Powerful learning environment, passionate staff and engaged learners
Earlier this week we held a school-based learning event with Hartsholme Academy in Lincoln. Despite a challenging catchment, with 22.7% students eligible for free school meals and where many of the 3 year olds arrive from local estates and tower blocks with the reading age of a 16-month old, the Primary school was graded Outstanding in 2011 having been in Special Measures 2 years prior.
The success of the school’s transformation rests on a deep commitment to using real life experiences with learning rigour to build and sustain learner engagement. Or as Carl puts it, “doing the wrong things for the right reasons”. And as the event was sold out, it was clear there was an appetite from nearby schools to see Hartsholme’s pioneering work to utilise immersive and experiential learning in action.
We were lucky enough to dip in and out of lessons, talking with students and teachers along the way. Sarah, a year 5 student, talked me through their investigation to hunt down the criminal responsible for the recently stolen car. We carefully examined a piece of hair under a microscope and following a cross-reference with a board of suspects (mug shots of staff) deducted it couldn’t have been the Headteacher, Mr Jarvis, because his hair isn’t a mix of colours. And the CCTV footage we scrutinised (Sarah confidently took charge of the sophisticated IT setup) led us to believe it was a female. I left Sarah to continue examining evidence. I then met Matt in a year 6 lesson on moments in history. In a blacked-out classroom that was decorated as a Medical Centre, with desks transformed into hospital beds, we were delving into the 9/11 disaster. Large screens replayed news footage as that afternoon in September unravelled and there was almost an eerie atmosphere in the room. Students were imagining they were in Lower Manhattan and were writing reports on the events. Matt and his friends used chalk to detail the happenings on the floor whilst his peers typed their reports on their iPads or videoed each other’s verbal reports.
Sound like fun? Yes, it was great fun, but these approaches are more than just fun. They are deeply rooted in research highlighting that these pedagogical practices are key to developing young people into inquisitive and resilient learners. The facilitators (as the teachers see themselves) are rigorously assessing the learning through a number of ways; for example they’ll observe how Sarah manoeuvres the practical work and photograph Matt’s notes on the floor for closer inspection later. Students are also encouraged to be reflective learners.
Approaches and initiatives are not carried out across the school if there isn’t the evidence or research to back it up. We hear that some time ago two staff members felt that mobile technology was the future. In conversations with the Headteacher, Carl Jarvis, they agreed to research examples of other contexts where it was, and wasn’t, working. Following this they were able to have 2 iPads across the school to begin trialling. After a successful pilot that showcased the added value of the technology all KS2 students now benefit from their own iPad.
This journey hasn’t been without its challenges. Carl has had to defend the pedagogy, occasionally fighting the system, whilst holding true to his belief systems. But he hasn’t been on the journey alone. He has travelled it with the same staff as when Hartsholme was in special measures; the same staff who now teach outstanding lessons. And hearing Sarah, Matt and their fellow students chanting ‘we’re the best school in the Universe!’ no doubt provides the energy to continue doing the wrong things, for all the right reasons..