Teachers as Innovators
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Richard Gerver, Grange Primary School
When new head teacher Richard Gerver arrived at Grange Primary School ( www.grangeton.com ) five years ago, pupils were disaffected, teachers were gloomy and morale was on the floor. Today he has enabled the school’s steady transformation using a brand new curriculum which pupils control and is based around a model town. Pupils run the town’s democracy, economy and community and their results have doubled.
Keywords: excitement, relevance, communication, empowerment
Richard Gerver describes the last five years as an “immense journey” that he, the school and entire local community have been through. “We decided to start again from scratch, building a school from the children outwards. We weren’t going to run a school driven by a curriculum imposed by the government, the QCA or anyone else. We wanted to return to our moral purpose. We asked: what kind of people do we want to create at the end of our school? We decided we wanted to develop a curriculum to develop the children’s competences.”
They decided they wanted a school which children would want to get out of bed for as if they were being offered a day at Disneyland. They decided they weren’t going to find the solution in the National Curriculum, with a few extras bolted on, so they threw the template away and started again.
What they came up with was Grangeton (www.grange.derbyshire.sch.uk/grangeton1b.htm): a virtual town within the school. They run it five days a week for every week of the term. It has businesses and services to meet the needs of the community - the kids. The school council is the town council, with the mayor elected from Year 6. Each year the mayor is also a member of the school’s real governing body, helping to make decisions about the way the school is run.
The enterprises include things like a newspaper, a museum, a craft shop and two healthy eating shops. There’s a cafe two mornings a week with a twist: it’s Parisienne and pupils have to order in French. There’s a media centre with a purpose-built TV and radio station. The school decided that 14 was too late to wait for work experience, but with the pupils being primary aged the work experience comes to them: The TV team was trained by the BBC, MPs come in to advise on local democracy, ASDA advised on the cafe and Egg on customer relations.
“Not only are we creating real world scenarios, but they meet people from the real world and it creates an aspirational cycle. It had an extraordinary effect: in 2004 we were one of only 17 schools to come through an Ofsted report with no key issues as all. The thing that blew them away was the level of independence and self confidence of our children,” says Gerver.
Their new curriculum has four strands rather than subjects: communications (includes literacy), enterprise (includes maths), culture (includes science) and wellbeing (includes citizenships and PE). Gerver explains: “Each year children decide with teachers what they are going to do: this year the pupils and staff have chosen three learning areas for each term: our past, our present and our future. In each class they decide how they want to learn each part. One class said they wanted to look at the history of food. The teacher skilfully combines curriculum skills to explore that.
“They came up with the idea to design a themed restaurant to sell food through the ages. The communication strand of that would be menus and recipes and marketing and advertising. They do scale drawings of the restaurants and work on costing and sourcing raw products. Then they might explore chemical changes in cookery. Wellbeing is three areas: spiritual, social and physical. For the physical wellbeing element, children wanted to learn games from that period in history. Social wellbeing got into issues of fair trade and organic farming. For spiritual they made sure the menu catered for different dietary needs.”
The final element to the school is Grange University. On Friday mornings there are a range of activities completely off the curriculum which pupils take for enrichment and are accredited for. This term pupils are choosing from 30 different workshop options including: rounders, money management, internet marketing, needlework, pop music history, cycling proficiency, cricket, French, football, journalism, contemporary dance, cookery, cheerleading, chess, PowerPoint and Spanish. Some workshops are run by staff, some by parents and some by professionals.
The change at Grange Primary school was supported by some of the biggest brains in education. The DfES Innovations Unit (www.innovation-unit.co.uk) and the QCA Futures Unit (www.qca.org.uk/10969.html) were both involved in helping them to network to other schools with similar aspirations. Alistair Smith, the man behind Alite (www.alite.co.uk) and one of the country's leading experts of accelerated learning and ‘learning to learn’ advised, as did Professor Ken Robinson (www.principalvoices.com/voices/ken-robinson-bio.html), expert in creative learning. “Don't do things internally - you've got to seek out and work with people outside too,” advises Gerver.
The biggest barrier to change, says Gerver, is not running before you can walk: learning to take such radical change slowly so you keep everyone on board with you every step of the way. “Any school has to create their principles, and through a series of discussions you have to evolve those strategies from discussions and small steps. The key questions are: what kind of world are we preparing our children for? How do we do that and how do we make it exciting?
“You can’t be tempted to just put in short-term measures and stop-gaps and new ideas just because they sound groovy. It’s about making sure everything matches your vision concept: living, learning and laughing. Communication is key. If we had launched five years ago there would have been uproar: staff weren’t ready, parents wouldn’t want change they don’t understand, and pupils weren’t ready. The school must communicate with wider community.
“The toughest moment for me was five years ago, looking at how big the journey was going to be. But I learnt that genuine change takes time. My instinct was, I want it all sorted now. Actually it was to curb my own instinct and to allow it to evolve naturally. It’s a series of conversations. I would describe what we did as a result of a series of conversations which involved everybody's ideas.”