Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Where Unusual Ideas Are a Bridge to Learning

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Where Unusual Ideas Are a Bridge to Learning

Article excerpt

This school's quirky approach to teaching and learning includes bees, buffalo and Bronze Age buildings. What did Ofsted think?

In November 2013, a mixed state school in Eastbourne, East Sussex, had its fourth Ofsted inspection in nine years. The inspection was carried out under the latest rigorous criteria, within an educational climate that critics were describing as restrictive and Victorian.

West Rise Junior School, where I am headteacher, is unconventional to say the least. You might imagine, therefore, that the inspectors would not have had a high opinion of it.

For starters, we have water buffalo, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and cows roaming a 120-acre area of wetland that is opposite the school. On this land, we teach the children to fire shotguns, practise archery, hunt with gun dogs and ferrets and master fly fishing. Our pupils are taught to light fires and use knives. Some have even skinned rabbits and plucked pigeons, and most know how to cook over an open fire.

And that is not all. The site is also home to 1 million honey bees, which the children help to look after. We have a creative arts studio called Room 13, where students can direct their own learning. Then there is a darkroom for photography, a radio studio and a Mongolian yurt for circle time. And the children have been helping to construct a Bronze Age village on our marshland. They have thatched the roof of our latest roundhouse and erected a raised wooden walkway stretching 70m across the land (pictured, right).

Business as (un)usual

So, having seen all this, did Ofsted disapprove? Far from it.

As well as conducting a number of lesson observations, examining work and interviewing staff and children, the lead inspector spent an afternoon on the marsh, meeting the water buffalo and watching the children learn outside. Meanwhile, the additional inspector sat in our Mongolian yurt as the children shared their feelings. The inspectors' analysis of each aspect of provision was coupled with interviews and scrutiny of the work produced. No stone was left unturned.

The outcome? A creative approach to teaching and learning is something that Ofsted loves. The school received an outstanding rating for behaviour and safety, based in part on our exciting curriculum opportunities. We were judged to be good in the three other areas and the inspection report made many references to our innovative projects and the impact they have on children's learning and progress. …

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