Extra activities for children and more time for teachers is a win-win situation, writes Jonathan Lloyd.
Imagine it. Wednesday afternoon, 1.15pm to 3.20pm. Non-contact time. While your pupils enjoy an enriched curriculum of activities ranging from African drumming to French and from kickboxing to mask-making, you have got time to plan for the next week with your Year 6 partner.
You have got time to talk with curriculum leaders about that problem you are having with information and communications technology. You have even got time to have a cup of tea while doing it.
Suddenly the sun seems to be shining more brightly, and birds are singing in the trees. The result of our enriched curriculum is that staff are doing their planning in school time, leaving their Sunday nights free to spend as they wish.
A win-win situation. It may sound too good to be true, but that is exactly what goes on here at Fairwater junior school in Cwmbran. It all started in 2003, when headteacher Ann Roberts and I visited Langley primary school in Plymouth, which was offering an enriched curriculum to its pupils.
Having seen how it worked, we wanted to do this for our children: to offer them opportunities which would raise self-esteem, develop teamwork, and promote lifelong learning. It would also be great fun.
After involving the local education authority and governors, we consulted with parents, children and the wider community, by sending out letters and holding meetings in school.
We then set about trying to organise 16 to 18 activities, including rock-climbing, French, cookery, mask-making, football, tri-golf, kick-boxing, quilling, aerobics, dance, African drumming, a buddy club, and a peer support club, for more than 270 children.
Activities are rotated on a termly basis. At the start of each term, the children list their top three preferences and we place them in one of these activities. Most of them get their first choice throughout the year.
All the activities are accredited through Torfaen's Children's university, so the children can gain points, rewards and certificates to recognise their involvement in sporting and other activities on a weekly basis.
Organising the activities involved clarifying contracts, changing the timetable, deploying learning support staff and volunteers, carrying out risk assessments and providing suitable accommodation for all activities.
The project is classed as an out-of-hours activity. So, when we started it in April 2004, we had to re-arrange the school day so that curriculum time was not lost. We made up the time used on Wednesday afternoons by shortening the lunch break. Now we have changed it to planning, preparation and assessment time included within the curriculum.
As of this month, we have restored the longer lunch break.
We were delighted that the community became involved. We currently have around 16 volunteers a week running activities, from parents and the local youth service to the Women's Institute.
All of them had to undergo criminal checks, and they were also trained by our LEA adviser in assertive discipline.
To ensure consistency we want the children to have the same, positive message from anyone who comes into the school. A buzz, excitement and a little bit of trepidation was encountered on that first day last April - but what a success. Every child was in an activity, on task and learning new skills with a smile on their face.
Not only were the children excited but staff were given the afternoon to prepare, plan and assess.
It was then, after a successful trial period, that we decided to run with this programme as part of our school life.
As a result of this and other initiatives, our school has a tangible buzz about it, with social interaction and children's behaviour improving, a community spirit evolving and a work-life balance for teachers more of a reality.
Our school ethos is about trying to teach the whole child, and we have a fundamental belief in inclusion. We believe in teaching the curriculum but this project has definitely enhanced our children's education, and improved key and social skills. Parents have also realised the importance of it.
When Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, officially launched the programme earlier this year, it was obvious to all present that this initiative could help the implementation of non-contact time in a manageable and cost-effective way.
Many LEAs have sent representatives along to see if this programme would work for them and have adapted it to their own needs.
If you see this as a way to help you in your deliberations over non-contact time, then come and visit us and see what is happening. Setting up the programme was time-consuming, particularly for senior management. But our motto is: if there is a will there is a way.
Jonathan Lloyd is deputy head of Fairwater junior school in St Dials, Cwmbran