Olivia is a reception teacher and part of the senior leadership team at St Werburgh’s Primary school. She describes the school as an ‘inner city school in Bristol, which serves an amazing community, I’ve worked here for the past three years and it’s the thing that makes me want to stay. We are really lucky in that we have incredible families with different backgrounds but what I think pulls us together here at this school is the values that the parents share. I think that a big part of what makes our school special is the diversity of the community we serve. We have an amazing staff team and in early years we work particularly well as a team, but throughout the school everyone is really well supported here.’
The school is divided over two sites but despite this there is a strong ethos of being one school. The annexe which incorporates the early years classes was purpose built, with an emphasis on providing a calm environment ‘everything is pared back and neutral with provision that we know will engage children. It was designed by the children for the children.’.
The school started their Bristol Standard journey in the summer of 2017, on the recommendation of their SLE, submitting their first full submission a year later. Olivia and her team had the support of a Bristol Standard mentor and ‘we felt it would really benefit the team and decided to just go for it. It’s nice to show off things you are proud of. It was great to reflect and think “we do this really well” and then have a focus on what we could do better’.
The early years team were already having regular weekly meetings and incorporated the Bristol Standard into these ‘We always met, but with the support of the Bristol Standard, it elevated it all a bit more. It wasn’t just the nitty gritty of what was going on as we already knew that really well, but we were able to use that time more for continuous professional development, reflection and self-evaluation using the Bristol Standard.’ The staff team have really benefitted from the process as ‘it’s an easy way to get everybody on the same page with your vision, your understanding and your expectations. We can have that discussion about what we feel works well in the learning environment and then can open up the discussion about what isn’t going so well and what we can work on. What can we do to make it happen? It’s been a useful conversation opener to be able to bring about change in the setting’.
Olivia and her team are rightfully proud of their Bristol Standard achievement and their certificate is on display for all to see and admire. Olivia explains that ‘the whole Bristol Standard thing was actually amazing for coming together and celebrating what we do well. It’s lovely to hear positive things about our submission because it was a big piece of work.’.
It is clear that the school’s Bristol Standard journey has been a resounding success, but when asked to pick one target that has had the biggest impact, Olivia explains that adopting in the moment planning has been incredibly beneficial. ‘In the moment planning felt like an easy step from what we were already doing but with a more genuine interaction with the child and that whole idea of observing, assessing and planning in that moment, really clicked with me. All the staff took it on board.’ The school sought support from a speech and language therapist and did a communication audit, which considered how interactions were happening. Prior to this ipads were being used to document learning as it happened, but, in reality, learning was being missed as a result ‘so we stopped, we put ipads down and just interacted, spending our whole time playing and looking for teachable moments.’. As a result of these changes, the benefits to children have become apparent ‘looking at the impact of this, with last year’s cohort, the majority of children met or exceeded their early learning goals in the prime areas, which is amazing.’
Another target was parent consultation forms. Each week three focus children would be chosen, and forms sent home on Friday with an expectation that the parents would email photographs of what the child has done that weekend to the school for the following Monday. The forms ask for information on the child’s interests and things that could be celebrated and discussed. At the end of the week the focus children have their learning documented and included in their learning journals. As this has been such a success Olivia explains that they are expanding on this ‘as that was brilliant, what we want to do next is to send out the parent consultation forms and then meet up with the parents the following week and have proper quality conversations about what we see, what’s going on at home and looking at the learning journals’. Olivia describes how sharing photographs and experiences from home have benefitted the children ‘it has boosted confidence, makes them feel valued, has increased their speaking and listening skills and you can see that the impact that it has had across different areas of the curriculum.’
It is obvious that embarking on the Bristol Standard journey has been a positive experience for Olivia and her team ‘the best thing has been bringing to the forefront all the good things that happen in our practice at this school and we now have a forum to celebrate that’.