Using the latest hi-tech gadgetry, a school at the heart of London's millennium showpiece will share its pioneering lessons on emotional intelligence with the rest of the world. Reva Klein reports on a thoroughly modern form of village life.
Annandale primary school in Greenwich, south London, is getting a new look for the 21st century. In fact it's getting a new location. This time next year, if all goes according to plan, this dilapidated, breeze-block Seventies monster with a leaky roof will move its 226 pupils into a state-of-the-art building in the Millennium Village next to the Dome.
The school will run on renewable energy from solar panels and - whether the children like it or not - drinking water recycled from the toilets. It will also incorporate a special needs unit from which children will attend some mainstream classes. Annandale has seven children with disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy, and the new design will incorporate covered walkways connecting the school with a health clinic and community centre. The project is costing around pound;8 million, and the Government is paying.
The Millennium Village school is to be at the heart of a learning network, sharing its good practice with schools in the education action zone on the deprived south side of the borough. Through video links and interactive whiteboard, teachers will transmit lessons to other schools throughout the borough and the Dome's learning zone.
Greenwich's director of education, George Gyte, chose Annandale for relocation because it is the closest primary to the site. But that wasn't the only consideration: it would have cost pound;750,000 to refurbish the existing building.
There were other reasons too. As well as its teaching standards and inclusive community ethos, Annandale, Mr Gyte believes, has a particular area of expertise to share with others. "Along with its interest in looking at how learning can be stretched through ICT and inclusion, the school is also a pioneer in emotional intelligence work and children's social development," he says. If its work on emotional intelligence is overlooked by the outside world amid all the hype and glitz of the new venue and high-tech telecommunications system, headteacher David Edwards will be able to live with it.
He and his staff have worked hard to combine an academic approach with an environment that fosters emotional and social development, and they're unlikely to let anything get in the way of it. Like so much of the best teaching, Mr Edwards's focus on social and emotional development is driven by experience. He explains: "I went to a boarding school, which scarred me. It led to the denial of my feelings and emotions for many years. Only when my first child was born did I began reconnecting with my emotions. And then when I read Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence in 1996, it clarified many things I felt. It got us moving towards an emotional literacy policy here."
While he admits that "at first we were doing things intuitively that needed to be done more explicitly", Mr Edwards and his team constructed a programme with clearly stated aims. The central plank of emotional intelligence theory is that you have to know who you are and feel good about it if you are to have productive relationships with others, let alone be in a position to learn. So for children to feel at ease in making presentations, to express their views, to negotiate and be able to relate to others, they have to recognise their self-worth, and be capable of sympathy.
To achieve this ambitious aim, Mr Edards and his team have put together a range of approaches. Some, such as class meetings and circle time, are familiar to most schools. Others emphasise parts of the curriculum that have become sidelined since the introduction of literacy and numeracy hours. For instance, teachers draw on the arts for self-expression. Children are given opportunities to produce artwork, to dance, to act and to listen to music. There is a peer mentoring scheme, in which mentors are trained in areas such as anger management. "It's my vision," says Mr Edwards, "that every child will know how to resolve conflict. It's essential for everybody."
Stories are another way in. When the school recently looked at race, teachers chose stories with themes of social exclusion to look at fairness, justice and equal opportunities. Mr Edwards says: "It's important for children to say 'no, this isn't on' when they see people being treated unfairly. The message we give them is that if you don't speak out against injustice, things won't change."
This message has particular resonance in Greenwich, where the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence went to school and where the local authority is promoting social inclusion and anti-racism. Storytimes are also used to deal with other conflicts that may have cropped up. "If there's been an incident, we'll choose a book to reflect what's happened," says Mr Edwards.
Mr Edwards encourages openness in his team. "We try to nurture a risk-taking element among our teachers. I want them to develop things they're interested in, things that excite them. They're all leaders and they have high expectations placed on them."
It shows. Several staff have developed teaching materials that have been published, and deputy head Amanda Dennison is a ChildLine counsellor and child protection officer.
Communication is a priority in the emotional intelligence programme. A whole-school listening policy is as concerned with how teachers communicate with children and each other as with how pupils speak and listen to each other. The importance of eye contact and gesture is emphasised - children and teachers are encouraged to face the person they're speaking or listening to, to think about the words and to "learn the language of gesture and mime and how we communicate without words".
If it all sounds a little precious and touchy-feely, it's anything but. Annandale is as busy, noisy, full of life and diverse as any London primary school. But it is probably more Domey than the rest. Inevitably, the great white hedgehog on the river is important to Annandale, not just as the school's neighbour-to-be, but as an educational tool in ways that Peter Mandelson can never have dreamed of. A Year 2 class has a Dome role-play area to stimulate writing in which children have created their own models and stories. A girl's flying car graces her future zone. Other pupils have created an animal zone, a plant zone and clay tiles depicting the Dome.
But it's not Dome alone. Another Year 2 classroom features a caravan the children made to complement their literacy work on Danny, Champion of the World. A Year 3 class built the Tabard Inn from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, bringing together literacy, history and technology, and Year 6s created Harry Potter's sitting room. The whole school won a Rotary Club prize for poetry inspired by the Stephen Lawrence case.
Come September, the fanfare of the opening of the Millennium Village school will surely dazzle. But if you want to see what it's really about, look for the happy faces beyond the hype.