Monday 17 December 2007

Excellence with Elephants

Chalfont Saint Peter School, where the French Revolution has been in full swing with a mostly home grown production of Heads you Lose, a musical based on A Tale of Two Cities. They sang me the finale in assembly and it was tremendously vibrant, rollicking and powerful.
Lots of things in this school are vibrant, rollicking and powerful — the place is humming. They do whole school exploration projects about other parts of the world, most recently Japan and India, that really draw children into music and art as well as geography and culture. They engage intelligently with global social responsibility concerns that some schools chicken out of. Various learning areas sported Indian elephants, but this African one caught my eye.

Languages are alive and well, including Spanish as well as French. Readers were excellent on every level, including world classics as well as more standard primary school fare. Sport of all kinds is thriving, and this school seems to have made a bit of a habit of winning national gymnastics championships. Naturally, most work is done in classic form groups (20-30), but I saw really focussed learning going on in groups of various sizes between 2 and 90! The school’s relationship with the parish, including its inspirational Vicar, Charles Overton, is warm and fruitful.

The use of the building is really enterprising. Victorian school room roof space, usually left for dead in schools, has been turned into an excellent computer learning zone — the picture shows only the smaller of two fully networked suites.

Great school — great head. It’s not rocket science. John Underwood has been there 16 years, is really committed, and although he shuns Dilbert slogans about “teamwork” he does have a way of getting colleagues to work together so as to bring the best out of everybody. Talking through how staff plan whole school work together, and seeing how they share material using laptops and interactive whiteboards, I began to understand how the school achieves its very high all round standards. The buzz that produces it comes from maximising every individual’s potential and valuing their contribution, staff or student. Lots of people talk dirty about this sort of thing — CSP has raised it to an art form!

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