Play is a subtle way to learning

27th July 2007 at 01:00
dressing-up boxes are rarely found in Year 6 classrooms, but all pupils at St Andrew's primary in Kingston upon Hull are taught using the principles of early years education, regardless of age.

Graham Huckstep, the headteacher, introduced the curriculum after receiving a glowing Ofsted report. Rather than sit back on his laurels, he decided to abolish the traditional, timetabled school day.

"I thought, why do we still hang on to the old Victorian timetable?" he said. "Lessons start at 9am, then the bell goes and the lesson stops. It doesn't make sense. If you truly believe in learning, you need to let it flow."

There are no fixed lesson times at St Andrew's. Instead, teachers stop whenever they feel the children need a rest. If half the class is still absorbed in activity, while the other half is restless, only half will go out for break.

Marian Snowden, the senior manager for key stage 2, said: "Children can be so engrossed in something that they want to take it further. Then it's a shame to have to stop.

"It is strange when you are used to having a bell, but it gives us a lot of freedom."

There are no set lessons. All subjects are taught through cross-curricular activities.

All classrooms have a fancy dress box, so the children can use role-play in class.

Key stage 2 pupils might learn about the lifecycle of a tadpole by making shapes from play dough.

"Not once have I heard a child say that's babyish," said Mrs Snowden. "You do activities at their level. It's structured play."

Many lessons take place outside, regardless of the weather. The children regularly brave rain, wind and more in the interests of activity-based learning.

When it snows, Mrs Snowden lets her pupils out to make snowmen and snow angels. Then they come in to write snow-related poetry.

"We tell parents that accidents will happen," said Mr Huckstep. "Our emphasis is on challenge and outdoor education. We don't wrap children in cotton wool. It's about developing character."

To Mr Huckstep's relief, this month the school was again praised by Ofsted.

Sam Place, 11, agrees with this judgment. "It's good to have lessons that just finish when they're done," he said.

"You don't know ever what you're going to do next. It's all a big surprise."

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