By providing a quality curriculum that is deep and rich, the children are able to build the foundations to become life long learners, no matter what their starting point or ability. We use the principles of an 'Irresistible Curriculum' which provides educational experiences that are based around a quality central text, quality first teaching and first hand experiences. We undertake topics as a whole school (when suitable) to allow a fully immersive approach.
Where possible, subjects are linked through this and are guided by the National Curriculum 2014. We use the key performance indicators to ensure that the children are learning and progressing. Formative and summative assessments are used to report to parent/carers on a termly basis, so that we are able to share the journey of the children throughout the year.
In order to provide for the whole child, we take a holistic approach to the curriculum. This means that we aim to enrich all aspects of learning through a range of environments and opportunities. The Stunning Start, Marvellous Middle and Fantastic Finish for each topic enable us to hook the children's curiosity, maintain their enthusiasm and provide answers to their questions. These may include walking with dinosaurs, finding dragon eggs, pirates ransacking school - the list is endless but essential to make learning alive and relevant to stimulating young minds. We rely on parent/carer participation in this to support all aspects of the approach. Listening to their stories of exploring, reassuring their fears of dragons, strengthening their resilience to the new, unknown and exciting: all of these aspects support our vision that was formulated following your feedback.
Learning outside the classroom is important to us. We are privileged to have exceptional grounds and we make the best of these. Every class learns outside the classroom for at least half a day a week. There is no set lesson to complete and may include maths, poetry, geography, art. These sessions allow the the children to extend and master their learning alongside testing their ability to work in different circumstances and apply knowledge in a challenging way. Learning outside the classroom is also good for personal development, an area that is increasingly lost in the 21st century. Use of imagination, physical skills and mental wellbeing are all covered within this approach. We take the view that there is not inappropriate weather but inappropriate clothing for these lessons. Wellies at The Downley School are non negotiable. Learning outside the classroom also feeds into learning at home and provides valuable opportunities for days out with families to build and test their knowledge and skills, again working in partnership. It must not be confused with Forest Schools which is a different but also valuable experience. We are also aiming to provide a Forest School curriculum this year.
We provide specialist teachers for certain subjects such as sports, music and languages. This is to ensure the quality of provision meets the children's needs of a global education. Not all children are academically driven and by giving the arts, sport and languages equal importance, we believe that all children can succeed. The grounds are used within sport for events, team work and seasonal sports. Winter sees the whole school participate in cross country. We have a dedicated music studio for the teaching and playing of instruments and we are purchasing a wider range of instruments for whole school participation. We have outside providers that teach individual lessons purchased by the parents/carers and we have a school band and choir. Our gifted staff run assemblies, performances, shows etc with live piano playing and musical accompaniment. For a fully immersive performance, the children can play in the Imagination Studio with an entire orchestra to gain the feeling of what this may entail, thus building on their love and thirst for knowledge.
We want a truly inclusive school that caters for all children. We believe that the curriculum provides this alongside quality first teaching. We no longer have sets for children and they are allowed to choose the level of challenge within classes. The 'chilli challenge' is designed for children to be independent and take ownership of their learning. They are provided with mild, spicy, hot and inferno challenges pitched at all levels. They are responsible for choosing the correct level and completion of the task. This enables them to try and push learning within a safe and secure environment. Teachers are on hand to support these choices and enable the children. SEND children are also included in all aspects of this, with building independence being central to this. We work closely with Chiltern Wood who now share our school with us. They help us to build our expertise and the school community to understand and support the acceptance of everyone. We are looking to further develop this area.
Extra curricular clubs are provided by internal and external providers. We have a varied mix of external providers for children to choose between from lunchtime language club, judo and yoga to clubs provided by staff e.g. chess, cookery and website bloggers. The clubs run by staff are voluntary in their own time and show the dedication they have to our children and commitment to them being the best that they can be.
We have the highest expectations for the children within the School and this has been reflected in our academic results. We want to work with not only our parent carer body but also our community to ensure that our children have a clear understanding of who they are and where they fit. This is demonstrated in events such as the Remembrance Beacon Ceremony in Downley village which was attended by the Head Boy and Girl who also gave a speech for the 100 years' anniversary to commemorate the end of The Great War. Our Head Girl and Boy also attend Parish Council Meetings, which as democratically elected officers supporting the running of the school they should. This also support education for the real world. Within this, we encourage children to develop their interests. WE encourage the children to run their own projects such as designing and building reading igloos to demonstrate use of recycled plastic and provide a quiet place to read during breaks. This was run in the children's own time and organised by them, again demonstrating skills for the future and a drive for knowledge that we are able to enhance.
We have worked together as a school community to embed a 'values' focus to the curriculum. Dr Neil Hawkes, the founder of Values Based Education, delivered a whole day's INSET training to the whole staff and inspired everyone. Since then, we have embraced VbE and it has had a profoundly positive impact on the whole school community.
He then facilitated an evening's forum for parents and members of the wider school community, which also had amazingly positive feedback. It seems that everyone sees the value of Values! A set of values were created by everyone working together. The school has embarked upon a journey of deep exploration of these values, focussing on a specific one each month and building an 'ethical vocabulary' upon which to refer throughout each day - both at home and at school.
This work was undertaken sometime ago and we have been building on this. We are now moving forward to link this to British Values and Rights Respecting Schools Award in this academic year.
'At home both boys constantly remind each other of the values. For example, they might say, "You're not being kind, have you forgotten the kindness value?" to each other when arguing. They also talk about love, respect and compassion.'
Parent of Reception and Year 2 pupils
'My daughter insists on tidying her room more because it is showing respect and responsibility. Both our children treat insects with respect and compassion by not stepping on them or not hurting them. We think these values are inspiring and have really benefitted our children'.
Parents of Year 1 and Year 3 pupils
'I think the new values based initiative is a great asset to The Downley School. As a counsellor, I often see vulnerable young people and when things go wrong in their lives, they have to make important decisions on whether to follow significant others, friends or trust in their own values. Values set at a young age can give a young person a foundation to build on - creating positive thoughts and behaviours'.
Parent of Year 6 pupil