Didsbury CE enjoyed an “excellent” SIAMS report earlier this year. Head of School Simon Ball shares the values that really express the welcoming, inclusive ethos of the school.
Have a look at the Didsbury CE logo. It’s a cross in the middle of a tree. The tree from the parable of the mustard seed, in fact, which provides sanctuary for everything which lodges in its branches. That’s how we like to think of our school, too: every child who comes here should be challenged and cherished in a welcoming environment to reach their full potential. Don’t just take my word for it; our recent Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS) report said that this Christian vision is “deeply embedded and passionately articulated by all members of the school community”.
By “all” they absolutely mean the children themselves. We are delighted to be graded “excellent” by SIAMS, but even prouder that one of our children told the inspector that “we could help everyone to have a better future”. Her aspirations are put into practice in so many different ways at Didsbury, every day. A parent of a child with additional needs told the inspector that “the staff know my child, not the diagnosis… she’s found her voice and personality.” And her peers in her class know that child too, they fully include her in everything.
I think that such care for others comes from our clear challenge to the children to think about the world and the idea of the collective. Yes, we put a lot of responsibility on them to develop their characters and, as we put it, who they are when no-one is looking. But it seems to me they thrive on that responsibility and understand how crucial it is that they do things for other people. So our choir will be singing for their inter-generational pen pals at their Christmas lunch, and they are more than aware what effect that has. We also support the Potter’s Village in Uganda; it’s a medical centre which we raised money for in our Harvest Service because they’re desperately short of equipment. In their Centenary School they use our old school uniform, meaning we have, essentially, enabled children to go to school, since having a uniform is a requirement in Uganda. Our children are not just advocates of these children in Africa, but they speak out on plastic pollution, they bring things to school council and they choose charities for the school to support.
The Harvest Service was once again wonderful because it underlines the strong links we have with St James & Emmanuel – something the SIAMS report also noted. “The parish and the school consider themselves as one,” it said. “Together they provide an inclusive environment where everyone feels they belong and can thrive.”
This ethos naturally contributes to excellent academic results and the early data we have for this year suggests we are again at a very high standard. We are currently ranked as the number one performing primary school in Manchester based on our the most recent data. But do we hothouse the children in a narrow curriculum for the sake of good SATS results? Not at all; going to school at Didsbury is a broad, rich learning experience which involves challenges, but they are challenges the children enjoy. As the inspector said, it’s not just about how much RE they know, but how they are as children.
Overwhelmingly, that’s children who work hard, try their best and use their voice for good. We’re lucky to be in a relatively affluent area, and I’m sure that many children will go on to be successful people. But their voice – and the voice they can have for others – is planted in primary school. The charity work we do has a local and international perspective so the children get that global understanding. Meanwhile, the PTA raised nearly £17,000 for the school through a fantastic summer ball and other initiatives, too, which allowed us to completely refurbish our ICT suite as well as finance the playground renovations. As well as raising £17,000 for the school, the PTA donated a tithe (10%) to the charity chosen by our children.
So, back to that mustard tree. We talk about it a lot in collective worship, to the extent that the idea of being nurtured and fulfilling potential filters through to the children’s written work, their art, even their behaviour. Even though the dynamic Christian vision of the school is in every part of school life, what we experience is more than words or phrases. Belonging, Believing and Becoming shows in our actions, our inclusivity and most of all our community.