This morning I went to tell a story at an assembly for St James’ Primary School in Bermondsey. The school hit the headlines recently for their excellent SATS results and was graded ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in 2009. Most impressive was their very high ‘Value added’ score, which means that the children have improved rather than just being good at everything to start with.
I am not a great believer in SATS actually. I think they paint a very narrow picture and can be easily manipulated. However, I do know St James – in the last ten years it’s never been one of those schools where eager parents fight over places, and it’s in an extremely deprived spot. So I was impressed by their result, delighted to be visiting and curious to see how the school was run – what was the magic? Was there any magic?
I was given a mini tour by the deputy head, Alana. The buildings themselves were not especially nice and the classrooms were noisy but controlled, cheerful and friendly. I was impressed to see that every class from Year 6 to Reception had a role-play corner with dressing-up box to encourage speaking and listening. The school places an exceptionally high value on S&L – so a literacy class will often involve making artwork and talking about it. The school’s opinion is that without good S&L skills nothing else can be properly learned – they are the foundation stone of the curriculum. I’m sure this is a big help for the children’s academic achievement.
Other things I noticed:
- A larger than average number of male teachers. I think male role models for kids of that age are crucial. It’s a shame that so few men go into primary education. Why is that?
- The assembly finished, as it always does, with aerobics. Everyone (and I mean everyone) got up and did a load of dancing – it was a brilliant shake-up for the kids. Happy, inclusive and they loved it. There was no sense of anyone being on show, you didn’t have to be ‘good’ at dance; it was just taking joy in movement, something that kids are supposed to do instinctively.
Everyone from the deputy head to the youngest reception child made me feel really welcome, and during the assembly the children joined in the story with ferocious enthusiasm!