I ended the school year back in July with a trip to Grayrigg Primary School – just north of Kendal.
When it comes to school ethos statements, they make some pretty big claims.
Our school is not about expecting children to conform, but about inspiring every child to be the best person they can possibly be: Academically; Personally; Spiritually; Socially and Morally.
The staff team is small (as you would expect in a school with 30 children) and lead by their teaching Head Kirsty Cooper who’s passion for what she does is ever present and infectious!
Having met Kirsty and Early Years teacher Clare on ABC Does training and had a good look at the schools website, I was really interested to see if, and how, their ethos manifested itself in effective day to day practice.
Their setting is idyllic. The school building is small and right next to the church and graveyard with fields beyond as far as the eye can see.
I felt really at home from the minute I walked through the door. It was great to see children being celebrated everywhere you looked. I really liked the fact that children’s uniqueness was clearly a focus. There weren’t 30 versions of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ that all looked the same. There was children’s art and sculpture.
There are 2 main classroom spaces, a staffroom that is taken over by the dinner trolley at lunchtime an entrance hall (including an office) and that is about it!
I spent some time in Acorns room which is where the 4 – 7 year olds are taught. The team had managed to pack a lot into a relatively small space. There were plenty of opportunities for developing interests and skills. Even a bit of deconstructed role play.
A large emphasis is placed on independence and exploration.
Dinner is served by the ‘infamous’ Mrs Hill who has been part of the Grayrigg team for longer than anyone can remember.
Children go into the staffroom to be served their lunch, which they then take back to their tables. The staff eat with the children as part of the ‘family’ approach. I had sausages, beans and mash.
Mrs Hill gave me so many sausages that I felt slightly sick by the time I had finished. I did protest at the amount she had put on my plate – but I got the sense that she is not the sort of women you mess with when it comes to sausages (or anything else for that matter)!
Staff, children (and visitors) sit together over lunch an talk. It felt very much like a family mealtime and a million miles away from when I was a Head and ate my lunch in a dining hall with up to 300 children in it. You could hear yourself speak for one thing!
Outside there is recently refurbished (and still expanding) outdoor space created by the brilliant team at Cool Canvas. This is a shared learning space where children really are free to explore their passions.
Although there are some permanent structures like a sand pit, wooden house and storage units there is also lots of scope for flexibility, not to mention one of the largest texture kitchens I have ever seen!
Seeing this space being effectively used by children from Reception to Year 6 reminded me how powerful and essential this sort of learning is for ALL children, not just the EYFS.
When it came to clearing up, the responsibility was very much the children’s. They knew what had to be done and got on with it, using whatever came to hand!
The day before my visit the children had discovered and rescued a hedgehog with an injured leg. Handily one of the Grayrigg parents is a vet. Turned out the hedgehog had to have it’s leg amputated. The operation went well and the hedgehog is now a permanent resident of the Grayrigg outdoor area.
I really enjoyed my trip! As a school Grayrigg has been on a real journey of improvement and I know that Kirsty and the staff would say that they are most definitely still on it. What struck me most of all was the true sense of ‘family’ that existed within that school community. Along with the nurture that that kind of approach brings, I also got a strong sense of a culture of ‘having a go’. That it is good to take a risk, that you won’t always succeed, but that you can learn just as much from failure as you can from success.
When it come to their ethos statement, I thought they had it spot on!
Grayrigg felt like a happy place to learn – and not just on the day I visited.
Kirsty and Clare – with a team that small you would have to get on!
I really hope they let me come back and visit again as I would love to see how they are getting on – Oh, and Clare (who has appeared on Ready, Steady, Cook!) made me the most amazing pie to take home and there was more home made cake in one place than I have seen in a long time, and the flapjack….the flapjack!
For more info about Grayrigg you can have a look at their website here and I am sure if you were passing they would be happy to see you but please ring first! Oh, and I can’t promise sausages, pie, cake or flapjack just a really lovely learning ethos!