Yesterday, I visited Gallions Primary school in Beckton, Newham and was truly inspired by the wonderful work that’s going on there. I was invited to see their work by an organisation called Open Futures, which aims to help primary school children in the UK and in India learn through cooking, growing things, asking questions and making films. The Open Futures organisation, funded by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, does not give money directly to schools, but helps with providing training and offering expert help. These are the organisations that help Open Futures:
- SAPERE, the UK charity for the Philosophy for Children (P4C), manages the askit strand
- The Royal Horticultural Society manages the growit strand
- The RSA-founded Focus on Food Campaign manages the cookit strand
- The filmit team is managed by the Executive Director of Fabrica and Benetton online, and an independent interaction designer
- The Research Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne advises on enquiry within the curriculum.
As the headteacher, Paul Jackson, explained to me, Gallions has always been a creative school, but has greatly benefitted from working with Open Futures. Having hit a trough with a bout of bad SATs results a few years ago, it is now vastly improved and is one of the most improved schools in the country. I was very impressed by the way in which the school had combined a very creative curriculum with a rigorous academic approach; Paul Jackson explains how this works in the video.
For me, visiting Gallions was a real message of hope: its success shows that getting great results and being creative are not incompatible. It is something I’ve found very hard to juggle in my own teaching, but I think if the full weight of an institution is behind a creative approach then you can really achieve great things. The achievements of Gallions shows that you don’t have to go down the route of draconian discipline, serried ranks and lots of upfront teaching to get good results. Ultimately, the creative approach pays richer dividens because after students have left school they can think for themselves; they have initiative; they are problem-solvers; they’ve learnt the value of enquiry.
Gallions is a local authority school and puts paid to another myth that you have to be an academy or free school to innovate in your curriculum. Headteachers of LA schools have a great deal of autonomy to shape their own ways of thinking. And you could argue that they actually have more freedom than free schools which are part of chains. For example, Steiner schools purport to offer a creative curriculum but they are actually very dogmatic and rigid in their approach, children are subject to many bizarre dictats and are encouraged not to have vaccinations. I thought Gallions showed the way forward for sensible people who want children to be creative in schools in that they achieved a real sense of balance between creativity and meeting various exam targets. Watch the video and judge for yourself…