Head of School Hannah Large tells how engaging children spiritually, emotionally and academically has been key to West Didsbury CE Primary’s success.
It’s a moment that usually provokes a fair amount of trepidation in a school: the Ofsted inspection. You might not believe me, but as a new school we couldn’t wait for the results – we know from all the hard work that everyone has put into this school from its outset that something really incredible is happening at West Didsbury CE Primary.
So to find that the inspectors immediately picked up on how many parents had “nothing but praise for the school,” and also how the collective commitment of staff, governors, parents, carers and pupils had created a school described as “something special” was hugely encouraging.
You will see the St James & Emmanuel Academy Trust motto of Belonging, Believing and Becoming – where children feel a sense of Belonging to the school and community of Didsbury, Believe in their ability and potential and Become well-rounded and self-aware young people who can be a force for good in society – throughout this magazine. So it was also great to see that the report said we “wholeheartedly live up to” that ethos and that the strong emphasis on a caring and nurturing environment is ever present throughout the school.
Recently, we’ve been working really hard with the children on wellbeing and the importance of sharing feelings, as part of our belief that spiritual awareness needs to be nurtured and developed. After all, it not only helps us to feel happy with who we are but feeds into our ability to reflect and express ourselves. It’s wonderful to see that our work with our children’s personal development and welfare has been described as outstanding.
So with such a lovely school environment, it’s perhaps no surprise that the inspectors were also impressed with the quality of teaching and learning: the vast majority of our children are making good progress with “an interesting and fun curriculum”. The behaviour of children was also described as “outstanding”: the report noted that we consistently capture their imagination, and “as a result, whatever their ability, they are absorbed in their learning”.
That’s certainly evident in what we are trying to do with the new Forest School elements to our curriculum. We’re lucky at West Didsbury CE Primary to have a lovely green space with interesting trees and foliage, and for the first time this term children have gathered together to spend an afternoon learning about the outdoor world. They might be shown how to make a fire without matches, build a den or create clay wood sprites. They identify trees, look for insects in bug hotels, learn how to whittle sticks. The idea is not to have a robotic “lesson”, but to work together in groups to develop a sense of awe and wonder – and simply enjoy the miracle of everyday life.
Through a programme of discovery, they learn to take risks, work collaboratively and develop new skills, fostering confidence, independence and creative thinking. As they sat in the fire circle recently, wrapping dough around a whittled stick before taking turns to cook it on a fire, one boy said: “Wow. I’ve never done this,” before quickly devouring his outdoor snack.
It’s a fantastic example of what giving responsibility to children can achieve – the Forest School sessions might be less structured than in a typical classroom, but the children are completely absorbed in their tasks and teams, actively engaged in their learning. We’re empowering the children to be independent and develop roles in the school; we want the children to feel that they can define the kind of school West Didsbury CE Primary can and should be.
Of course, the Ofsted report isn’t an end point. When the inspectors visited the school, we were clear with them that despite the incredible progress made at West Didsbury CE Primary School, we have plans in place to ensure the continued development of every child and member of staff. We’re working really hard to achieve a greater depth of learning for all children – not just in reading, writing and mathematics but in every area of their school life, like the Forest School.
Still, being ‘good with outstanding features’ is a wonderful validation of all the fantastic things that happen every day at West Didsbury CE Primary School. I’ll leave you with one final line from Ofsted inspectors. “It is clear that the school is going from strength to strength”, they wrote. That’s down to a lot of hard work from a lot of people over the last three years – but the best advert for West Didsbury CE Primary is the children themselves.