There are many challenges about the Normanton, and Arboretum areas of Derby which stem from the wide diversity of culture, religions, languages and upbringings. There are also many opportunities that this brings as well. Any institution that has to manage with this variety is always going to have to be creative in how the diversity will be addressed, ensuring that everyone is equally served. When specific and measured outcomes have to be delivered then the approach cannot be left to chance. Running a school in this environment is always going to be challenging and, potentially, high profile.
Just over 3 years ago, Hardwick Primary school, right in the heart of Normanton had reached a low point. Ofsted had issued a report in November 2011 which gave an overall rating of “inadequate” with little in the way of redeeming features.
“Too much inadequate teaching, and divisions between school leaders, the governing body and members of staff, have caused considerable anxiety and hampered secure progress. This has led to low staff morale. Pupils’ experiences in different classes and year groups have been uneven, and their pace of learning inconsistent. Consequently, pupils’ attainment is too low and, for too many pupils, their progress since joining the school is inadequate.”
However, this did not mean that the school was a chaotic and unsafe environment – far from it.
“Staff are caring and relationships between adults and pupils are strong, including at the school’s breakfast club. This is a strength of the school and supports pupils’ satisfactory behaviour and their clear enjoyment of school.”
But the most telling part of the report highlights the core of the problem that they faced:
“Relationships between the governing body, leaders and managers, the local authority and staff are strained.”
“…. they have been faced with many challenging and complex events and problems, including a lack of clarity amongst teachers and school leaders about their strategic roles and responsibilities and the staff’s lack of skills and self-confidence in strategic analysis, self-evaluation and improvement planning. Consequently, some subject leaders do not know where the strengths and weaknesses lie in their subjects nor fully understand how much progress pupils make across the school.”
The leadership, and some of the Governors stepped down at the time, and Jonathan Gallimore was appointed into an interim leadership role initially, and then subsequently became the Head Teacher. At first glance, one might have thought that Jonathan’s previous experience at Etwall, Hilton, Findern and Mickleover would not have been that relevant to this inner city school. However, it is clear, in hindsight, that he was appointed, not on the basis of his familiarity with leading a school with these demographics, but on his leadership style and clarity of thinking. His focus was to get everyone clearly aligned, and to standardize as much of the school’s activities as possible – leaving more quality time for managing the issues that resulted from the diversity of the pupil population.
The whole approach he embarked on was consultative and inclusive to ensure that everyone felt part of the school’s future. They agreed on a mission:
“We want everyone who is part of this school and its community to care about each other and help us to be better than our previous best, so that we can all achieve our potential. We want it to be a place where everyone is respected and included and where we all share a love of learning, full of exciting experiences.”
CARE was the operative word, and this was used as an acronym for their joint values as:
Caring – Achieving – Respectful – Exciting.
Each of the words were chosen with care, and with purpose.
This also became central to the School code:
Care about each other and our school
Always do our best
Remember our manners
This was central to everything that they subsequently did, and could be used as a reference point for resolving ambiguities and clarification over direction.
From this high-level Mission, the staff were able to develop more detailed strategies and processes that would have the aim of ensuring that all pupils were provided with a consistent approach to their education.
As this approach helped to provide some stability, and cohesion within the school, they could then consider how to address the issues resulting from cultural differences and language difficulties. The school has pupils from 32 different nationalities, a good proportion of whom have English as a second language. As the school will receive new arrivals into the UK, then the levels of ability in English language is very varied.
There are pros and cons with each approach and Jonathan is not embarrassed to try something out, and then modify it if it feels that it’s not working. They have considered extra provision within the regular classes, including classroom “buddies”, through to providing additional sessions separate from the rest of the class – each has its merits and pitfalls.
One main approach for those with little English is to concentrate heavily on teaching the ~200 key words (which the majority of sentences use) which provide a platform for using the language. Over and above all of this, the mantra is for “Talking, talking, talking” and lots of pictures with words so they have a constant exposure to relevant and useful vocabulary.
The art is to know when to flex to accommodate cultural differences. For example, it is important that the children learn to swim, and it would be better, from the school’s perspective, if everyone went in the pool together, but in order to be sensitive to certain pupils there are separate boy and girl sessions. The most important outcome is that they learn to swim. This pragmatism is important in navigating the diversity.
There is also a recognition that the parent’s involvement in the childs education is important. This is usually understood by the local British population, but for those from the new communities this is not always appreciated; they, themselves may not have experienced good education back in their home countries. Promoting parent workshops is another strategy which is also being tried. This is having mixed results – but I’m sure the optimum solution will evolve in time.
The diversity of the pupils represents a great learning opportunity both as being supportive of factual subjects as well as being part of the development of rounded and balanced people. It is considered that having so many nationalities is something to celebrate and not seen as a problem. Ofsted recognised this point in their report.:
“Pupils say how much they value the diverse cultures and religions that make up the school and show a high level of respect for each other’s beliefs.”
This is ultimately a great testament to what should happen in an educational environment and is a major building block in promoting cohesion and tackling racism, discrimination and bigotry.
The approach to making the necessary improvements are not peculiar to this school or for that matter, unique to education. Much of the philosophy is very relevant in making change to any organisation and would be very well recognised in a commercial environment.
The final paragraph neatly summarises why it was successful:
“The inspirational headteacher, closely supported by his senior team and the governors, has been relentless in driving improvement in every area of the school’s work. Their attention to detail and high expectations of both pupils and staff have led to exceptional improvement since the previous inspection.”
In a world that is desperately in need of tolerance, inclusion and integration, the solid work of the team at Hardwick Primary School is a small, but significant part of ensuring that our multi-cultural society has a chance of succeeding.