A creative approach has worked wonders at a Gloucester primary. Helen Ward reports
"It is not possible to encapsulate in this report the excellence of this lesson," said the inspector who watched a religious education lesson at Calton junior, Gloucester.
"Suffice to say that the teacher, in dealing with 'special places, people and things', engendered such feelings that the class was reduced to absolute silence and awe. Some of the pupils were so emotionally affected that they became tearful, having become so thoughtful about special people and places."
And it seemed such an ordinary school.
Calton junior has 254 pupils and serves a fairly deprived city-centre area.
The school is a Victorian brick building with classrooms around an echoey school hall, with a roof high enough to delight the local badminton group.
Four years ago the Office for Standards in Education was not so complimentary, describing headteacher Geoff Gait-Carr's leadership as unsatisfactory, mainly due to his failure to deal with underperforming teachers.
He said: "I felt awful. I was miserable for weeks."
Now leadership is described as very good, and the school is in the forefront of the national drive to introduce creativity into the primary curriculum.
Four schools in Gloucester education action zone - Calton juniors, Calton infants, Harewood juniors and Kingsholm Church of England primary - have worked with consultant Roger Cole to create the city curriculum. It is based on termly topics which build on children's experiences of life in Gloucester.
Mr Gait-Carr said: "Tessa Bayliss, the teacher who co-ordinates art, design and technology, said to me that art was always going to be useless in this school because there was no time for it. So we decided to do less of it and to do it better."
Now each class concentrates on one topic per term, although some lessons are still taught separately.
In Calton junior, the break from subject-based teaching began with a Year 4 topic on the Second World War called "Bombs Away, Victory Ahead".
This included enacting an evacuation. The children picked up their suitcases and gas masks (made in a design and technology lesson) and were taken by teachers to meet their host families in a village a few miles out of the city.
Across the playground at Calton infants, the themed approach is also prevalent. This term it is "vets and pets". The pupils' listening activity is a tape of animal sounds and the home corner is a vet's practice.
Mr Gait-Carr said: "In Y5 the pupils learn about rivers. Four or five years ago I would go into the classroom and they would be watching a video of a river. But we are just five minutes away from the river Severn. This year we are taking the pupils to see the Severn bore, when the tide forces water to flow upstream."
Ofsted is impressed with the approach which "enables all pupils to achieve well in all subjects". The inspectors said: "The approach involves pupils more holistically in learning.
"There are increasing opportunities for pupils to apply and consolidate knowledge, understanding and skills learnt in a range of subject contexts."
Kevin Jeffery, project director of Gloucester action zone, said: "The city curriculum has become really successful.
"We have lots of teachers within the city now who are interested.
"I think it is because it has occurred at this time, when people are ready to use what they have learnt from the literacy and numeracy strategies, and exploit them in a wider curriculum."
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