Encouraging independent and inquisitive learners in the Foundation Phase

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At Blaengwawr Primary School, consistent planning across the Foundation Phase ensures a child-centred learning environment and provides challenge for every pupil.

Number of learners: 194
Age range: 3-11
Date of inspection: February 2017

Information about the school

Blaengwawr Primary School is in the village of Aberaman near Aberdare.  There are currently 193 pupils between the age of three and eleven years at the school.  There are two single-year classes, including a full-time nursery, and five mixed-year classes. 

Over the last three years, the average number of pupils eligible for free school meals has increased to around 31%, which is above the national average of 19%.  About 24% of pupils have additional learning needs, which is around the national average.  No pupils have a statement of special educational needs.  Very few are in the care of the local authority or from an ethnic minority background.  No pupils currently receive support in English as an additional language or speak Welsh as a first language.  The headteacher took up her post in April 2011 and the last inspection was in May 2010. 

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The school bases its procedures and arrangements firmly on the philosophy and principles of the Foundation Phase.  Consistent planned provision across the Foundation Phase ensures a child centred learning environment and challenge for every pupil.  All classrooms and outside areas promote independent, child-centred learning activities extremely well through effective focused tasks, and enhanced and continuous provision. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Teachers and support staff in the Foundation Phase hold weekly planning meetings.  This ensures that focused teaching tasks have clear aims and learning objectives, and cover all the relevant skills in a varied and imaginative way.  Tasks include the use of different “Wow Starters”.  As a result of the Foundation Phase Leader attending the Outstanding Teaching Practice training, staff have extended and embedded these ideas in to their practice effectively.  The school has gathered and shared ideas, and created a bank of suitable and creative starters from which staff can select.  Staff use these various ideas well throughout the school to provide pupils within all learning groups with stimulating and interesting activities.  They excite and inspire all learners to learn, and include challenging tasks and opportunities for child-led assessment strategies.

Three examples include:

Focus Task 1 
To encourage pupils to:
• express their opinions, give reasons, and provide appropriate answers to questions
• respond to a wide range of stimuli
• use persuasive language, extend their choices of vocabulary and use previous knowledge to justify their opinions

Focus task 2 – Outdoor classroom – a large environmental area
To encourage pupils to:
• estimate measurements in terms of length, height, and capacity
• use standard units of length to record their measurements
• work as a team member
• value opinions of others
• develop problem solving skills

Foundation Phase pupils use the outdoor classrooms daily with planned activities forming part of the weekly focused, continuous and enhanced tasks.  Staff plan ‘I Can Explore’ (ICE) activities for them in the outdoor classrooms.  The pupils themselves lead these challenging ‘ICE’ activities.

Focus Task 3 – Literacy in the outdoor classroom
Using a story starter such as ‘When we were going on a bear hunt’….
Staff extend the provision within all classes into three further outdoor classrooms, two of which are within playground areas and designed to offer high quality continuous provision.  The third area is a large green field bordered by a garden pond, trees, shrubs, wild flowers, wooden climbing structures, benches and raised planting beds within which pupils grow their own vegetables.  There is also a polytunnel at the far end of this area that members of the school gardening club and pupils from all classes use to support their literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum. 

The school has adopted and developed the ’Pupil Voice’ system, which is now embedded across the school.  This is a fundamental aspect of the classroom environment and includes the outdoor learning areas.  It has impacted greatly on the levels of pupils’ independence, and child-centred learning. 

The pupils are aware of the different areas of learning and, as a result, are able to challenge themselves and further extend their ideas in a collaborative manner.  Staff ensure that a balance exists between Pupil Voice and enhanced provision.

The roles of the support staff are clearly defined, and effective teamwork is a prominent feature of the school’s work.  Collaborative teamwork ensures that staff encourage pupils to use their individual and specific skill-sets effectively.  This well-established routine ensures a positive and purposeful learning experience for all pupils. 

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

Leaders acknowledge that:
• Most pupils make good progress in their skills within the six areas of learning
• Most pupils have developed very effectively to be independent learners
• Nearly all pupils make very good progress from their starting points, by recalling prior learning and applying their skills very well in a variety of situations successfully
• Pupils’ literacy skills, particularly verbal, are very solid and penetrate into the writing levels within each class

The quality of pupils’ oracy and writing has improved, resulting in an upward trend and a higher number of pupils achieving the higher outcome 6 (O6) than in previous years (around 40% of pupils achieved O6 in 2016).
Nearly all pupils have positive attitudes towards learning, show interest in their tasks and work diligently for appropriate periods. 

Pupils’ social skills are excellent.

Staff organise the learning environment and resources effectively to create an excellent balance between adult-led and pupil-initiated learning.  This ensures that pupils are engaged well in their activities and become independent and inquisitive learners. 

All classes make very productive use of the outdoor learning areas.

There is a huge emphasis on the understanding and use of success criteria within all age groups.  This has ensured a far more accurate self and peer assessment system.  The additional challenges have shown an increase in the independence of pupils.

How have you shared your good practice?

Staff of the Foundation Phase have shared their practice with a number of local schools and groups of teachers.  Teachers, senior leaders and support staff have visited the school to shadow staff, and observe activities and strategies in practice, including the ‘Wow starter’ sessions.  They have observed how the school develops its provision for pupils in both the indoor and outdoor classrooms.  The school has completed a co-coaching programme.  This has allowed all teachers to teach a specific year group in their own school and that of their partner teacher in their school. 

Staff shared the outcomes of the Outstanding Teaching Practice training with colleagues and worked together to produce a list of ideas that would enhance, stimulate and ensure progression and quality of work for pupils in all classes.

Links: www.blaengwawrprimary.co.uk