The Conversation: Fab Fridays

26th September 2008 at 01:00
In East Sheen, they abandon traditional lessons once a week to extend the pupils through the arts, sports and visits. David Ford explains his ideas to Trevor Averre Beeson

Q: When did you start teaching?

A: In September 1972 I wanted to be an actor, having performed in both school and drama clubs. I was lucky enough to win competitions that enabled me to take part in productions with the junior drama league and Chichester Youth Theatre. But my teacher advised me to get a drama teaching degree as a fall-back, and I loved it so much that I went straight into teaching.

Q: You've been head of East Sheen Primary School for 17 years, nearly as long as you were a classroom teacher. What did you set out to achieve?

A: As a deputy in the late Eighties, I felt frustrated at not being able to influence the culture of the school as much as I would have liked. So throughout my headship, I have worked to establish a school that I could be proud of and would have been happy to teach in myself, an environment where teachers feel valued, free to express their voice, take on responsibility and change, and take risks with new ideas.

Q: What is your relationship with your own deputy like?

A: Helen Colbert and I make up the headship team. There is nothing we don't discuss, think about, strategise, challenge and decide together. We don't always agree, but it's the classic executive team: creative and constructive. We have worked together for 17 years (eight with Helen as deputy).

Q: What has been your big idea, the one you are most proud of?

A: It has to be the development in 2006 of a cross-curricular day, "Fab Fridays". Helen and I brainstormed the idea, invited contributions from staff and consulted the children. The result was far better than we anticipated, with teachers, artists, sports coaches and members of the community providing superb learning experiences for the children. Every Friday, we abandon the curriculum and embark on workshops from music, art and craft to ICT, numeracy and poetry and, of course, sports and drama, and other more abstract activities such as making felt, learning about tooth care from a local dentist, and visiting the workshop of a local potter.

The children are so excited each Friday and have produced outstanding work to thrill the whole community. It's Fab and it's Friday! We have definitely put the fun back into the curriculum and solved our planning, preparation and assessment time too. It has been unbelievably successful.

We have been visited from all over - Ofsted inspectors, the local authority, other schools - and parents really rate it too.

Q: You started 36 years ago. Teaching must have changed a lot since then.

A: What goes around comes around. I always believed in a structured approach made up of "exposition from the first", followed by independent learning and a round-up at the end, checking what the kids had got from the lesson. Now it's called an Ofsted three-part lesson!

Q: In all those years, you must have met Ofsted a number of times?

A: Yes, three very good inspections. Our self-evaluation form is establishing our achievements as outstanding and it would be wonderful to go out on an outstanding report. This year our key stage 2 Sats are 100 per cent, 98 per cent and 98 per cent. We are a mixed-ability school, and these results reflect the superb assessment, analysis and strategic interventions implemented by staff. It doesn't get much better than that.

Q: When you retire, what reflections will stay with you?

A: Children's excitement and enthusiasm for learning; the joy of watching teachers grow and enthuse about their career; and working with talented, energetic people, who are too often criticised in certain quarters.

For me, personally, almost every year I have written and produced a musical with Year 6. I am so touched when I see pupils I taught, even 30- plus years ago, who remember this time with enthusiasm.

When I finally do retire, the anticipation and excitement in their faces will stay with me forever. I am very lucky to have had this job, in spite of the barriers often presented by forces beyond our control. Being a head is still a wonderful creative role, and recently I've so welcomed the return to centring standards of teaching and learning in schools.

Trevor Averre Beeson is executive head of Salisbury School in Edmonton, north London.

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