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Lifelong laud of the rings

Primary pupils' impassioned part in the capital's Olympic bid will live forever in their memory. Beth Noakes reports.

If the Olympics come to London in 2012, pupils at Carpenters primary in Stratford, east London, will hear all the applause from their playground.

Throughout Carpenters, artwork and photos show how the school has channelled Olympic fever into activities within and without the curriculum.

"In recent years teachers have been constrained by the national strategies," says deputy Jan Bless.

"Pupils have differing needs, and traditional ways of teaching literacy and numeracy can disenfranchise them. With topic-based teaching we can motivate teachers and pupils."

In November and February, the school had topics weeks in which the usual school day was set aside to focus on Olympic themes in all subjects. Year 6 held a debate on whether the Games should be held in London; Y3 looked at the diet of an athlete; Y1 compared old and new sports equipment.

Most staff hadn't been trained to do topic work, and some were worried about straying from the literacy and numeracy strategies. But they were won over by pupils' enthusiasm and hard work.

"When children looked at how many medals a country had won, they didn't even realise they were doing maths," says Mr Bless.

This area is changing, with the Channel Tunnel rail link on its way and the 180-acre Stratford City project due to start soon.

Mr Bless, a very energetic Dutchman, is always on the look-out for local organisations to offer help - either by funding a project, developing learning resources or working with staff and pupils.

"I'm trying to make pupils' learning more relevant, fun and interesting," he says. "Many of our parents don't use London's many resources. This may be due to economic factors, language barriers or trepidation, so it's down to the school to relate learning to real life. I've been using the opportunities around us to take pupils on visits and make the world come alive in the school.

"We were approached by some architects involved in a structure behind the school. They wanted the children to draw a picture to show how they would like the buildings to look, so they could use it as a PR job.

"We persuaded them to get involved in a project with us, looking at neighbourhood renewal and the impact changes would have on our community.

"The Lea River Trust asked us to design two sculptures to improve the local street-scape, and included us in a project meant for secondaries on whether the Olympics should take place here."

The Building Crafts College, in London, asked Y6 pupils to design a timeline of Stratford which the college's stonemasons are now carving. And last November, the Emergency Exit art group worked with the school to design and make lanterns to use in a "rings of fire" procession through Hackney on the eve of the handover of London's bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

A gifted and talented project with the East London Dance Company has resulted in a dance video, featuring pupils from Carpenters and four other local schools, which has been shown to the IOC as part of the bid process.

The neighbouring borough of Newham organised an Olympics Links competition in which each school was asked to explore the Games as well as the culture and heritage of various nations. The school was allocated Spain and contacted a school in Barcelona to find out how the 1992 Olympics affected them. Pupils also studied the geography of Spain and learnt some Spanish phrases and songs.

Carpenters won second prize, and the prize money was used to pay an artist to work on another cherished project: designing alternative Olympic flags.

Pupils from every class worked in groups to come up with the new designs.

The streamer held by an Olympic gymnast forms the shape of the Thames. A black and white hand are shown moving mountains together, and the windows of a house each show the flag of a different country.

Mr Bless says: "I wanted to make flags to represent the human values linked to sport - to show what the Olympic ideal means to us today. The rings on the Olympic flag represent continents. But the boundaries have changed.

People have been displaced. I wanted to make flags more relevant."

Eventually, there will be 60 flags grouped together in threes on flag poles. Mr Bless's ambition is for them to flutter in the Olympic stadium in 2012.

"The children won't forget making their flags - the sweat, frustration and teamwork," he says. "And they'll keep the design and composition skills, and the self-esteem. If we followed the curriculum by rote and I sat in my office completing lists and tables, the pupils wouldn't have had all those experiences. Luckily, I work with a very supportive head and staff, and I try to inspire my colleagues to think creatively along these lines too."

On July 6, the world will know whether London's bid has been successful.

Either way, the pupils at Carpenters will never forget the part they played in it.

Name: Carpenters school, Stratford, east London

School type: primary school

Proportion of children

eligible for free school meals: 39 per cent

Improved results: Key stage 2 Sats in 2004 have improved in all core subjects: English from 47 to 59 per cent; maths 63 to 69 per cent; science 72 to 82 per cent

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