As you turn off the main road towards North Ormesby Primary Academy (NOPA), you may be wondering what sort of place you are heading to if you have never seen inside via the numerous photos the staff post on Twitter daily (@N_O_P_A).
As you drive past rows of shabby, independent shops and small-town houses you start to get an impression of what the catchment area may be like. We arrived early but before long Craig, the Acting Principal, arrived and welcomed us inside. The reception area of the school immediately gives you a taste of what was in store, with amazing hand-painted murals and wacky benches.
Once we were signed in we dragged our clutter into a meeting room, which is also used as a Virtual Reality room and Apple Training Centre. After we had our cameras set up, we had a chat with Craig while the pupils arrived and found out about the background of the school and their journey so far.
NOPA is in one of the most deprived areas of the country. Until a few years ago was a mainly white British school, until the government began to use the area to home immigrants, often asylum seekers, due to low property prices. Gradually, more and more families arrived at the school with English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The school now has students talking over 30 languages, which brings its challenges. Many pupils arrive at the school with only basic knowledge of their first language, let alone English, but they often seem to grasp English quickly. The language barrier is such that often, teaching staff must use Google Translate to communicate with some pupils.
Due to the deprivation of the area, the school has a large proportion of children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). Currently, the percentage stands at 48.2%, but Craig explained that many parents either don’t apply or are unable to apply due to their immigration status, but if these are included this would bring the percentage nearer to 60-70%. As every teacher knows, this brings extra funding to the school, but it's known that these pupils just don't the same standards when they begin primary school, so you can imagine the challenge the staff have on their hands!
The school, works very hard to try and instil a sense of where excitement and ambition for the future, and numerous trips are arranged to try and give them some aspirations.
One trip saw a group of pupils spend a day at a design agency, who work for a local department store. Using the skills they have been taught on Photoshop, they created a web banner which went onto the website, and the results were then shared with the pupils. Another group went to the store’s warehouse and saw how orders were processed. Craig remarked that this has changed some of the pupil’s perspectives and given them a whole new wealth of aspirations.
Another aim of the school is to create a haven for the children who may have a troubled home life or challenging backgrounds. A lot of the designs and initiatives around the school are pupil led, and make a lovely environment which they and their parents enjoy coming to.
Looking around the school
Once the pupils had arrived, and the general hubbub of school starting was over, we began our tour.
The school is split into two buildings. One part houses the reception, pastoral area, staff room, canteen and hall. This area has a friendly feel to it, with some amazing hand-painted murals on the walls, but overall it's main purpose is to be a functional area.
A narrow part of the playground separates the two buildings. We walk across, dodging the chilly northern rain, and head in to see where the magic happens. We went during the daily Happy Pants Maths session where the whole school, apart from Early Years, were using our Rapid Recall Whiteboards.
We popped into Early Years, a heavily themed section of the school with an underwater octopus cave fashioned from milk bottles, and numerous things hanging from the ceilings. Craig explained that they believe at NOPA that the gap between Early Years and Year 1 is as big as the jump from year 6 to 7. Year 1 often takes the fun and nice environment away from learning, and pops pupils into neat rows behind desks. NOPA work hard to minimise the leap, and this is seen when we move to the Year 1 classroom.
The Year 1 classroom is still heavily themed, but to a slightly lesser effect, with various seats available around the classroom and only a few desks. Pupils were working on Rapid Recall Whiteboards in pairs, working out the answers together, while lying on the floor or sitting in whatever chair they fancy.
It is evident how much work the school has put in to being there for every child. They are all polite and hardly seem to notice as we pass through and on to the next classroom. A very pleasant surprise was how smart the pupils were - I hardly saw an untucked t-shirt the entire morning we were at the school.
In the Year 2 classroom there are more desks. Craig mentioned were for classes which need bit more of a disciplined approach to their learning. Year 2 were working on their Rapid Recall Boards in various places, including putting them on clipboards to allow them to sit on a bean bag and have a proper surface to write on.
We continued our journey into Year 3 where we were met by 2 rabbits freely roaming the classroom amongst the children! Year 3 were spread out over different types of seating, and some were perched up in the ‘learning loft’ or in the quiet area underneath, concentrating on their boards. One girl didn’t seem to even notice one of the rabbits running across her board as it explored the classroom.
Next, we headed into Year 4 which, again, had more desks, with most pupils sitting up at them. Some of the students, who preferred to work alone, were spread around on the alternative seating. Up to now, we hadn’t really seen our online answers portal being used, but the answers for the day’s chosen number were put up on the smartboard, with some children opting to get it up on their iPad and mark their own. Each pupil added their score up, and their teacher collated this on her computer as part of their ongoing assessment.
Year 5 and 6 were all together in a large classroom that can be divided by a movable wall in the middle. Almost all pupils were sat at desks, with some desks at the side and a couple of sofas. There were several teachers and teaching assistants present, sitting with specific groups and moving around the room to help with specific challenges. The boards were being worked on individually and each child loaded the answers on their iPad when they had completed the board. This is when a lot of the learning seemed to happen as the teachers could get a sense of general misconceptions and address these at a group level and get a feel of the progress of the class.
It was an extremely enjoyable visit and inspirational to see the approach of Craig and the Principal Chris. The whole school has a truly holistic approach, without a major focus on amazing SATs results or being an outstanding school, they simply consider both to simply be an inevitable outcome of great teaching and management.
In the face of some challenging circumstances, the school really is a haven for learning, and we recommend a visit if you get the chance.
Keep an eye out for our Part 2 blog about everything we learnt while at North Ormesby, and don't forget to follow them on Twitter for inspiration for your own school.