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Fostering Team Spirit for Students and Staff Across Two Separate Sites

“We feel strongly that all of our schools need a really strong pastoral team. It’s all about making children feel they belong,” says headteacher Paul Grimwood...

  • Fostering Team Spirit for Students and Staff Across Two Separate Sites
  • Fostering Team Spirit for Students and Staff Across Two Separate Sites
  • Fostering Team Spirit for Students and Staff Across Two Separate Sites

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Ah – the summer holidays. Six glorious weeks of getting up when you want to, going to the loo whenever you feel like it and unwinding from another hectic year. But, and we hesitate to say this, does all that spare time ever get a bit, well, tedious?

Not if you’re the headteacher, according to Paul Grimwood: “As a head, there’s no sense of drag at all. In fact, there’s a speed to it all that is really unhelpful when you suddenly realise it’s week five already and you’ve still got so much to do.”

However, that’s not necessarily the case for every member of staff, as Paul explains. “If you’ve got a family or you like to go away for long periods of time, you need that six weeks, but for younger members of staff who perhaps don’t have a family, there can be a sense of drag to the six weeks – I remember it.”

It’s for this reason, among others, that members of staff from Riverbridge and its two sister schools, Saxon and Echelford, dedicate up to three weeks of their holiday to running a daily summer camp for pupils across the three bases.

“For families, the six week holiday is a long time,” says Paul, “and a lot of our parents work. In term time we have a brilliant breakfast club and we work with two providers that do a really good job with after-school clubs, but there’s also that need in the summer.”

This summer, the camp was hosted at Riverbridge, with trust minibuses shipping children in from neighbouring schools.

It isn’t only selfless dedication driving the staff to run the activity days – they do get paid – but it’s a chance for teachers to reconnect with what drew them to the profession in the first place, explains Paul.

“When I interview NQTs, they often talk about friends on their courses who are thinking about doing supply because they’re not sure if they really want the ‘whole thing’. Teaching is a big deal – it’s a big chunk of work. At summer camp, you get to spend your time leading fun learning – it’s enjoyable.”


School profile

Name: Riverbridge Primary
Executive principal: Mary Ellen McCarthy
Headteacher: Paul Grimwood
Location: Staines, Surrey
Size: 600 pupils
Extra info: The school is yet to be assessed by Ofsted


1 | Team spirit

Riverbridge Primary was originally three separate schools. Around eight years ago, they merged and are now based on two sites, a short walk apart. Reception and Y1 are based in one building, with the rest of the school in the other.

One of the challenges that headteacher Paul has faced is how to bring these formerly separate entities together into one cohesive school. Not all parents were thrilled with the closure of a tiny Victorian building that previously served three classes from Reception to Y2.

“Some families chose that school for their children precisely because it was so small,” Paul explains.

“They had a very different way of operating, so when we amalgamated it was a struggle for some people to accept it. Initially, when that base closed and we became two sites, although we were very close geographically, there was still a sense of us not being one, not being together.”

The school has worked hard to bridge the gaps between bases by ensuring pupils have ample opportunity to visit both sites. “Because we have separate bases for Y1 and Y2, we do quite careful transitions,” explains Paul.

“There can be anxiety there, sometimes from the parents more than the children. In the lead-up to the transition, Y1 spend time in the bigger base. They visit their classrooms and come over for playtime and lunchtime.” However, it can still be a confusing time for some children, as Paul explains.

“After coming over for lunch, a boy who had joined us fairly recently asked me when he could go back to his school. I said that this was his school, but he said, ‘No, I go to Riverbridge, this isn’t Riverbridge.’”

The school also brings younger children over to a wooded area in the larger base’s grounds to take part in forest school, while older children visit the Reception and Y1 site to learn in the pond area.

“It’s thinking of ways to overlap the two bases as much as possible,” explains Paul. “It’s all about making children feel that they belong and that Riverbridge is a school to be proud of.”


2 | Pupil pride

Another initiative that Paul has initiated in order to increase pupil pride in the school is a reinvigoration of the house system. “We’d had houses previously but they’d died,” Paul explains. “What was missing at Riverbridge was a sense of belonging, and houses can be that glue that sticks everything together.”

