Bryn Deva County Primary School develops good practice through internal reflective practice projects, places pupil wellbeing as the number one priority, and selects curriculum themes according to pupils’ needs and interests. A boatbuilding project on the River Dee proved a creative way of improving boys’ literacy. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation, planning and preparation, and realising change.
Bryn Deva County Primary School is in Connah’s Quay in Flintshire. The school has 290 pupils on roll, including 35 who attend the nursery on a part-time basis.
Many pupils are of white British ethnicity. A few pupils are from a minority ethnic background. A few pupils speak English as an additional language. Very few pupils come from Welsh speaking families. The school has identified a minority of pupils as having additional learning needs. A very few pupils have a statement of additional learning needs. A minority of pupils are eligible for free school meals.
Stage 1: Evaluating the current curriculum within wider self-evaluation arrangements
Developing a vision for curriculum change
In September 2015, the school revisited its vision and core values to place improving standards and practice at the heart of its work. This followed a period of visiting schools both locally and further afield in Wales to view best practice. Throughout this time, the school took every opportunity to consider the implications of Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015), to inform its vision for children and subsequent curriculum developments, for example whole staff training events and updates for governors. This ensured that they understood how the new vision and developments corresponded to the direction set out in Professor Donaldson’s report.
Stage 2: Planning and preparing for change
The school focuses on developing good practice through establishing internal reflective practice projects. All staff, governors and pupils contribute to the process of developing core values. In order to gather the views of parents, leaders used a digital ‘app’, which led to good response levels from parents. The outcome of this work was to establish a new vision statement to ‘Be the best version of us that we can be’.
The starting point for achieving this vision was to refine the school’s provision to make pupils’ wellbeing the number one priority. The school’s rationale for this is that, without effective provision for wellbeing, pupils will not develop their skills and competencies in other areas of learning. When planning and preparing for change, leaders identified the following key principles:
- Changes to the curriculum arise from needs identified through self-evaluation activities, aimed at improving pupils’ outcomes
- Health and wellbeing are at the heart of the curriculum and pedagogy
- Curriculum planning must be flexible to respond to changing needs of individuals and groups of pupils
- Pupils have an active role in planning how and what they learn
- Learning experiences are creative and broad, and cover the range of the current national curriculum
- Learning experiences focus on developing pupils’ literacy, numeracy and ICT skills in engaging and relevant contexts
- The school’s curriculum enables the school to connect with and enhance its reputation and standing in the local community
- All staff contribute to leading initiatives and there are effective arrangements to develop leaders and staff at all levels
- There are strong systems to review developments and a culture of reflective practice
- Staff take proportionate risks in planning; for example, they do not always know exactly where learning activities might lead
Stage 3: Realising change
The school usually realises change through a mixture of whole-school initiatives and group projects that focus specifically on the needs of the three age stages at the school. All initiatives and projects link to the school’s core values and have a direct impact on priorities from the school improvement plan. Importantly, whether it is a whole school initiative or a phase improvement strategy, planning, preparation, implementation and evaluation follow a common format.
Step 1: Identify the issue and specific targets for improvement
- This arises from self-evaluation activity.
Step 2: Identify leaders and specific actions
The school uses phase leaders or individuals with specific skills to lead projects and to identify the actions required to deliver success.
Step 3: Implementation
Staff implement the strategy in a supportive climate.
Step 4: Evaluate the impact
At the end of a pre-identified period, leaders, including governors, reflect on the impact a project has had on securing improvements for pupils.
Whole school curriculum developments that support the four purposes
The school implements many strategies for improving pupils’ wellbeing effectively. These include a bespoke nurture class and a class for pupils with additional learning needs, and highly effective partnership working arrangements with families, specialist agencies and wrap-around care providers. The school also works with a cluster of local schools to share good practice in supporting children and parents. Leaders track the progress of pupils and parents involved in these programmes and strategies. They use this information carefully to tailor provision to meet individual needs and to identify which programs are the most effective. These are fundamental in supporting all pupils to access learning experiences successfully. When combined with an innovative curriculum, they are highly effective in engaging and sustaining pupils’ interests in learning, developing pupils’ skills and enabling pupils to make very strong progress from their individual starting points. This aspect of the school’s provision contributes very well to developing high levels of self-esteem and confidence amongst many pupils.
Whole school curriculum organisation and provision for skills
Each phase leader works with teams of staff to develop the curriculum. They do not use published curriculum models. Instead, they select themes according to the needs and interests of pupils at the school. Staff plan a two-year cycle of topics. Each topic starts with ‘immersion’ events such as an educational visit, visitors to the school or other specially planned events. These days secure pupils’ interests and provide them with the chance to direct their own learning by identifying what they would like to learn through mind maps. This process is effective in securing high levels of enthusiasm and engagement. It also ensures that the school’s developing curriculum places a high priority on incorporating the three cross-curricular strands identified within Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015).
Innovation through teamwork - Boatbuilding on the River Dee
Leaders identify specific aspects of provision that need to improve. This leads them to implement projects that feature prominently in the school’s improvement plan. They also support the school to strengthen its leadership capacity. A variety of staff from all levels lead the projects. Through staff meetings, project leaders give feedback to colleagues participating the projects, and identify potential barriers and solutions to these issues. One example took the pupils out on the River Dee.
The boat building project aimed to improve upper key stage 2 boys’ literacy through creativity. As part of the lead creative schools initiative, pupils worked with the local watermen’s association to build a ship in the form of a dragon and sail it on the River Dee. As part of this project, teachers undertook training to support them to assess pupils’ creative skills and apply creative approaches to teaching. They used this training well to plan a rich range of activities. This gave pupils’ learning a tangible context that meant a great deal to them, and this led to very high levels of engagement and enthusiasm. The project provided real inspiration for pupils’ reading and creative writing and enhanced pupils’ understanding of the heritage of Connah’s Quay and Wales. It has led to notable improvements in pupils’ ability to work respectfully with others and, in particular, in the work ethic of boys.
The project culminated in a boat-launch on the local quay, celebrated by pupils, parents and community members. This was highly beneficial for the pupils and the school. A strong driver for improvement was to raise the profile and reputation of the school. This project was highly visible in the local community. It enhanced the name of Bryn Deva in the community and enabled pupils to be proud of their achievements and of their school.