Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How to Beat the Rest with a Back-of-a-Napkin Philosophy

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How to Beat the Rest with a Back-of-a-Napkin Philosophy

Article excerpt

An epiphany, scribbled down in haste, provided the impetus for this year's TES secondary of the year

Displays are a big feature of the corridors at Stanley Park High. There are silhouette Jekyll and Hyde figures outside an English classroom; brightly coloured masks along the art corridor; and a disembodied model head next to the hair and beauty salon.

Less visibly arresting is the group of four framed pictures, three large and one small, on one of the school's quieter corridors.

The three larger frames hold sheets of flip-chart paper, each covered with writing, bullet points and flow charts. On closer inspection the smaller one - featuring the same handwriting - turns out to be a paper napkin.

"It suddenly hit me," says executive headteacher David Taylor.

"I thought, 'I have got it. I understand what I want from my school.' I wrote it down on a napkin in a cafe in Copenhagen."

The three sheets and a napkin have a good claim to be the founding documents of a reincarnated school.

Ten years after they were written, the words at the top of the napkin - "project-based learning" and "flexibility in the timetable" - are still the cornerstone of the school's philosophy.

Stanley Park, winner of the secondary school of the year in this year's TES Schools Awards, is a non-selective school in a highly selective area. The London borough of Sutton, on the capital's south-west fringe, has five grammar schools and a number of other schools that select by aptitude.

A secondary modern in all but name, Mr Taylor says that when he took over in 2005, Stanley Park was unloved by parents and poorly thought of in the local community.

A year after his appointment, he began seeking out innovative schools at home and abroad. As he put his plans together, it was a visit to a school in Copenhagen that helped him fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.

"I realised that the crux of all of this is the absolute primacy of relationships," he says. "It was a time when relationships were fraught. The kids weren't getting on with the teachers, and the teachers weren't getting on with parents. But here [in Copenhagen] was a school where the kids were articulate and self-confident, and when I saw the way they interacted with their teachers, I thought that was what it should be like. That became very much the inspiration."

His starting point was a schools-within-a-school model. When pupils arrive at Stanley Park in Year 7, they are divided into four schools. Horizon is the smallest and serves children with special needs. The other pupils are divided equally into Trade, Performance and World, each located in a separate part of the building, and remain in those schools throughout their time at Stanley Park.

This is done largely randomly, Mr Taylor says, although each school has an equal number of boys and girls, and a mix of abilities.

A novel approach

What really marks Stanley Park out, though, is the combination of this structure with a novel approach to the curriculum.

In Years 7 and 8, pupils study English, maths, science, PE, music and French as separate subjects, but all other subjects are taught under the banner of Excellent Futures Curriculum (EFC), a programme designed by the school's teachers.

Year 7 pupils have 12 EFC lessons a week, covering geography, history, RE, drama, art, business studies and ICT, among other subjects, while Year 8 has eight. They have the same teacher for all their EFC lessons, which are based around project work.

"In Year 7, most schools have the model of moving from one primary teacher to 14 teachers, which in my opinion is bonkers," says Mr Taylor. …

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