Urban Green Primary

Urban Green Primary is a new local free school iniative, the third to have emerged in recent weeks. Conceived by a Brockley based team of parents and teachers, it will place more emphasis on teaching children outdoors, thus minimising the need for classroom space, keeping costs down and allowing children to be taught in smaller classes - such an approach could have rendered the great Gordonbrock outdoor toilet controversy moot.


They are trying to identify a suitable site in the local area so we asked a member of the Urban Green Primary team, about their idea, which sounds a little like a mash up of the Montessori method and The Dangerous Book for Boys:

Who are the team behind the proposal and who are the educators involved?

A group of local teachers – a senior leader, an early years specialist and a deputy head (who are also parents).

What is the motivation for the school - what issues are you trying to address in terms of local provision?

Huge lack of provision for primary places: shortfall increases year on year, last year 17 classes worth of children had to be educated in ‘bulge’ classes as there was no local authority provision, number expected to be even higher this year. The formal, indoors education children tend to receive in our schools only exacerbates the lack of outdoor experience and freedom our children currently have.

If you have a look at some of the links on our Facebook page you’ll see how much impact outdoor learning has on children: better concentration, self esteem, achievement to name but a few. Any adult can tell you that they learn best through real life experiences so why would we expect it to be any different for children?

We would still use the National Curriculum and levelling, but the freedom and high adult child ratios would allow the curriculum to be much more personalised. For example, if it was identified a child needed to develop ability to measure and use problem solving skills staff might plan opportunities for children to plan and make a den.

How do the economics stack up? How do you achieve small class sizes on state school budgets?

Due to free schools’ autonomy of budget there is a lot more flexibility on how to spend the budget. Another local school is a ‘foundation’ school, currently the closest thing to free schools and they choose to use their funding to make class sizes much smaller than in other schools. Due to the amount of time children will be spending outside we will save on some building costs.

We plan to involve children with growing and preparing a lot of their own food, which will also offset costs of school dinners. We also plan to utilise local expertise: this idea is still in the early stages but because it’s an idea that people feel passionate about we’ve already had offers of voluntary work: permaculture expert, artists, IT support, cooking workshops and so on.

We are aiming for a Reggio Emilia style environment where the children use found and real objects in their learning and much of the learning is outside, using the environment - eg no buying of expensive packs of specific, single use equipment, which has become a very large industry with many suppliers devising ever increasing ways to get schools to spend their precious budgets. This will mean that more of the curriculum budget can go on expertise (from visiting experts and visits for example) rather than equipment (other than essential equipment ie books, computers, cameras, sound recorders, tools and toys/equipment that are particularly useful and are multi-functional wherever possible). The children will also be encouraged and taught how to make their own toys - this in itself is a learning experience and can cover many aspects of the curriculum.

Teachers will be employed under the current School Teachers Pay and Conditions document and we commit to maintaining that regardless of what changes are made to it over time (unless the changes are favourable - when of course we will adopt them). We will restructure the way PPA time is organised. This costs a one form entry school with Nursery class the equivalent of four days of additional teacher time per week and is unpopular among teachers as it often creates more work than it relieves. We will not use Classroom/Teaching assistants, unless there is a child with significant SEND and their statement requires additional support from an adult. This enables us to make savings so that we can employ more qualified teachers and reduce class sizes to 15. With 15 children the burden of paperwork and admin for each teacher is halved, the ability of the teacher to speak to and analyse the learning and behaviour of each child, every day, is doubled. This also means that all children get more attention from their teacher and children with additional needs have those needs met more readily by their class teacher, rather than a Teaching Assistant.

What are the options in terms of location?

We were centred around Brockley, but location will really be determined on where we can get a site... suggestions of site from anyone on Brockley Central gratefully received!

27 comments:

brave new world said...

goodness me, what have the Tories done? Every random, half concieved idea about "child development" is to be given time now.

drakefell debaser said...

I find it odd that in the UK people donate money to various charities in order to get school children in Africa into proper classrooms, rather than learning physics from under a tree. And yet here we seem to have come full circle with a proposal to teach kids from under trees.

I'm all for the inclusion of a lot of out door activities but a park in February is not an ideal learning environment IMO.

Monkeyboy said...

My primary had a high Nun ration. Never did me any harm...apart from the self loating and addiction to specialist web sites.

mb said...

ration? ratio... although a ration of nuns would have been nice.

Danja said...

Unless the accomodation for when it rains/snows/is very cold/dark/etc is cramped and inadequate, how does spending some more time outdoors reduce building costs?

Anonymous said...

