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Room for improvement

Eat your heart out, Home Front. A school in Kirklees transformed its main classroom by painting the walls, chucking out the blackboard and having a good rummage in the cellar. The results were dramatic and the bill was minimal. Kathryn Kohl reports.

There are many reasons for reorganising a classroom, including changes in the number, age, or needs of pupils; changes in staffing; and modifications to the curriculum. For Rawthorpe Church of England Infant and Nursery School in Huddersfield, which has more physically disabled children than any other school in Kirklees, the impetus for change was the relocation of a mixed Year 12 classroom and a policy shake-up following an inspection last year.

Sue Mulvany, former primary inspector with Kirklees turned consultant, helped the school plan the changes. She conducted a training day focusing on Ann Barclay's Year 12 class of 29 children, which included seven children with a mix of physical, learning, and behavioural difficulties. The discussion concentrated on teaching objectives; topic versus subject-led curriculum; and the pros and cons of whole-class, group and individual work. "Teachers must be clear about objectives before deciding on methods of organisation," Sue says.

Organising resources, space and furniture to encourage good behaviour and high attainment was a key issue. Pupil groupings, traffic flow, and storage were all discussed, with particular attention to supporting independent learning and supervised, structured play.

"Some children still need the sort of activities you would expect to find in a nursery - either their motor skills or speech is poor," Ann says. So it was decided to keep the play centres inside the classroom rather than shift them to an area off the corridor.

The first step in the classroom makeover was to paint the garish blue walls a lighter, neutral colour, which the teachers did themselves in the summer holiday. Then came the furniture. Work tables were grouped near the centre of the room, with a rug for whole-class work to one side, and "centres" (book corner, water tray, making area, computers, sand tray, post office, and home corner) laid out around the edges. Sand and water trays were put at opposite ends of the room to minimise mess - an important consideration for physically disabled children. The book corner was restricted to three chairs and two small bookshelves, but the children find it "cosy", and it is always in great demand.

Ann gave up her desk, conceding that it had largely been a "dumping ground for clutter". Now she keeps her supplies and children's work in drawers, and is free to move around the classroom, accommodating physical disabilities and eliminating queuing. A large blackboard was replaced by a more versatile mobile whiteboardflipchart with a ledge for perching books and a magnetic surface.

"The classroom now meets learning needs and styles more flexibly," says Ann. "Children can sit on the rug, or turn from their seats to see the whiteboard, which helps in introducing and evaluating activities."

An old shelving unit was modified and painted to hold the sand gear, and a low wooden board was attached to two storage units to divide the home corner from the rug area. This allows a "fidgeter" to play quietly without disturbing others, and also prevents objects being dumped on the units, now used for display.

Children's work is displayed on hessian-backed boards or mounted in four pale, wooden frames. Ann is especially pleased that the new look motivates children to work harder on presentation. "It gives them a sense of purpose, because they can see how it all comes together."

Other teachers have responded positively to the changes, commenting on the "bigger and cleaner feeling", and versatility. "Everyone had a hand in the makeover, and they all feel it belongs to them," says Ann.

Headteacher Alison O'Brien adds, "The process of change is still ongoing, and will culminate in a policy document on classroom organisation and management. "


* walls painted a light, neutral shade

* display boards covered with hessian * new curtains hung

* furniture rearranged

* teacher's desk and blackboard ditched

* Fablon-covered wood backing fixed to storage units

* four wooden picture frames bought for mounting pictures

* mobile whiteboard installed

* derelict cupboard rescued from cellar

Budget (Pounds s)

Dulux oatmeal paint x 4 and crushed berry gloss 98.82

Whiteboardflip chart 89.95

Picture frames x 4 30.00

Hessian rolls x 2 5.50

Mounting board 19.99

Fablon covering for tiles, cupboard backing 9.58

Wood 1.13

TOTAL 254.97

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