Create a buzz, go cross-curricular

9th November 2007 at 00:00
It's 9.30am on a Friday and I'm standing outside school waving off 85 Year 6 children, their teachers, support staff and some parent helpers - all, staff included, dressed as wartime evacuees and wardens. They are off to join the North Yorkshire Moors Railway World War Two weekend.

At lunchtime, Year 3 is buzzing. Half of them are off on an outdoor adventure afternoon. At 3.10pm they return, exhausted but exhilarated, wanting to know when they can go again. This is all part of a normal school day. It's what makes the school alive and what makes my job worthwhile.

Cynics might say that operating a cross-curricular thematic approach to learning would mean sacrificing rigour and standards. I emphatically disagree. Some years ago I went down the formal subject approach in response to the never-ending stream of national strategies and target setting. I found that children became disengaged at an earlier age, teachers lost their motivation and sheer delight in teaching, and young teachers, having never known anything different, were unable to take risks.

So for the past five years we have worked hard to put the fun back into our curriculum. Planning follows themes often based around a book or a stimulating school trip. This way, children are able to make links and - surprise, surprise - they learn more.

Our Year 6 children learnt more from their visit last Friday than we could have taught them in several weeks at school. They talked to Second World War veterans, travelled on a steam train trying to empathise with evacuees, and entertained the inhabitants of Pickering by walking in a traditional "crocodile", singing songs from the period.

Ofsted rated our cross-curricular planning outstanding and last year's Sats results were our best ever. So it is possible to achieve both excellence and enjoyment, but it's hard work. It takes courage from school leaders to insist on a creative curriculum, but it pays dividends in terms of pupil and staff motivation and, from my point of view as a headteacher, it compensates for some of the endless meetings and paperwork and makes my job fun.

Barbara Bell, Headteacher of Skelton in Cleveland Primary School in Saltburn by the Sea, Cleveland.

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