclusion Lead believes her post is now redundant as she knows the staff demonstrate truly inclusive practice every day. I disagree and believe that instead she should have the belief that it is her tenacity, dedication, perseverance and excellence that has set the benchmark for the others across the school community.
Hard Work and Dedication
Woodhouse Primary Academy continues to strive to embed the Inclusion Quality Mark elements and wholeheartedly deserve recognition of all the hard work and dedication of their team. They continuously strive to meet the needs of all children in school, going over and above where possible to ensure their experiences at Woodhouse is meaningful and positive .
Offering Support for Everyone
Everyone I met was extremely likable. Likability is an underestimated trait and this has meant that the staff stand together as more than a team; they are family, where the Headteacher and the Inclusion Lead sit at the top of the table, present and accessible and offering support for everyone. The feedback session was emotional, as there was still an element of denial of the extraordinary efforts they make to ensure everyone is included in the Woodhouse Family.
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