Shirebrook’s pioneering approach is teaching other schools a lesson

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Blackboards, the cane, and hand-written textbooks may have been confined to lost property these days, but a Shirebrook school is going a step further and leading the way when it comes new-fangled forms of learning- and that’s official.

Ofsted inspectors have been so blown away by not only the improvements made at Park Junior School, but how they are using modern techniques to do it, that they are being used a beacon for all other schools to follow.

The Orchard Road school has been transformed using ultra-modern methods, which includes YouTube-style videos which combine music, words and images to teach them the school’s specially-devised learning code.

Headteacher Steve Hewitt-Richards said: “You won’t have seen anything like this anywhere.

“It’s a very different approach, and at the start I had some opposition from parents but how quickly that was turned on its head!

We have developed a system where children can’t fail to learn. The rate of progress has been astonishing.

“It’s built on respect, not fear.”

Part of the Park Schools Federation, Park Juniors is almost unrecognisable from when Steve became headteacher 12 years, when standards were falling well below expectations.

Since then, staff at the 227-pupil school have introduced a whole series of industry-leading innovations, drawing on the latest educational research to turn the situation around.

As well as using the YouTube-style videos, the classrooms have been transformed into ‘classhomes’ and decorated with sofas, bean bags, ornaments, soft drapes and peaceful colours to create ideal learning environments.

Pupils are taught and recite the motto ‘the more you learn, the more you earn’, they are given pride points which can be spent on goodies at break time, they have a student union with games, and pupils take weekly assemblies...without teachers being present.

“It is incredible to think now that when I started, behaviour here was so bad, I was warned not to take an assembly on my own and the culture among the pupils was that there was something wrong with wanting to learn,” added Steve.

“Now, our behaviour and approach to work is as good as you would find at Eton or Harrow, and the results speak for themselves, which goes to show that if you give children somewhere nice to learn and explain why quality learning behaviour is so important, pupils will respond accordingly.

But it’s not just pupils that are learning, according to Steve, the teachers undergo regular training, and there is an apprentice programme for teaching assistants.

“One of the things I’m passionate about is that the teacher need to be the best learners in the school and we have to continue growing,” he added.

None of this has gone unnoticed by Ofsted, who said the school outstanding in every department.

Observing 21 lessons, they described it as ‘a quite exceptional environment for learning where all pupils flourish’, with ‘inspirational leadership’ with achievement, teaching and behaviour second to none.

In a rare move, there were no improvements required - only to make sure they share the outstanding practice with other schools.

“This report is a tremendous result for everyone connected with the Park Federation and we are very excited about spreading the word, because we’re very proud of our school and the achievements of our pupils.

“We feel that the school is outstanding and that has been validated.”