Blackwood Primary School is in Caerphilly local authority. There are currently 416 pupils on roll with 15 classes and a two-form entry including a nursery and Rising 3s. 22% percent of pupils are eligible for FSM and 16% have ALN. Very few pupils are from a minority ethnic background or Welsh first language.
Blackwood Primary School is committed to professional learning. This case study is to highlight the journey taken over several years to develop a Foundation Phase philosophy from Nursery through to Year Six as a focus for pedagogical knowledge and curriculum design.
The headteacher joined the school in 2018. All stakeholders worked together to develop a vision for the school. Collectively we decided to focus on pedagogy and the learning experiences we wanted to provide for the children of Blackwood Primary whilst focussing on the pedagogical principles for Curriculum for Wales.
This case study documents the professional learning journey undertaken by Blackwood Primary School to create a learning environment that provides blended learning opportunities for pupils based on the below foundation phase philosophy:
All staff engage fully in professional learning at an individual, phase, school, cluster and regional level with Curriculum for Wales. The four purposes were considered right from the beginning of the journey and pupils, alongside staff, have used documentation to develop an understanding of how the four purposes are realised at Blackwood Primary. All stakeholders were involved in creating a vision for the school that had the four purposes at the centre of school life. This is revisited and consolidated regularly as staff and pupils immerse themselves in the four purposes. Impact and further understanding supported with research and practical application are shared in an evaluative way in a supportive culture by leaders and all staff.
Blackwood Primary is a two-form entry school. The staff work within year group cohort teams and share the teaching and learning between two classrooms and an outdoor area. This collegiate approach creates an opportunity for staff to share knowledge and skills appropriately. At the start of the journey, metacognition was (and still is) a major focus to support children with their learning. Research into the learning pit and growth mindset was undertaken and adapted to the needs of the children. Professional learning was shared with parents, colleagues and governors through professional learning posters which included the research undertaken and impact observed.
The physical environment was redesigned to explore models of direct, facilitated and independent learning opportunities. Expertise within the school was used to support the necessary change towards the new school vision. Using AoLEs as a basis for learning opportunities meant that the layout of the classrooms changed significantly. Planned professional learning to support this included research into child development. Staff agreed on areas that would be necessary to support progression from early years to year 6. Visits to other settings that used a similar approach were undertaken both nationally and internationally. Following a period of research and rapid change was a phase where staff worked together to consolidate their learning and continued to evaluate and change the environment to meet the needs of their cohort of children.
Independent learning is a strong feature of curriculum design for Blackwood Primary. Staff identified professional learning that was required to enhance the changes in the learning environment. Staff engaged in many opportunities to develop knowledge, understanding and skills in areas such as woodwork, block play and food hygiene. This was followed up with collaboration at a school level to ensure that the professional learning would translate into progressive continuous provision throughout the school from nursery to y6.
Outdoors is included as part of the learning environment throughout the school. This remains part of the school development plan as opportunities to support the pedagogical knowledge are taken to ensure that moving the child’s learning forward is a focus for all staff.
Approaches to assessment have been a strong feature of the MER cycle. Staff have engaged in purposeful challenging conversations to ensure that changes to curriculum design didn’t mean a dip in standards. Focussed sessions continued to provide the expected standards from the children. However, the independent learning has taken a journey of its own where staff and pupils have trialled several methods to scaffold and support the children into achieving the same standards independently as when working directly with a teacher. This is ongoing and in a period of consolidation. It has been identified that time is required to embed systems and professional learning to support the systems constantly being reviewed.
Staff view professional learning as an entitlement that supports and builds coherence linked to pedagogy and curriculum design. Blackwood Primary School consolidates what has been learned in a culture that encourages staff to use professional learning opportunities to evaluate and improve approaches to teaching and learning. Professional learning is planned through a combination of whole staff, phase, team and individual foci and strong links with EAS have provided opportunities to work with different models of research. As a result, staff value the professional learning that has an impact on their teaching. Leaders within the school recognise the importance of providing time and resources to enable effective professional learning and the senior leadership team and governors are committed to supporting all staff with their engagement in continuous professional development.