Awards - Winner: Primary School of the Year - Local school with a global vision

8th January 2010 at 00:00
Caedmon Primary School serves a deprived former steelworker community, but it is determined to give pupils a real sense of community and diversity

Five pupils are gathered around a desk in a small classroom, enthusiastically preparing their multimedia presentation documenting a school trip to Pompeii and the pupils' successful ascent of Mount Vesuvius. A couple of rooms away, several pupils eagerly discuss their imminent trip to the Auvergne in the south of France, where they regularly visit their partner school.

This is Caedmon Primary School in Grangetown near Middlesbrough, where there are no limits to the pupils' compassionate world view. Yet the school serves a former steelworker community that has been plagued by high levels of unemployment for generations.

"The government of Margaret Thatcher saw the loss of thousands of jobs, leading to an incredibly high unemployment rate," says Simon Feasey, the school's deputy headteacher and international and special-needs co- ordinator.

"Grangetown is one of the most deprived areas in Britain, with residents experiencing a combination of poor socio-economic circumstances, unhealthy lifestyles and low uptake of health services."

The school serves a community that is almost exclusively white. When two refugee families moved to the area five years ago, they were hounded out by the locals. They were taunted and abused - one of the families even had their house torched.

Caedmon Primary School responded by setting up international school partnerships and giving every part of the curriculum an international dimension. "We believe we have a chance to tackle racial prejudice in the community through education," says Mr Feasey. "Staff members work incredibly hard to provide a curriculum that develops the fundamental skills our pupils need to succeed in later life, but which is also rich in diversity, opportunity and experience."

According to headteacher Sarah Richardson, the school's vision is "to develop well-rounded, responsible citizens who will make a valuable contribution to their community".

Mrs Richardson believes that the school must provide the experiences that are denied to the children due to their deprived background. "The fact that our school is situated in an area of significant deprivation, with very little cultural diversity, means that there is often inequality between our pupils' opportunities and experiences and those of pupils living in a more affluent area," she says.

"We strongly feel that providing practical experience in the areas that many of our pupils' lives are impoverished is crucial to their development of becoming responsible members of society."

The school has reached far and wide to achieve these aims and just six years after its establishment - which involved the amalgamation of Alderman William Jones and Attlee Road primaries - has established itself as a truly international school with strong community links.

After years of hard work, its achievements were recognised in last year's TES Schools Awards when it was declared Primary School of the Year. The judges praised its dedication to pupil development - as well as its success in tackling the challenge of engaging the community and banishing racial prejudice.

Since the award was presented to the school last June, Caedmon has received a lot of attention. "Local press published our success and we received many congratulatory messages from outside agencies," she says. "Pupils were incredibly proud and many parents expressed their pleasure. Too often, a school is judged solely on the number of children attaining level 4b at the end of Year 6, and teachers were thrilled that recognition had been given to the very valuable work being carried out in school."

Seven months after winning the award, the school is not sitting on its laurels. Teaching staff are as motivated as ever to get new initiatives off the ground. "The work we undertake ensures that there is always something exciting happening in school," says Mr Feasey. "Pupils and teachers are excited about the work they do and feel proud to be a part of our school. A stimulating environment and a caring atmosphere provide our children with a secure and happy place in which to grow and learn."

A lot of the key projects that were undertaken before winning the award were in direct response to lack of diversity in the area, the most significant of which was delivering a term's curriculum based on the two extremes of Holocaust and tolerance, and included a pupil visit to Auschwitz. "This work culminated in a performance of readings, song and dance for parents, governors and school advisors," says Mrs Richardson.

"We have also covered the Kindertransport and studied The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which the pupils can relate to because they are the same age as the children," he says. "We're in a position now to talk about these things. What we can do is encourage our children and young people to appreciate, understand and celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity."

Caedmon has also forged significant international links with schools in Denmark, Greece, Nigeria and South Africa, which culminated in a visit from 48 pupils and 13 teachers from Africa. "The Caedmon pupils hosted a day trip to Alton Towers, and the children had a fantastic time," he remembers. "We also regularly organise exchange visits with our partner school in the Auvergne in the south of France."

Not only has the teaching staff provided its pupils with the opportunity to visit a range of countries, it has also involved parents in their children's education. "Parents and pupils have participated in residential visits to London, attending the recent Tutankhamun exhibition, the subject of which was closely linked to the curriculum being delivered in school," says Mrs Richardson.

"Extended provision included the development of our Caedmon Cub Scout group, which has now run successfully for several years and the development of a family learning room, which has provided adult education to the local community."

The school's dedication to parental involvement became apparent last June, when an African theatre company did a series of workshops at the school. "We had all the parents come in for an evening," says Mr Feasey. "The mother of one of the very few black children was singing songs in her Khoisan dialect (an African clicking language). The interaction in the singing and dancing was wonderful."

Parents also got involved in a residential visit to Hadrian's Wall - both pupils and parents prepared digital movies of their work and presented them in assembly. "It is this parental involvement in their children's learning that now lies at the heart of our school's development. We recognise the impact that (it) can have on our pupils' learning and are striving to ensure parents are involved, and are better informed of their progress and how they can support it," says Mrs Richardson.

Caedmon Primary has many plans for the future. Now that the groundwork has been laid, the school has been able to deal with contemporary issues of community cohesion with Muslims and has forged links with the Claremont Community Mosque and a Muslim school in Bradford. Staff are also keen to pursue partnerships with schools in Iran and Iraq.

The school is planning to develop an online reporting system, which will provide parents with access to internet reports on their child's progress and the steps they need to take to improve.

Mrs Richardson and her colleagues have been asked to speak at conferences about the work they do at the school, and she hopes to develop a link between the school and Teesside University, recently recognised as University of the Year. "We hope to develop our pupils' aspirations and for them to view attending university as a very real possibility," she says.

Winning this award has provided Caedmon with the confidence to continue to provide a unique, exciting and challenging curriculum, not only for pupils but for the entire community.

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