Didsbury CE had some outstanding results this year. But Head of School Simon Ball is more impressed with the well rounded, responsible and caring children who he believes can make a real difference to our world.
Something incredible happened at Didsbury CE Primary this year. When the SATS results for combined reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage 2 came back, we were the number one school in the whole of Manchester. The government target is that 65 per cent of children achieve the expected standards in those three areas. A staggering 97 per cent of our children made that mark.
It’s really important to stress Didsbury CE Primary is not and will never be an exam factory. What makes me, the staff and the Trust so proud is that these results came as a result of a broad, balanced and rich curriculum with real life experiences that helped children put what they learn into practice.
These Year 6 children who had enjoyed such fantastic results hardly mentioned them at their end of year assembly. Instead, it was all about their character, how they wanted to make a change for good in their community and what they wanted to achieve when they were older. I was delighted to hear that. It proved that the idea of purposeful education that we cherish at Didsbury CE is really working.
For example, coming away from the curriculum to be involved in the national Armistice Day There But Not There project – which aims to commemorate, educate and heal through transparent silhouettes of soldiers – has been hugely fruitful for our children and a great link with St James Church. It’s an especially poignant project for us because we have a memorial of old boys who fell in World War I on the Grange Lane side of the school. Each class was allocated one of the boys on the memorial, and they genuinely became more than just a name. Letters of gratitude were written to ‘their’ soldier, and became simple but profound pieces of high level language work which were read out at our harvest service.
I don’t think anyone present will forget the moving poem written by Charlie Seviour which he read out at the service. Here is an excerpt – for me this is writing for purpose, in action.
As I stand before the
In the corner of my eye
I spot my old mate,
And the others that
came here in despair.
We are still there,
but not there.
Lest we forget…
We see purposeful education as a key element of one of the seven strands of the Christian vision of the school; that a child’s character can be developed through courageous advocacy. The ethos we have here is that our children can make a difference – on a huge scale or very locally.
So in lessons we highlight examples of social advocacy and change, and people who made a difference. That might mean Victorians like Wilberforce and Barnardo in History or Christian philanthropist Elizabeth Fry in RE. It was fascinating to see the kinds of ideas that sparked in the children’s minds; Year 6 wrote to Michael Gove with such passion about plastics in the ocean and how we need to restrain ourselves for the greater good – and to his credit, he did reply. Year 1 are sending a letter to the government about tigers, while Year 4 are going to do some work about traffic pollution in Didsbury.
These letters and projects are eloquent, intelligent and well-reasoned, from children who are taking responsibility for their world.
This idea of understanding who we are, where we live and how community works also feeds into a new undertaking this term, where we’ve teamed up with Moss Hey Primary School in Bramhall as part of a Schools Linking Network. Our children do a lot of work on identity so it will be wonderful to spend time with children from a school which may seem similar but has a number of differences.
The link with Moss Hey will celebrate diversity, create a new community and offer new opportunities. Which, in a way, is what advocacy and purposeful education are all about, too. I often remind children in collective worship that the figures who have made a change for good would once have sat in a primary school just like they are. Sometimes it might feel impossible that a child’s lone voice can make a difference – but we do a lot of work with them in lessons and collective worship to convince them of their power to be a force for good in society.
Is it all this purposeful, thoughtful education which makes us top in Manchester for combined reading, writing and mathematics? Maybe. But what I’m convinced of is that by the time Didsbury CE Primary School children leave us, they have a good feeling of who they are, and what they might become.