Can you bear it?
It looked like a typical day at St Martin's. But the pupils were in for a big surprise. It had been decided a few weeks earlier to have teddies as class mascots, and the staff had created nine bears, deliberating over shape, size, gender, colour and texture. Once in uniform, the bears - and their birth certificates - were placed carefully into boxes, and the beginnings of a personality attached in true Paddington style.
To ensure they arrived as magically as possible, I set out to place the boxes by classroom doors, knock loudly and scuttle away without being seen.
The children's response has been fantastic. They have adopted a collective responsibility for the bears' wellbeing, and take them everywhere - the playground, lunch, assemblies, swimming, day trips and a school Christmas visit to the theatre. Even Year 6 boys will carry Max (the "cool" bear with street cred).
The bears have developed personalities and are now part of the school. Year 3's bear, Antony Dave, enjoys social events and has fond memories of the staff Christmas party. Explorer Tom Franklin (Year 2) has just returned from yet another holiday adventure. Rupert, in the nursery, has been perfecting sand castles. Max (Year 6), has been told not to wear his trainers in school. Chip, in reception, has undergone ear surgery to repair a minor injury. Mr Halifax (Year 4), Harry (Year 5) and Dave (Inclusion Support) helped the school council give a presentation to local businesses, and Major Denby (Year 1) is upset because his feet are too big for his shoes.
But the real key to the bears' success is that they do much more than look adorable. They are each on a mission to improve standards in literacy - raising attainment in speaking and listening, reading and writing.
They are regular visitors to pupils' homes, supporting homeschool links, encouraging children to discuss their school day with parents and share events with their class next morning. Parents are very supportive of this "sleep over" and have even been known to provide overnight essentials, such as a mini-toothbrush and an expertly made sleeping bag complete with pillow. In key stage 2, the bear writes a diary of his adventures.
The bears are used in circle-time activities. Their feelings and actions can be used as prompts for a variety of lessons. They promote turn taking, give opportunities for children to offer opinions or advice and reinforce the importance of listening to others. They also take the role of reading buddies, who love to hear a good story, and they are expert audiences for speeches, debates or any written task. In short, the potential is endless.
Sarah Bott is deputy head at St. Martin's C of E Primary School, Tipton