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!