Pupils draw on science knowledge to keep the focus on fun

21st March 2008 at 00:00
When head Mark Parry sat down with his staff two years ago, he told them what he was proposing would be risky.

What he had in mind was that teachers at West Park Primary in Hartlepool, north Yorkshire, should offer subject-themed days for pupils, in order to enhance the curriculum.

That is why last week saw five days of science activities at the school. Some pupils put on a production in assembly, setting out what they had learnt in science. Others spent hours finding out about the science behind music.

"Puzzle days" have revolved around the development of thinking skills, while occasionally all the day's lessons have been devoted to art.

All good fun. So why, then, was this controversial? Mr Parry said that it was tricky for schools to embark on enrichment activities when they are being judged on test results in core subjects.

This is particularly the case because he does not think there is any direct or easily identifiable correlation between making lessons enjoyable and improving pupils' scores.

But he says it is possible to combine the twin goals of enjoyment and achievement, as this kind of curriculum can co-exist with solid results in core subjects.

West Park's results in recent years suggest the gamble has paid off. Almost all pupils have achieved level 4 in the three key stage 2 subjects and its latest Ofsted report, which was good, said that its pupils enjoyed school.

However, Mr Parry said that there were still some trade-offs to be made between excellence and enjoyment.

The need to maximise test scores, for example, carried implications for Year 6 pupils identified as being on the borderline of levels 3 and 4 in English, maths and science. They are taken out of lessons for booster classes in the tested subjects.

"That restricts their enjoyment," said Mr Parry. "It means they cannot fully participate in activities that the rest of the children are doing."

Test preparation, though kept to a minimum, also starts in the spring term for Year 6 children.

"There is probably an undue emphasis on tests at the end of junior school, but I would be surprised if any school was not tied up with that," said Mr Parry.

However, the caveats have not held back the school's commitment to curricular change. Next year, it plans to introduce new lessons emphasising cross-curricular skills, particularly in foundation subjects.

During the science week, pupils were asked to write what they had learnt on shirts they brought in.

Karen Dunlop, the school's science co-ordinator, said it had gone down a treat with pupils.

"I'm hoping the shirts will help it stick in their minds," she said.

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