Building strong relationships with parents on its journey of improvement: Wisewood Community Primary School in Sheffield

Staff at Wisewood Community Primary School are working hard to build strong and lasting relationships with the community it serves following years of distrust.
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In the past, the reputation of the school, on Ben Lane, hasn’t been the most positive one which has led to a decline in pupil numbers and funding.

An Ofsted inspection in 2018 did little to help the matter judging it as ‘requires improvement’ in four out of five aspects including Early Years provision, leadership, quality of teaching and pupil outcomes.

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Nearly two years on from the report, executive headteacher Chris Stewart admits there is still a way to go to improve the school but stressed that things are looking up.

Sienna Mariott, five, pictured. Picture: NSST-25-02-20 Wisewood 8-NMSYSienna Mariott, five, pictured. Picture: NSST-25-02-20 Wisewood 8-NMSY
Sienna Mariott, five, pictured. Picture: NSST-25-02-20 Wisewood 8-NMSY
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He said: “Since the Ofsted, we’ve had more support from the Tapton School Academy Trust (TSAT), and a change in leadership. There’s more stability with that which is why we put the structure in place to have a headteacher and an executive head. We also needed to look at teaching and learning, and staffing so we got new teachers in and now have a stable staffing structure.

“Morale is much improved and we’ve moved staff within the trust, for example, we’ve brought in a cracking Year 6 teacher from Hallam Primary, and are sharing resources.

“We’re not the finished article, we know that we’ve still got improvements to make but actually we’re on the right lines. We’ve put those foundations in place and got those green shoots coming through – that will be the message we’re giving Ofsted when they next visit.”

Book Reviewers l-r Maeve O'Connell, nine, Isaac Gray, ten, Kaiden Williams, nine, Darcy Sweet, ten, Annalise Haddington, nine and Cherish Wiggan, ten, pictured. Picture: NSST-25-02-20 Wisewood 4-NMSYBook Reviewers l-r Maeve O'Connell, nine, Isaac Gray, ten, Kaiden Williams, nine, Darcy Sweet, ten, Annalise Haddington, nine and Cherish Wiggan, ten, pictured. Picture: NSST-25-02-20 Wisewood 4-NMSY
Book Reviewers l-r Maeve O'Connell, nine, Isaac Gray, ten, Kaiden Williams, nine, Darcy Sweet, ten, Annalise Haddington, nine and Cherish Wiggan, ten, pictured. Picture: NSST-25-02-20 Wisewood 4-NMSY
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Head of school, Ben Ramsden, has been working hard to improve perceptions of the school in the community, starting with the parents.

He has become a key feature beside the school’s entrance in the morning and the afternoon and is regularly stood there, come rain or shine, to chat with parents and pupils alike – but communication is not just confined to the school gate.

Parents and carers also receive regular newsletters, informing them of everything going on inside the school, and are notified four weeks in advance of any changes, such as a change in uniform, or change of venue for a school trip.

“That has been really positive and we’ve had some great feedback,” Mr Ramsden said. “Our Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) has also relaunched and they recently held their annual general meeting (AGM). Previously there had only been a small group of parents that attended but this time there was a wider variety there.”

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Mr Stewart added: “There is also that pastoral side. We work with parents to support the children through, in sometimes difficult circumstances; we’ve got a learning mentor called Fran Zelly who runs pastoral nurturing programmes to support children through issues that they might be having.”

Elsewhere, changes to staffing and curriculum structure have already shown to have a positive impact in allowing the children to feel a sense of belonging in the school.

Mr Stewart said: “The one shining light in our Ofsted report was a teacher in Year 2 – Miss Claire Austin – who is experienced in Early Years, and we’ve moved her there, so she can make great improvements.

“Planning is a lot tighter around what the children need to gain from their day. The children are also much more independent and get used to routines, they’re taught how to do things and can carry this on independently.”

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Each child is given a role or ‘job’ as the students call it, where they have certain tasks to carry out each day to help ease the transition when they eventually move up into Year 1.

And even at this early stage in their children’s school life, parents are more involved with lessons than they once were and recently took part in a phonics workshop in which they learnt about how the subject is taught at the school, as well as observing some lessons in small groups.

“The take up on that is massively improving,” Mr Ramsden said. “If we had tried to do that previously parents weren’t coming into school and there was a barrier there but because of the work we have done, they are more willing to engage with the learning side of school as well.

“I know so much more about the families and they know that I’m approachable; they can talk to me about education, stuff that is happening at home. We know the families and can always offer our support.”

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There is a focus on reading, especially for pupils in Year 1 and 2, and it has been recognised by The English Hub which, during a recent review, praised the quality of the schools' phonics teaching and noted how staff encourage children to read from an early age.

Mr Stewart said: “We’re in a community where not all children will be heard reading at home, so there is a big push in school. Certainly, in the early years, the children will come to us for a sticker when they’ve completed their reading log or have read with their parents at home to promote that also.

Every class has access to the school library once a week, benefitting from an array of books which are provided to the school courtesy of Sheffield Council’s Schools' Library Service.

The library will also be relaunched later this year following work by students at the school.

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There is also a breakfast club on offer, in which students who are on a pupil-premium can visit to have a free meal to start the day. It is also available to others who buy an item, which are often as cheap as 20p.