School focus: Valley Park Community Primary School
It has been said that there is nothing in the world that has as much power as a word - and that is certainly the case at Valley Park Community Primary School.
Whether it be as part of free-flowing chatter at break times or more structured dialogue in the classroom, conversations are always encouraged to help children at the school, in Gleadless, grow into confident speakers.
As part of this focus subjects such as reading, writing and vocabulary are at the heart of the curriculum.
This allows pupils to build an extensive range of vocabulary as they progress through the school, continually learning new words as they move from Reception through to Year 6.
Co-headteacher Sarah Bustamante said: “Our whole curriculum is built around the three I’s which we've created and basically everything we do in school feeds into those three I’s. We want our children to be intelligent talkers, insatiable readers and to have impeccable behaviour.
“That’s what we want for all our children and our whole curriculum is built around that so we’ve got a big focus on vocabulary and closing the vocabulary gap.
“It’s about ensuring our children have the right vocabulary to enable them to speak confidently as we know that confident speakers are always competent speakers. That means that they have to know the knowledge and have an idea about what they're talking about.
“In order to do that our curriculum provides them with that knowledge – it provides them with the knowledge first so they’ve then got the power to speak about what they’ve learnt.”
In the hope of enthusing students with a love of reading from an early age the school has revamped its library - a place so new it is still yet to be fully launched.
But, once set up, each child will be given a reading record which they can take home to track their progress.
Children are encouraged to read daily at home - something which is said to have a positive impact on students’ development, helping them to become quicker and more confident when they read.
They are also encouraged to read in the classroom and take part in guided reading with their teachers every day in which they explore the different aspects of reading in a more structured way.
“We’re trying to build a love of reading,” Ms. Bustamante added. “We’ve got an expert librarian on site who is prolific on Twitter talking to children’s authors, she’s done book awards and is a really knowledgeable literature expert and she is running the library.
“We hope that we will be able to bring authors into the school and really just bring reading alive for the children. We know that a lot of their knowledge certainly as they leave us and go to secondary school will come from reading - we’re preparing them for life beyond primary school.”
All children from Reception through to Year 2 take part in daily phonics and reading lessons which follow a systematic literacy programme called Read, Write, Inc.
They, along with the older students, are also given the opportunity to take part in an endless list of enrichment opportunities including yearly visits to the Town Hall where they can put their conversational skills into practice.
This forms part of a whole school focus on oracy, a key skill which Ms. Bustamante says prepares pupils for life after primary school.
She said: “We know that communication is the number one employability skill for adults and a lot of research shows that sometimes in class pupils can speak an average of about four words nationally.
“We know the importance of talk and we want our children to be confident and have the vocabulary they need to do that. Everything we do is about vocabulary and knowledge, providing pupils with the knowledge and then giving them the chance to practice those oracy skills.
“That means building into the curriculum opportunities for the children to talk at length as well. All our curriculum headings are around talk, the first one was debate and democracy, then perform and present and so on.”
Students recently visited Sheffield Town Hall where, for the second consecutive year, they took part in a series of debates around topics related to what they had been studying in the classroom.
All children from Year 1 through to Year 6 took part in the debates in the council’s main chamber, delving into subjects our criminal justice system and historical events.
“Our teachers are encouraged to provide children with the opportunity to talk in every lesson. The children will rehearse what they want to say before writing it down,” Ms. Bustamante added.
“Right through from our early years – from our youngest children aged two right through to Year 6 – we find they can sometimes come into school with lower than expected language skills but we try, right from the beginning, to set that precedent to get them talking, communicating and we see that when they have that knowledge they vastly improve from their individual starting points.
In total, the curriculum is split into four blocks, each of which are ten weeks long and run throughout the course of the academic year.
Debate and democracy was the first subject which included aspects of social, spiritual, moral and cultural understanding.
However, one thing outweighs all and that is the focus on personal development. That is the vision at Valley Park that underpins all work to make sure that all children are supported to help them thrive.