“Impossible is nothing”
On Thursday I was lucky to be invited to have a nosey around Parklands Primary School in Leeds. I was well prepared for what I was going to see, having already watched video clips of the kids doing times tables stupidly quickly. I also had previously met the main man: Chris Dyson, at primary rocks and I was intrigued as to what sort of school he had created. When we arrived BBC breakfast were busy filming in the hall (around 60 kids and loads of the staff had slept at school the night before) you can find the video here: https://t.co/MMU9dofnUi I deliberately didn’t take any notes – I just wanted to enjoy myself – so this is all from memory.
Parklands is full of love. It’s a warm welcoming place. The kids are great – they may look a bit rough around the edges, but you cannot fail to be impressed by their behaviour around school and their politeness towards everyone. It’s a hugging school. The love the kids have for that place, their teachers and Chris, is immense. It shows – every child wanted to talk to Chris and he bothered to stop and listen to them, he values them and they value him. And understandably so, Chris explained the situation when he took over: police in every day, kids climbing on the roof, colouring all afternoon because the kids couldn’t manage anything else without wanting to kill each other, numerous exclusions, staff restraining children daily, all kind of stuff. Now three years down the line: no exclusions, no shouting, great behaviour, awesome.
I mentioned I was prepared to see the kids doing crazily fast calculations, but actually witnessing it was something else. I assumed Chris always wheeled out the top dogs for the cameras and was certain it wouldn’t be everyone. But it was. Year 3. Insanely good. Then Chris says: “come and see my year 4’s, they are the stars.” It was totally overwhelming. Decimal times tables, done instantaneously. When the question was 12 x 0.12 and there was a disagreement over the answer (some said 14.4 others 1.44) the kids sorted it out, had a discussion and agreed on the correct answer. It went on, decimal times tables with number bonds to 10. 6 x 0.6 = 6.4, done in seconds. My colleague said to be walking out of year 4 – “if they can do that, what can the year 6’s do?” I tried to compete: I failed. In every classroom I looked around to try to find the person who wasn’t doing it – there weren’t any. Year ones working out the 12 times table (correctly). Endless. I was literally gobsmacked. I honestly felt like bursting into tears because I couldn’t believe what I was watching. Walking through KS2 was possibly the most incredible experience I have had in a school ever. And I’m not a person easily impressed. I hate TED talks and Ken Robinson books and ‘inspirational’ quotes and teacher facebook posts about ‘teaching being a vocation’ blah blah blah.
Parklands has 72% pupil premium children. In schools with this close to 40% you feel achievement is impossible, so 72% is mind-blowing. It makes the job that is being done even more incredible. The 63% who passed maths at greater depth: a leafy school in grammar-school authorities where the parents teach the kids, would struggle to get even half of that %. But listening to Chris is isn’t rocket science. Ultimately it comes down to three things: 1. high expectations 2. amazing staff and 3. kids who want to be there. If you have high enough expectations of the children, they can reach them. The message I gleaned for my practice was to forget about children being behind, expect them to do better. Set targets. Reach them. Set more. Reach them. It’s not difficult to do, its hard work, but we all work hard anyway. It’s about knowing where to set the ceiling for achievement.
Can I finish by saying thanks to Chris and all at Parklands for having us.