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Inspiration For Life - Excellence In All We Do

Date: 23-01-2014
Author: Kevin Morrissey & Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Grendon Underwood Combined School, Buckinghamshire

Grendon Underwood Combined School is a special, happy, thriving school which nestles along the main street of the rural village, Grendon Underwood in Buckinghamshire. From the outside it looks relatively quaint and quiet but don’t be deceived; inside is a hive of collaborative, reflective activity! As soon as you enter through the doors you feel an energy about the place and are greeted warmly not only by office staff, but also the Head Teacher and any other passing staff that happen to be in the vicinity. It is fair to say the atmosphere here is different.
As a Grendon employee I am bound to say positive things about our school but I assure you nobody is forcing me to write this! Since being judged RI in October 2012 we have been on an action-packed, enthusiastic and challenging journey to improve and ensure that we not only deliver educational excellence to our children but also develop them as rounded individuals that are prepared for success. Read on to learn more about how this is achieved…

At Grendon, we believe in leadership. Everyone is a leader with a vital part to play, not only in our school’s success but also their own. Our dedicated and committed team of staff and governors are here for one reason and one reason only; to better the outcomes of each unique child who attends GUCS. They are the important people who are treasured, valued and respected (it is their school after all!).

Headteacher since January 2013, Pippa Brand-Benee told Eduzine “At Grendon our philosophy of education is based on the principles of ‘Growth Mindset Learning’ (C. Dweck Ph.D). All the learners at Grendon – children, staff and governors – are here to ‘grow their own brains!’ The word ‘yet’ is very important to our philosophy because there are many things we all cannot do… however it’s just ‘yet’ because with determination, commitment, perseverance and many other Learning Behaviours (see below) we can fire the neurons in our brain to embed these new skills. We are ready to make mistakes in our learning because we like to try hard things – we can’t grow our brains on a continual diet of easy stuff! So expect hard stuff at Grendon, and expect to make mistakes, show humility and learn from these.”

Mrs Brand-Benee’s energy and ambition has been an asset to the school. Already, these positive behaviours are embedded within the school community, which can be attributed to her unwavering focus on what was needed to make this a school where children flourish. Staff members speak in a positive, growth language; parents use the learning behaviours to encourage children and students take responsibility for their goals, relishing any opportunities and inviting challenge. In an educational climate fixated on data, it is really refreshing to be part of a school t recognises that learning is not just a curriculum, but a way of life. Just as plants are nurtured to bloom, children here are equipped with the life skills they need in order to grow.

At Grendon the children wear the School badge with pride as it represents all of our Learning Behaviours:

  • Happiness
  • Commitment
  • Resilience
  • Humility
  • Endurance
  • Responsibility
  • Curiosity
  • Honesty
  • Perseverance
  • Determination
  • Respect
  • Patience

Pippa continued “We call these Learning Behaviours and not values as we aim to demonstrate these on a day-day basis in all areas of school life.” The learning behaviours are what makes this school stand out from the rest. Pupils enjoy coming to school and are good self-motivators, often referring to the Growth Mindset when working or taking on new roles around the school such as playground leaders or office helpers, where some confidence and commitment is needed. They embrace opportunities offered and truly ‘feel the fear but do it anyway’, making the Grendon community an exciting one to be part of.

It was through the embedding of these Learning Behaviours that led to many Year 6 children offering to help in our growing EYFS during the autumn term. Never before was the curiosity there for the eldest children in the school to ‘venture back down’ to where they all began! Whilst there are links across the school, it wasn’t often that the children from opposite end of the curriculum crossed-over, usually because of the perceived difference in intellectual ability and age. This curiosity of ‘playing’ with Nursery and moreover, Reception children, inspired those at the top of the school to suggest that they have a go at teaching phonics.

During October the ‘buzz’ of leadership escalated whereby 100% of the Year 6 children were signed up to help during their own time; before school, during break and at lunch time! However helping the children learn through their play wasn’t enough! Initially two of the Year 6 children became the EYFS Leaders, observing and feeding back to me on the Letters & Sounds lessons programme I delivered. They spoke to children and analysed what they had learnt and what the next steps might be in their learning, showing a maturity beyond their age. As well as this being a valuable experience for the children, it was also really beneficial for me to hear their perceptions of my teaching!

With this information the two EYFS Leaders devised their own one-off synthetic phonics session called ‘Rainbow Phonics’ an interactive Power Point, following the four stages of teaching phonics ( revise, teach, practise and apply) was used as the basis of the lesson. Reception children were given the opportunity to work in learning partners as well as using hands-on equipment, inside and outside environments and using the VAK approach. Feedback was given to the two young leaders. As a result of the success of their teaching the girls were keen to ‘train up’ other children in Year 6 to deliver this once a week phonic session. So, having witnessed the passion to lead ignited in Charlotte and Ruby, staff created EYFS Leader roles to challenge their abilities. They delivered a lesson to their year 6 peers about what teaching phonics would entail, focusing on the fact this role needed commitment, organisation, patience and good communication skills. As so many embraced the challenge, we had to limit the idea to one class at a time for each term. Our EYFS leaders now give advice and guidance to others prior to delivery, feedback comments from staff to the children and continue to sometimes give their own sessions. The sessions have little impact on the year six curriculum time as they often prepare ideas during their own time and excitedly discuss with their peers what they could do. Due to their high motivation, the leadership duties have allowed genuine opportunities to take risks and have successful experiences, which in turn have heightened their confidence.

Responses from Year 6 children have included:

“It was a fun experience and helped me get to know the Reception children better while teaching them”
“I felt like a teacher and think I would like to be one”
“They were all well behaved” “I enjoyed deciding to use The Wild Wood Area to introduce an element of outdoor learning to every day learning.”

When asked what their favourite bit was and why, reception children responded by stating:

“I liked learning the letters using the PowerPoint”
“I remembered all of the letters when we drew on the SMART Board with Year 6”
“I liked using the wands the older children made for our learning”
“I liked using the dice to think of so many words.”

The experience has proven a valuable interaction for both EYFS and Year 6 children and brought the school community closer together. As the year sixes are familiar to EYFS, the younger children tend to go to them on the playground if they want help, a friend or just to say hello.
Now, having witnessed the benefits of Rainbow Phonics, and being overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for involvement from year six, we are continuing to offer the opportunity for them to take on this leadership role. If in September you’d have said the curriculum would be designed, delivered and evaluated by our year six pupils I’d probably have thought you were joking. It seems like such a big feat, especially when you consider the time dedicated to teaching teachers how to teach phonics on PGCES/SCITTs yet these children have epitomised the growth mind-set philosophy and shown that despite Carol Dweck’s ideas coming under criticism sometimes, the behaviours do have a positive impact on the children. Here at Grendon we are very proud of our pupils and what they have achieved.

Written for Eduzine Global by Kevin Morrissey & Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

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Date: 23-01-2014
Author: Kevin Morrissey & Kieran Dhunna Halliwell


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