Primary Network conference focuses on student and teacher wellbeing and mutual understanding

SSAT’s Primary Network conference on 12 June explored how schools are responding to the changes and challenges faced across the primary education landscape. The delegates from primary schools and MATs provided innovative ways of thinking in their presentations. A shared priority was maintaining awareness of both child and teacher wellbeing.

St Cuthbert’s Catholic Primary & Nursery School, for example, presented the changes that have helped their students escape the “ferocious deprivation” the school has been facing in its area of Liverpool (which has the highest deprivation quintile in the country). Forty-nine percent of its students are eligible for FSM (again, the highest quintile in the country). The challenges they faced included more parental engagement, meeting the diverse needs of children, optimising communication language and literacy, and introducing outdoor provision and transition. They introduced a wide range of ways of engaging pupils, including: classes and activities in life skills, family learning weeks, maths breakfasts, stay & play sessions, and Liverpool School Parliament. And of challenging them: creative challenge curriculum, residential trips (local, national & international), performances, and Philosophy for Children, all supported by more staff CPD along with reduced marking.

Their efforts paid off. Ultimately, St Cuthbert’s academic success “has enabled pupils’ attainment at both expected and higher standards at KS2 in reading, writing and maths to be in the top 10% of all schools nationally,” Dennis Hardiman, executive headteacher, maintained. Indeed, quoting statistics cited by schools ministers in February 2019, he said St Cuthbert’s overall KS1-KS2 progress was among the top 3% of schools in the country.

Corinne Settle’s session, ‘Deep learning: removing the barriers’, described ways to enable learning and expand opportunities, including ‘rethinking classroom conversations’ that St Cuthbert’s had demonstrated. She discussed other useful aspects to consider, such as metacognition and self-regulation, and using formative assessment. The methodology that can truly make a difference, she said, involves direction, choice, flexibility, small steps, time, support and accountability.

Steve Taylor, in his session ‘Redefining pupil success’, maintained that “success comes down to happiness and how we contribute to society”. He highlighted the approach of Robin Hood Academy, where he is executive headteacher: he believes children’s voice has been and continues to be paramount in implementing genuine change within primary schools including his own.

Finally, Bursted Wood Primary School’s journey showed that by utilising SSAT’s FfEE (Framework for Exceptional Education), the school has been able to invent their own creative curriculum which is not just Ofsted driven. Bursted Wood had chosen specific strands of improvement to focus on and had consulted SSAT on their strategic planning. Their new vision aims to enhance the climate for learning, and defines core values, with guidance to help students act on them. Pupil voice has proven to be valuable, with the ability to identify impacts and outcomes, and what is best to work on in the future. Their creative curriculum also encouraged them to implement pupil feedback, which helped improve the climate for learning by reshaping teachers’ understanding of their pupils.

With each of these presentations, acknowledging the difference that a better understanding between teachers and pupils has on school outcomes has proven to be a key factor of success in primary education.

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