Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Building the future at Frieth School

Good to open a new classroom extension at Frieth School. Nice to see how well the Revd Jeremy Mais is settling into the valley, and to go round with John Wigram, the highly effective local vicar. An excellent staff, led by Lindsay Phillips, is backed by superb parental support, numbers have been growing. The computer suite had become a kind of Piccadilly Circus. Now there’s a new extension every learning group has its own work space, and it was good to see how naturally the new build fitted in with the rest of the school buildings. There was real craftsmanship in the new knapped flint work. Real care had gone into moving the old gable and window rather than junking it.

Children were full of life, and had been working on various projects and displays, including some spectacular fireworks that seemed to fizz away in the wall. There was a great assembly, telling the story from Genesis of God building the world, singing building songs, sharing poems and reactions to the school environment. It was fun to be in an assembly where every child in the room took part.

“Half form per year” entry makes for a school size of about 130 children. This allows for a degree of natural vertical streaming in all sorts of learning groups, and staff had some really elegant ways of leading busy small groups where children enjoy learning together from everyone of different sizes. Perhaps we stack children too firmly in notional year groups, rather than helping them access the different levels of experience and imagination you get with mixed ages. The staff were making handling the potential differentiation issues arising really well, and the children seemed delighted with the result.

Even after 14o years, Frieth has a vibrant, bustling school community. It draws together children from various villages in the Hambleden valley. It’s not PC to go on about the buildings, but the excellence of the new work that’s been done, underwritten by real generosity from the parents and friends of the school, is part of a really creative and committed approach to managing the school buildings. Tom Nixey, chair of governors, showed me a staff room cunningly clawed back from a roof space, and shared plans to enhance the hall and to cover outdoor play facilities for foundation stage children.

It’s always good to find really vibrant village schools. There is some degree of anxietiy around the place about numbers and rolls. The key strategy has to be to build a really strong school community, invest for the future, and look to sensible alliances and communities of interest.

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