Do we get enough good weather over here to teach outside.

Anonymous said...

Great news! Speaking as a primary school teacher myself this is exactly what is needed!

Matt-Z said...

@ Monkeyboy - did you pick up any bad habits?

Matt-Z said...

@ Anon 11.45 - I'd say what was needed was a large scale increase in primary places across the borough to address a chronic shortage. This sounds like it has potential and may help but isn't the panacea to cure the wider the problem.

confused.com said...

There are lots of things I don't really understand about this so called 'free school'. First, if they are suggesting their proposal will lessen the need for 'bulge' classes locally, that is total fabrication - 15 children per class will hardly scratch the surface. Funding could be much better used to benefit more children than the 15 per class they propose. I agree that learning outside is fun and important but not the only way to learn. I'd rather see more funding go into other local schools to give those children better experiences rather than just benefiting the few children they choose to 'educate'. I'm guessing the founders all intend to send their own children there (is this in accordance with Lewisham's admission policies? I guess they will set their own admissions criteria so can pick and choose?) Sounds like a way to get the taxpayer to provide their children with a private style education to me.

Urban said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete said...

Well given that Lewisham has allowed at least one parent I have met to home educate their children and not actually teach anything (they couldn't read until they were over 11), I think anything probably goes in this borough.

Anonymous said...

@confused.com check out the comment on admissions on their facebook page: "Admissions will work in pretty much the same way as admission...s for all other Local Authority primary schools (i.e. priority for looked after children, special needs and siblings, then the remaining places offered on a distance from school basis)" so doesn't look like their would be any special treatment.

Teach said...

Who says teachers don't like PPA - I love my planning, preparation and assessment time and so does every teacher I have ever worked with! Don't know who you have asked...

confused.com said...

Thanks Anon - I guess it depends on where it is based then because after Special Needs and Looked After Children (not counting siblings as it is a new school so guess this criteria doesn't count in initial stages?), then it is down to distance - 15 children per class will make a miniscule 'catchment' area... I can't think of a place in Lewisham that has space to (affordably) develop such a school.

Anonymous said...

@ confused: it says 15 per class, but doesn't say how many classes in a year. Some Lewisham schools take 90 per year which is normally 3 classes, but could be 6 classes here? Guess it depends how much space they find...

confused.com said...

Anon - there is DEFINITELY no space for a new school with 90 children per year group!
If they are to find a place with ample outdoor space for learning, I think the maximum they'd be able to go to is 105 (15 per year group) or the space they will need will be huge. Also as Danja said, I don't see how they need less room inside as there will be some time (even if this isn't long) that all the children will need to be inside at certain times of the day/year. Therefore they will require the same indoor space as any other school for however many children they are offering places to, thereby also curbing number of places available.

SE mum said...

I'd love to send my children to this school!

Coney said...

I first heard about Free Schools via Toby Young on a bbc london news report or something and the reason for his desire to set a free school was essentially he couldn't afford private school fees for his 4 young kids.

He felt his kids would be socially indoctrinated by liberal ideas of the sausage factory local comprehensive, whereas his priorities for his kids were for them to be subject to discipline and learn latin.

Make of that what you will!

Anonymous said...

Surely, you wouldn't be indoors so often, so you wouldn't have to have such large classrooms, so you would need less space. In recent Lewisham school rebuild, council said you needed large classrooms, apparently that was how you delivered 'modern education'.

Anonymous said...

It isn't that radical thinking you can't go out in the rain and snow... and learn something too. I certainly spent many a day on field trips, they didn't cancel for inclement weather.

Anonymous said...

Education is better and greener without buildings? More Mungbean lunacy. Next they will abandon housing on the same rationale.

Anonymous said...

They haven't said no buildings.

It is a relief there are people out there who don't want their children to spend their formative years indoors with inadequate space for outdoor learning and general playground space.

Anonymous said...

The lunatics really are taking over the asylum. Is this another joke? Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

No to mung faith schools

colin group facilitator said...

In Sweden they are doing something similar they say there is no bad weather there is just bad clothes. If one class is outside half the day or more in all weathers with the right clothes, space is not such a issue.

It is well known that if someone teaches anything the retention is over 90%. I think facilitation is the way forward. Children teaching children.

My difficulty with education in general is that we are all special and our specialness is not the focus for education. Why not learn to read at 11 years old?

Well done for your hard work to get this far I look forward to diversity.

Urban Green Primary said...

Thanks for the support and feedback. Check out our website www.urbangreenprimary.org.uk and stay in touch with all the latest developments by 'liking' www.facebook.com/urbangreenprimary

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