Creating a learning plaza leads to positive changes in pupil engagement

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Undy Primary School created a learning plaza so pupils could complete activities independently and away from the main classroom. As a result, nearly all pupils develop high standards of independent and collaborative learning and levels of pupil engagement have risen. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation, planning and preparation, and realising change.


Undy Primary School is in the village of Undy, between Newport and Caldicot.  There are 320 pupils on roll, including 45 part-time nursery pupils.  There are six single-age and four mixed-age classes.

A very few of the pupils are eligible for free school meals.  Nearly all pupils are white British and come from English-speaking homes; no pupils speak Welsh at home.  Very few pupils speak English as an additional language.

The school identifies a few of its pupils as having additional learning needs and a very few pupils have a statement of additional learning needs.

Stage 1: Evaluating the current curriculum within wider self-evaluation arrangements – curriculum content and assessment

Senior leaders and staff identified that improving pupils’ engagement with the curriculum was a priority.  They recognised that their provision did not develop pupils’ independent learning skills enough or give pupils the chance to decide what and how they learned.  In addition, the school felt that the introduction of a skills based curriculum required a new approach to planning and delivery.

Senior leaders involve all staff in leading and evaluating change.  All teachers work in curriculum teams according to the year groups they teach.  In the first year of change, senior leaders allocated three consecutive non-contact days to each team to evaluate the school’s curriculum and develop a more skills-based approach.  The outcome was a strategic curriculum map that outlined the development of pupils’ skills over a two-year cycle. 

In Year 2, senior leaders released teachers in their curriculum teams for a further two days.  At the end of this period, the school had a systematic and progressive plan for developing pupils’ skills through thematic contexts in all subjects and areas of learning.

Stage 2:  Planning and preparing for change

Prompted by the introduction of a skills-based curriculum, staff enabled pupils to take more control of their own learning.  Senior leaders and upper key stage 2 teachers visited a local primary school to observe how teachers had adapted their learning environment to encourage pupil independence.  Following the visit, they refined the ideas to suit their environment and then planned the renovation of a shared Year 5 and Year 6 area to create a ‘learning plaza’.

The learning plaza gives older pupils the opportunity to complete activities independently and away from the main classroom.  These activities build on the skills taught during English, mathematics and science sessions.  The plaza is organised into five different zones: literacy, numeracy, science, Welsh and media.  The nature and focus of these zones are under constant review by teachers and pupils.  They work together to plan five colour-coded levels of challenge for each activity, with teachers encouraging pupils to choose the level suitable for them.  Teachers introduce each plaza activity at the start of a fortnight so pupils understand what to do and the standards expected of them.  As a result, nearly all pupils develop high standards of independent and collaborative learning and levels of pupil engagement have risen.

When making changes to the curriculum, senior leaders provide teachers with appropriate non-contact release time to drive change forward and create a culture of self-reflection and mutual trust.  They oversee the work of the curriculum teams to ensure consistency of approach and assist them in meeting agreed timescales.  To facilitate this, governors reduced the deputy headteacher’s teaching commitment to enable her to oversee the development of the new curriculum and support teachers’ planning.  This role was crucial in ensuring the rapid and effective progress of curriculum change.

Senior leaders encourage all staff to experiment, to learn from existing good practice within the school and beyond, and to take responsibility for reflecting on and improving their own professional practice.  There is a clear understanding among all staff that changes to teaching techniques and the learning environment must result in improved outcomes for pupils. 

Senior leaders ensure that all staff engage in robust whole school self-evaluation activities and see themselves as part of the process.  Senior leaders focus monitoring activities on the principle of ‘equity, rather than equality’.  Areas of provision in most need of development receive the highest levels of monitoring and support.  As part of a climate of professional trust and an ethos of reflection and improvement, this approach is effective in driving change and improving provision.  All staff are proficient in the use of data and self-evaluation techniques, such as listening to pupils, lesson observations, learning walks and pupil work scrutiny. 

Stage 3:  Realising change

Senior leaders align elements of the school improvement plan carefully with the requirements of Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015).  For example, the plan outlines specific actions to increase pupils’ independence, enrich their learning experiences and develop their creativity.  This is already having a significant impact on the way pupils learn.  For example, pupils talk with confidence about how they are developing their creativity, such as when using drama to explore characters in a story.

The work of the school’s curriculum teams focuses on adapting provision further.  For example foundation phase teachers map skills to allow pupils to plan their own enhanced and topic activities using the class skills planning boards.  This helps pupils to lead aspects of their own learning and develop their skills as independent learners.  In key stage 2, teachers are extending the use of differentiated independent challenges into Year 3 and Year 4.  Although these classes do not have access to a shared physical space, the curriculum team has worked imaginatively to adapt the approach to suit the available learning environment.  This takes the form of independent, differentiated science, mathematics and literacy activities situated in the space outside their classrooms.