Last week we had the great pleasure of visiting the Wroxham Teaching School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and speaking with Alison Peacock, the school’s headteacher.
The work at Wroxham School was the subject of a book written as an outcome of research into learning without limits: “Creating Learning Without Limits”.
At Wroxham, there are three underlying pedagogical principles
1. Co-agency – everyone works together to make learning enjoyable, worthwhile and focused.
2. Everybody – if a curriculum and a learning environment is to work effectively, it has to be totally inclusive. Every need has to be catered for, and in this case, it is.
3. Trust – this is integral. It’s about self-trust, trust in others and trust in the system of education that inspires and innovates.
These core principles underpinned the task of developing an inclusive learning environment – without limits (and without paying mere lip service to the value of democratic learning and co-production).
Alongside the carefully managed employment of key people who would enable the head teacher to concentrate on teaching and learning rather than bureaucracy and administration, Wroxham school has three main facilitating functional groups/meetings.
1. Circle time – This isn’t the same as ‘circle time’ in a classroom setting. This is the idea of quality circles, where everyone in the school has a say in the functioning and the daily activities of the school. The groups meet every Tuesday morning for 15 minutes, and discuss issues ranging from the development of the school grounds to the content of some of the curriculum. These are managed by Year 6 pupils but every single person in the school is involved.
2. Learning Review Meetings – These are meetings held between pupil, parent/carer and all staff working with the child, including the head teacher. They take place twice a year whereby the pupil leads a discussion about their progress in learning. Levels of attainment are never discussed. The focus is on future learning, ambition and progression. This culminates with the children themselves writing their end of year reports with the teachers adding to what the children say about themselves.
3. Faculty teams – In a one-form entry school, it’s extremely time-consuming and often debilitating to wear too many “curriculum” hats. To overcome this, Alison established faculty teams – humanities, creativity and citizenship. All areas of the curriculum are considered in these groups with the focus on
- Quality of experiences and opportunities offered to children
- Monitoring the quality of children’s learning
- Nourishing and sustaining their own learning
Teaching and support staff attend these meetings three times a term after school for two hours, using the National Curriculum and the School Development Plan as a framework, and again everyone has a say.
The school also focuses on seven “dispositions that increase capacity for professional learning”.
- Openness – to ideas, to possibilities, to surprise – and not a belief that there is only one right way, that outcomes are predictable.
- Questioning – restlessness, humility – not reliance on certainties and ready-made solutions.
- Inventiveness – creative responses to challenges – not compliance with imposed models and materials.
- Persistence – courage and humility – not settling for easy answers, rejecting complexity.
- Emotional stability – taking risks and resilience – not fear of failure, fear of trying new things.
- Generosity – welcoming difference – not deficit thinking, desire for uniformity.
- Empathy – mutual supportiveness – not fear, defensiveness, blame.
This is the briefiest of summaries. You must read the book to get the full story of what has really taken place at this school.
It is values based. Which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have clear aims, and doesn’t mean that it’s not concerned with ‘powerful knowledge’. All bases are covered! This school has high “standards of attainment” but it also has high standards of wellbeing, of inclusion, of justice, of equity. It empowers and enables staff and pupils alike. There is a shared delight in learning, and an enthusiasm to learn more. Children are given something incredibly precious – the right and the freedom to learn – without limits.
For anyone interested in understanding how this can work – where children are free to talk, are actively listened to, with the children’s ideas actually considered sufficiently worthwhile doing – then we strongly recommend reading “Creating Learning Without Limits”
If you would like to hear more about this via a podcast, then click on the link below. (Scroll down to “related materials”).
The following are quotes from the book that illustrate the thinking behind the learning that takes place, and could take place at a school near you if there’s a will – and the freedom to learn.
“A feature of Wroxham that makes it distinctive: the vision that guides the work of the whole school community, and the model of school development to which it gives rise”.
“Targets, levels, objectives, outcomes – all these ways of conceptualising learning require teachers to behave as if children’s potential is predictable and their futures knowable far in advance”.
“Teachers need a much more complex understanding of learning and of the many interacting influences that underlie differences of attainment if they are able to use their powers as educators to transform children’s life chances.”
“What if planning for preordained and predicted levels was replaced with planning experiences and opportunities for learning that promote deep engagement, that fill children with a sense of agency . . . endow them with motivation, courage and belief in their power to influence their own futures?”
“Each individual child must and could be offered the irresistible invitation to join a shared learning journey”.
“Children started to surprise their teachers with their enthusiasm, competence, energy and expertise”.
“While a teacher’s approach was distinctively individual, there was nevertheless a strong measure of agreement . . . about what was important pedagogy and where they needed to direct their efforts . . . the importance of listening to children, extending opportunities for choice, learning collaboratively, enlivening learning through authentic, relevant experiences and involving children in assessing their learning”.
“The circle group meetings, learning review meetings and initiatives to enliven the curriculum were helping to create conditions in which children’s thirst for and active involvement in their own learning could be restored, nurtured and strengthened . . . a new way of working together, a new way of thinking about learners and a new approach to learning and teaching”
And from the children themselves on the lack of prescription . . . (NB there is differentiation offered at Wroxham but the children choose which group they work in. This is directed by the children’s own view of their learning and their potential, not the teacher’s).
“You know what you can do and sometimes a teacher doesn’t. So if a teacher thinks you’re finding it hard and maybe you’re not, you can do what you want and take control of your own learning”.
“If you want to make it easier for yourself, then it’s your learning that you’re disrupting. If you want to challenge yourself, then it’s you you’re doing it for, it’s not for anyone else”.