The magical TES Awards experience of Old Park
At a time when test results remain the main measure of school success, it takes courage for teachers to abandon the curriculum in favour of fun and creative activities.
Staff at Old Park Primary in Telford, Shropshire, took a greater risk than most when they made the brave decision to introduce unusual ways of bringing the curriculum to life. The school opened in 2007 after two primaries with a record of low results, high exclusion rates and poor attendance were merged.
Despite this difficult beginning, it is far from an exam factory. Instead, pupils often break away from the standard timetable to be given "magical learning experiences". This commitment to creativity earned Old Park the accolade of primary school of the year at last year's TES Schools Awards.
The prize was particularly important to staff and students at the school, who had never had their achievements recognised on such a level. They now all wear badges that were specially made to celebrate the success and designed to look like the TES Schools Awards logo - an apple.
A trophy cabinet has been bought just to display the award. And other schools in the local authority, Telford and Wrekin, now look to Old Park as a bastion of best practice.
"It's been such an honour and so exciting to win. We didn't believe we could do it - it's been such a boost to our confidence," said headteacher Mandie Haywood. "We have a really creative curriculum and this is reassurance that this is the right thing for us to be doing."
Old Park's key stage 2 results, which have improved significantly, also demonstrate to staff that their work to transform the curriculum and attitudes to learning is a success.
The TES Schools Awards judges said the teachers had shown the power of a creative curriculum to engage children and their parents. They praised the "magical learning experiences" on offer to pupils after staff had broken away from the standard timetable.
Teachers work hard to bring subjects to life: during an activity on Native Americans they set up a teepee on school grounds. And, as part of a Look Deeper project, the curriculum was suspended for a week while pupils investigated the appearance of a mysterious mound in the playground that emitted strange sounds and billowing smoke.
The months since winning the award have been just as creative. Pupils have set up a simulated travel company to give advice to a teacher going on a real honeymoon. The project included a trip to an RAF base so pupils could sit in a plane. Many have never been abroad.
An artist was commissioned to make fake historical letters and artefacts, which were buried in the school grounds. Pupils dug them up and have been using them to explore local history.
As well as attracting "lots of publicity" locally, the TES Schools Award led the local authority to give Old Park's teachers a special certificate in recognition of the achievement.
"Lots of other schools, both locally and further afield, have also rung up to talk to us about what we do," said Mrs Haywood. "I would encourage schools to enter the awards. You don't have to write loads, and we found preparing the 500 words and gathering supporting evidence a really nice task."
IN IT TO WIN IT
The deadline for entries to this year's TES Schools Awards is 25 March. The categories are:
- Outstanding leadership team
- Outstanding businessfinancial team or initiative
- Outstanding sporting initiative or partnership
- Outstanding sustainable school or community partnership scheme
- Outstanding literacy or numeracy initiative
- Healthy eating
- Outstanding ICT partnership
- ICT visionary in education
- Headteacher of the year
- Teacher of the year
- Lifetime achievement
- Primary school of the year
- Secondary school of the year
- Special school of the year
- Overall 2012 outstanding school of the year
- Outstanding resource contributor
To enter, visit www.tes.co.ukawards.