Let me paint a picture for you. You walk into the playground at Westoe Crown Primary School in South Tyneside and you're greeted with a wash of smiles from pupils and teachers alike. The head teacher, Mr Steve Price, knows the name of every single pupil (all 700 of them), and the love the children have for him is abundantly clear. Everyone was so happy and it was only 08:00 am.
The school's playground was like no other I've seen. A pirate ship, not one but TWO phonics buses, reading huts, an outdoor gym, herb gardens, mud kitchens, graffiti wall, clay poppy garden, buddy benches - you name it - the children have thought of it and made it happen. You see, the creativity might be the brainchild of the school's head teacher, but it's the children that put the skills into practice to make it happen…. And most of it achieved with no budget.
Take the phonics bus for example. After countless letters to the local bus companies asking for the charitable donation of a bus that the school could convert into a phonics bus - and countless rejections - Mr Price asked the children to practice their persuasive writing skills and come up with some powerful words to convince the bus companies. The children came up with a 10-word letter, a letter that saw the donation of the disused double-decker bus now residing as a converted phonics bus in their playground.
The letter? It simply said; How do you want to make 700 hearts beat faster?
The creativity doesn’t stop there. A playground gym supports the school’s initiative for fit bodies and minds - likewise, we saw groups from year 1 to 6 doing their daily mile, and a group of girls donning their pads and gloves for an impromptu boxing glass during break time.
The buddy bench, built and decorated by the children ensures that anyone sat on it, won't be lonely. Even the bins are given the children's handy artwork makeover.
"The creativity might be the brainchild of the school's head teacher, but it's the children that put the skills into practice to make it happen"
One thing that struck me was that children were queuing up on their lunch breaks to use the reading huts - wooden huts that dotted around the playground (each affectionately named by each year group) with age-appropriate books. Their free time, when they could have been playing, was spent devouring the latest books, all purchased with the funds generated from stripping out the old bus, selling seats and generating income.
There is such a passion for literacy and indeed mathematics. We smiled with adult naivety every time a child told us their favourite thing about school was 'maths and solving the maths problems'.
It was fascinating to see the school has a business enterprise scheme which gets the children applying their literacy and numeracy skills on a daily basis and in a fun way, believe me when I say that we saw the 2030 cast of TV's The Apprentice. The children have to write an application form to apply for the roles within the team, stating what skills they would bring to either the production, finance or sales and marketing teams. Staff at 'Kids Zone, Crown Jewels, Fruit to Suit and Mugalicious' would then produce or source their product ranges and manage their supply chains, whilst sales and marketing decide what campaign activity needed to happen to promote their products, producing posters and creating offers to attract fellow pupils to their stalls. The finance manager had a till and was taking the money and giving change but quickly informed me that the till didn’t work but that it was ok because "I just do the maths instead".
"We smiled with adult naivety every time a child told us their favourite thing about school was 'maths and solving the maths problems"
It's abundantly clear that English and mathematics are embedded in all that they do and the approach of taking advantage of every single opportunity is really working; we saw it in action in assembly, in classes outside of English and mathematics, and in the play spaces. And without prompting, almost every child we spoke to came out with the same responses regarding their favourite things about school – maths and reading – “I like the phonics bus”, “I like times-tables rockstars”, “I like writing lyrics” – the Headteacher revealed how some of the children didn’t want to write poems, but really engaged when they referred to it as Rap lyrics. Pupil voice is clearly a very big deal at Westoe Crown. Steve Price is the first to admit their thematic approach to delivering the curriculum isn’t for every school, but it is evident that they have made it work very effectively (and efficiently!) for their school and for their children through a combination of innovative thinking and a curriculum shaped by, in Steve’s words, Quality Mark and the voice of the children.
I, personally, was blown away at the creativity, warmth and passion that resides in Westoe Crown Primary School. Every single person we met (both children and adults) was full of enthusiasm, positivity and best of all, smiles.
"The school has a business enterprise scheme which gets the children applying their literacy and numeracy skills on a daily basis and in a fun way, believe me when I say that we saw the 2030 cast of TV's The Apprentice."
The team at Westoe Crown is raising 700 kind and accomplished little humans. I was truly humbled at how incredibly polite and well-mannered they were. The level of confidence being displayed by the children was astonishing. They showed a willingness to contribute (i.e. hands up all the time); willingness to approach us throughout the day (and beyond!); and their lack of fear – their answers weren’t always correct but collectively this was met with encouragement and gentle humour from their peers until they did get it right. It felt like a really positive and safe place to learn.
It's clear that the team favours a hands-on experiential learning and thematic learning approach…. And it certainly works for them. I think one pupil, Marcus in Year 5, summed the school up perfectly. Upon asking what was different about his school he threw his hands to the sky and simply said 'it's just the best'. High praise indeed.
Steve admitted that a lot of the change in Westoe Crown has taken place over the last eight years with the support and guidance of Tribal's Quality Mark accreditation. When joining the school, Steve saw the Quality Mark folder in his office and openly admits that he wrongly assumed it would be another framework or box-ticking exercise - and proceeded to shred the folder. Upon the school's renewal date for Quality Mark, he decided to look into it more closely. Steve visited other schools with the Quality Mark accreditation and saw first-hand the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that could be applied to everyday activities to truly embed literacy and maths into the lives of his pupils.
Now, with the support of their dedicated Quality Mark assessor - and the inventive minds of the pupils of course - the school continues to drive effective learning, embrace curious thinking, and excel in literacy and mathematics.
To understand how a Quality Mark accreditation can help your school, click here or
contact us and we'll show you just how it can help.