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What the inspectors saw - Good practice by Ofsted

Glaciers and porridge: St Anne's CofE Primary School.

In brief

St Anne's CofE primary forged links with a university's glaciology department to put climate change at the centre of its curriculum.

The project

Staff at the school in County Durham knew that geography tended to be one of the least popular subjects. And when they carried out a self-evaluation of their curriculum provision on sustainability, the topic obtained a low score.

So deputy head Lynne Sixsmith pushed to make the primary a beacon for lessons on the environment, and led development of a practical Year 6 unit on climate change.

The school worked closely with the glaciology department at Newcastle University, including arranging visits from master's students to present their findings from field trips to the Arctic.

One of these was Rupert Bainbridge, who was introduced to Year 6 pupils with a photograph and recorded message played to them in a lesson before they met him. The pupils were then invited to visit the university's laboratory to carry out experiments, building on work they had done in class.

One such experiment involved groups of pupils using plastic guttering to represent glacial valleys and porridge for the glaciers. One group drew horizontal lines with pepper across the "glacier" and had to predict what would happen as the "valley" was tilted upwards. Other groups predicted how sandpaper and water would affect the flow.

The experiment was designed to introduce pupils to the effect of friction on the flow of a glacier, which is fastest at the centre where the friction is least effective. This is a topic pupils do not normally cover until GCSE.

"We chose the experiment because it really helps to visualise and explain glacial processes, while keeping the subject fun and engaging for the pupils," Bainbridge says.

Teachers also accessed daily Arctic sea ice maps to show pupils how ice coverage had changed over 30 years.

The unit encouraged pupils to find out more about the Arctic and the impact of global warming, which led the school to run an extended project on the "Polar Plight". It also explored links to other examples of climate change, including the impact of the 2009 floods in Workington and Cockermouth in Cumbria.

All this work was then used as the basis for writing by pupils in a variety of non-fiction styles, including persuasive writing, formal and informal letters, chronological reporting and journalism.

Signs of success

This year, all 29 pupils in the Year 6 class reached level 4 or above in English, with 16 attaining level 5 or above. Sixsmith says: "Not only has the injection of a sustainability element into the curriculum raised the profile of geography across the school but it has also improved non-fiction literacy levels in both reading and writing across a range of genres."

After the visit to Newcastle University, one of the pupils said: "I want to go to this university to study geography when I grow big."

What the inspectors said

"Through practical activities such as these, pupils develop a greater interest in their environment and the world around them. A subject which had been 'historically unpopular' was 'coming to life'."

Read the full Ofsted case study report at bit.lyTHpAJS


Name: St Anne's CofE Primary School, Durham

Age range: 4-11

Number of pupils: Around 200

Intake: Nearly all white British with a below-average proportion eligible for free school meals.

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