The school launched the new initiative around the time of the last general election, using it as an opportunity to teach pupils about the fundamentals of democracy. “We wanted the children to understand that we’re all part of this community and can have an impact on what it looks and feels like,” Paul explains.

“We asked them to come up with suggestions of house names then we whittled these down to three choices.” The school held a vote, complete with polling booths, and invited everyone to have their say – from children and staff to parents.

“We talked about the importance of a secret ballot and the fact that you’re not supposed to ask people what they voted for – all those things that are important when you’re 18 and voting for the first time.”

After the winning names were announced – fire, air and water – the next step was to develop leadership of the houses. Children in Y4 and 5 were invited to put themselves forward by writing a 100 word personal statement.

“It had to be signed by a friend and a member of staff and seconded by me or the deputy head,” explains Paul. “We made sure it was a serious process.” Candidates also had to perform a speech in front of their house. “The whole process created a sense of energy that we really needed,” says Paul.

“24 children put themselves forward, so ultimately 21 were disappointed and that’s difficult, but I know that when I was a child, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to stand in front of 600 children, so that feeling is what I hope they took away from it.”


3 | Pastoral priorities

With 600 children to support with a range of needs, Riverbridge employs four home-school link workers who support parents and families, a number of emotional literacy support assistants (ELSAs) who work with children on a one-to-one or small group basis and a pastoral coordinator to oversee the team.

“We try really hard to work holistically with our parents,” explains Paul. “I haven’t experienced the same level of support on offer to parents in need and children going through emotional difficulties at other schools I’ve worked at. Sometimes it’s issues that seem very minor to us, but in our children’s lives it feels like make or break.

“If parents or leaders identify that a child is feeling anxious about what’s going on at home, for example, one of our ELSAs will make sure to touch base with them, and they also organise group sessions.”

Paul has seen first-hand the difference that home-school workers can make to families, recognising that they can sometimes use their own experiences to support families facing difficulties or trauma. This extends to sitting in on face-to-face meetings with parents when there are difficult things to talk about.

“While there has to be an element of challenge if a child isn’t learning as they should be, our home-school team members are a friendly face. They always go that extra mile,” says Paul.

This year the school is also beginning to set up champions among its support staff for different areas. “We’ve got an autism lead who works to support staff in understanding how to help the children in their class,” explains Paul.

“She’s received training from a local school that supports children with autism. We’ve also got champions for children’s mental health, anger management and raising aspirations.

“We’re seeing more and more instances of children struggling to cope emotionally and regulate their responses to events so we’re very fortunate with the support staff we have. They’re very skilled and committed and have had a real impact.”

Some of the funding for this raft of support workers is issued centrally by the Lumen Learning Trust, Paul explains.

“As a senior team, we feel strongly that all of our schools need a really strong pastoral team. It’s very much driven from the top. As with all schools, our budget is very tight but we’ll continue to prioritise supporting our families and children. We will find that money.

“As leaders, we of course manage and monitor the pastoral side of things – we have fortnightly meetings where we really unpick what’s going on for our families. However, having a strong pastoral team enables SLT to focus on other things too, like getting into class and seeing the quality of teaching and learning – that’s quite fundamental!”


4 | Overnight stays

Another element of the school’s personal development drive is a programme of residentials for all pupils in Y3-6, as executive principal Mary Ellen McCarthy explains.

“Our vision for Riverbridge, and the trust as a whole, is to prepare the foundation for future successful adults. Children need to be resilient and experience different things. A number of our families have quite a narrow repertoire that they can offer their children, so it’s up to us to try and do what we can to bridge that gap.”

The experiences start in Y3 with an overnighter in school. Children in Y4 attend a two-night learning festival at a local campsite, while Y5 take part in a four-night outdoor activity adventure. The school was eager to arrange a cultural experience for its Y6 pupils so they spend a week in the centre of Bristol.

