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Wincanton Primary Among Top 100 Most Improved Schools in England

Wednesday 15 January 2014, 19:41
By John Baxter

Scroll to the bottom of this article to watch a video of my interview with Graeme Wilson.

OFSTED – A tough inspection

Something impressive has happened in Wincanton. Last year Wincanton Primary underwent an OFSTED inspection. These inspections are tough and at their former inspection Wincanton Primary was only judged Satisfactory, a disappointment for all concerned. This time it was promoted to the second highest grade and judged GOOD. Certainly, when the report landed on the desk of head teacher Graeme Wilson it was one which he and his staff could take pride in after all their hard work implementing a fresh vision for the education of their pupils.

In fact the inspectors were enthusiastic in their praise of the school, the engagement of the pupils with their learning and their attainment and progress over the past four years, especially in the key areas of literacy and numeracy. "To achieve this," said Graeme, "The support I have received from parents, governors, staff and pupils to make the school successful has been overwhelming."

A Call From London

Graeme Wilson, Headteacher, Wincanton Primary SchoolSome months later however, Graeme received an unexpected letter from the Department of Education in London that gave cause for even more celebration. This informed him that due to all this hard work the school had been recognised as one of the top 100 most improved primary schools in England. The pupils' progress and attainment over the past four years had been analysed and the figures showed a very high proportion of children had exceeded their expected levels of attainment. Praise indeed, and an enormous achievement.

How has this come about? The Hook

It was in July 2010 that I last interviewed Graeme and heard from him about the new theme-based learning he was introducing across the school. He described this as being "practical, inspirational and investigative."

Basically this theme-based approach means that while Maths continues to be taught as a discrete subject - with a period every day - other teaching is delivered not through separate subjects (History, English, Art or ICT,) but by the pupils exploring an engaging theme in many different ways. This is done by focusing on only two or three subject areas for a block of time and using the skills and knowledge learnt from one subject to support the development of others.

The starting point for this can be either a visit outside school – such as a trip to an aquarium, castle or rainforest – or visitors coming in – such as a paramedic dentist or dairy farmer – who tell the children all about their life and work. This experience is called "the hook" for it gets the pupils engaged or hooked into what they are learning about. Working individually and in teams they then set about exploring different aspects of what they have seen or heard, such as how the milking process works and what happens next – how it is bought to make dairy ice-cream and then to investigate how that is made, marketed, advertised and sold.

Recording, exploring, simulating and expressing all this then cuts right across subject areas and is a fertile field for learning. Allowing the children to have real experiences that they can relate to helps them put their learning into a meaningful context, so they can recognise the reason for learning the concepts and skills they are focusing on.

What About the Teachers?

Sarah Martin, teacher, Wincanton Primary School

Working like this is also a real challenge for teachers who have had to put aside a "safe" and repetitive curriculum and replace it with creative thinking and the exploration of new ways of getting pupils to explore different aspects of the theme that will stretch them to develop a wide range of skills, social and academic. Doing this is certainly demanding, but Graeme told me they have also found this process exciting and creative and it has rekindled or confirmed their enthusiasm for teaching.

The skilled team of teachers make every learning experience enlightening for the children and ensures that their natural curiosity for learning is always stimulated and supported through everything they do. He is extremely proud of his staff, as it is they who share and put his vision into practice and do it so effectively that the school has now engaged and motivated learners of all ages.

Parents and Pupil Assessment

This raises a question. How is progress assessed? Here Graeme explained how work is marked and how reports and parents evenings are run so that every parent has a very good idea about how their child is doing right through the year and not just at the year's end.

Infectious Enthusiasm

Listening to Graeme is quite an experience for his enthusiasm is infectious and his grasp of what he is setting out to do is formidable. While easy and approachable with staff and pupils there is little small talk for from the moment one steps into the school it is obvious that this is a very busy place and there is always so much to be done by him and everyone else.

TLC The Tower Learning Community

Tower Learning Community logoGraeme also explained how the school has become part of the Tower Learning Community, that is the ten schools that are all situated around King Alfred's Tower. This includes two secondary schools, King Arthur's and Sexey's and eight primaries. Rather than go down the Academy pathway they have all chosen to work collaboratively, sharing expertise, developing skills and buying in specialist consultants to help provide training. Locally this has involved work with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Primary School.

Some Extra Money and a Growing School

In these days of cuts Graeme also spoke about the important difference the "Pupil Premium", which is paid to schools to help them deal with pupils who need extra support, has made. This year it amounts to £45,000. This goes towards providing smaller classes and more Teaching Assistants in the early years.

He also pointed out that the school has expanded by 56 pupils since 2010 to 295 pupils. With Wincanton expanding and more service families moving in it is obvious this trend will continue.

Family Support and the Balsam Centre

We also discussed the Children's Centre based at the Balsam Centre and Graeme praised the very important work that is being done there to support families with small children in a variety of different ways. He pointed out these all have a direct and an indirect effect on how well children do when they come to school. He felt the threat of cutting back on professional staff and downgrading the Centre or moving its headquarters out of Wincanton would be a tragedy.

At the Balsam Centre Growing Space

Growing Space – pupils from the school go to the Growing Space and work with Nick on a variety to plots growing vegetables and flowers.

Wincanton Primary School pupils spend time at the Growing Space, Balsam Centre

Owls – A Hook

One of the hooks from Reception with the Mere Falconry, who come in to support their Learning Experience "What a Hoot!" which looks at nocturnal animals, day and night, and the story of the Owl Babies.

Mere Falconry visits Wincanton Primary School

Don't Miss the Video

Now spend a few minutes listening to Graeme explaining his work in this video.


Posts: 1
Well done
Reply #1 on : Thu January 16, 2014, 15:23:12
Great news and well done not only to Mr Wilson who has been an inspirational leader but to all the team at the school, including those who support and volunteer. Equally encouraging to hear some good news in the town, so often we only hear the doom and gloom.

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