There was a bit of resistance to the idea when it was first announced, as curriculum enrichment leader Stephen Lockyer explains.

“Parents wanted to know why we were taking pupils to a gritty urban environment, but in fact the children really loved the fact that we were staying right in the city centre. They got to see the city up close. There are many social issues in Bristol – a lot of homelessness – and it was really interesting for the children to live in that environment for a week.

“By the end of their stay they were saving snacks from their packed lunches to give to the homeless people on the bridge. Ultimately, that’s why we did it. A lot of schools do a reward residential at the end of Y6 which is all fun and games, but we wanted an experience that was really rich and had social impact, as well as being fun and enjoyable.”

The trip was arranged for February rather than the summer term. “Some of that was to do with cost because venues have peak and off-peak times,” continues Stephen.

“But the benefit of doing a residential early in the year is that you come back not only with shared memories, but also a better connection to the children. Having it in February gave parents enough time to fund it, but also meant we could capture that magic of better, stronger relationships.”

Looking ahead to the future of Riverbridge, headteacher Paul is anticipating an Ofsted visit. As a newly-formed academy, the school is not currently rated. “When you’re ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, that’s a great badge to wear,” he says.

“Ofsted results are never a full stop, but we want to get to a point where there’s a break in the sentence. That’s what we’re all driving towards.”


Pupil voice

Anik

The Y5 trip gave me a sense that I can do anything and it gave me confidence. When I first looked at the activities, especially the skiing, I thought, ‘Oh man!’, but even though they were very challenging I did them.

Jack

I enjoy house competitions a lot and think everyone should get a chance to compete. Both the students and staff are incredibly kind here. The teachers don’t only teach you academic things. They also teach you how to be a better person.

Lily

The teachers looked at all the possible head girl candidates then announced the result on the first day of school. It was a big shock when I won but it felt amazing. According to my friends I turned bright red.

Luke

My favourite trip was the Y6 visit to Bristol. The city is famous for graffiti so we went on a street art tour which links with our current street art project. The range of trips is great and everyone enjoys them.


5 ideas to magpie from Riverbridge Primary

  • Generate school spirit by launching a house system and asking children to nominate themes. Set up polling booths and invite pupils, staff and community to have their say. Ask children to put themselves forward for house leader by writing personal statements and performing speeches.
  • Nominate champions among support staff to target areas such as autism, mental health, anger management and raising aspirations.
  • Make your library a ‘wow’ space with astroturf, ambient sounds and a special reading chair. Ask parents to help make ‘story sacks’ containing a book, themed toys and activities.
  • Start overnight experiences in Y3 with a sleepover at school, then offer a range of different residential opportunities for older children. Move your Y6 trip to the winter term to save money and reap maximum benefits.
  • Organise a daily summer camp for pupils from neighbouring schools, staffed by teachers. Use the school minibus to bring in children from surrounding areas.

Meet the staff

Becky Snow, Reception leader

We do home visits for Reception children very early, before we sort the classes out, to get a feel for what the children are like. It’s nice for the Reception children to just share a base with Y1. It’s less scary at playtimes. By the time they get to Y2 they want a change, so they really enjoy moving over I think.

Louise Parsons, KS2 leader

Before joining the trust and reviewing the trips that we offer, we did a two-night residential in Y5. It felt quite daunting for some children as a lot of them hadn’t even stayed at friends’ or relatives’ houses before. Now, with the Y3 sleepover, they have the opportunity to stay in an environment that they are familiar with and feels safe. They then feel more confident when they get to Y4 and the two-night residential.

Sophie Campain, English leader

We really believe that every child should love reading. You hear the children gasp when they walk into the library. We replenish the stock regularly and they always notice the new books on the shelves. They can feel the grass under their feet and listen to the ambient sounds. We see reluctant readers volunteering to read stories on our special chair. It’s really magical.

Emily King, Y2 teacher

Parents and staff spent hours and hours making 90 story sacks which children take home for a week. If the book is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, the sack will contain the story, the bears and other characters and activities for the children to do. Lots of the items inside were sewn or knitted by hand – they are amazing.

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