Parents are supposed to have a choice in their child’s education. I know in reality this is not always the case. It depends on where you live, and whether or not other local schools have places available. Our school is vastly over-subscribed. It’s not just because we have huge numbers of children living in the Belmont and Cheam areas; there’s something very special about Avenue. In this article, I hope to describe to you what it is that makes us different, recognising that what I say may not appeal to every parent.
Since September 2011 the pressure to expand was immediately evident as the governing body was asked to consider a ‘bulge’ class at that time. Over the next two years, further classes were added to meet the needs in the local community, and this led to the decision by the Local Authority to expand the school, on a permanent basis, to four form entry. This meant a huge building project in the region of £4M and an increase in staff, plus a change in the structures and procedures to accommodate the additional children. We have created a school that works very well, with all the systems and structures in place to ensure that children feel valued and supported, as they would do at any good school.
In September 2013, the school was designated as a Teaching School – Teaching schools are outstanding schools that work with others to provide high-quality training and development to new and experienced school staff. They are part of the government’s plan to give schools a central role in raising standards by developing a self-improving and sustainable school-led system. As an element of this, several of the staff are designated as ‘Specialist Leaders of Education’, and Alex Clark (CEO of the trust) is a ‘National Leader of Education’. As well as working to support other schools, it means that pupils at Avenue have some of the best teaching available, and other teachers in the school receive the best support possible to develop in their careers. If our best teachers are out of school making a difference in other schools, how can that help Avenue or the children in our school? That’s all part of professional development. Each time our staff work with another school, they both bring back new ideas for us, and develop their own knowledge and skills to enhance education in our own environment. Our own moral purpose of wanting the best education for all children, whether they are at Avenue or not, is part of the ethos of our school.
In order to work even more closely with other schools, the decision was taken to convert from a Local Authority Maintained school to an academy, and this took place in September 2015. Apart from the name change, and a new logo, children and parents did not notice much change. Our academy is a member of Cirrus Primary Academy Trust, the trusts vision is to have a group of schools all working closely together to benefit all of the pupils and staff in those schools.
Avenue Primary Academy is big! Although Avenue is designated as a four-form entry school, further bulges were added – in 2013, 2015, 2016 and to come in 2018. Walking past the school, this is not always apparent. We have two entrances to the school – a pedestrian entrance on Dorset Road, and a pedestrian and vehicle entrance on Avenue Road. Tucked away behind the houses, and backing onto Belmont Rise (the A217), is a school for children from Nursery age to Year 6 (3 to 11 year olds) – and there are currently 996 of them and around 110 staff. In September 2016, we opened a Special Educational Needs Opportunity Base for up to 15 children aged between 4 and 7 with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although a separate facility in the academy, it is very much integrated within the main school. From September 2018, this will extend to an additional 20 KS2 places.
Imagine a 3 year old faced with a crowd of 900, let alone a 10 year old faced with the same! The way we structure the school ensures that children don’t feel overwhelmed. Think of it as separate ‘units’ of the school. At the beginning and end of the school day (where we have the issue of parents on the site as well as all the children) we have had to adjust and adapt our procedures to ensure both the safety of children and staff, but also ease congestion as best we can. By putting senior teachers on all the gates, and at strategic points around the school, no child should feel overwhelmed, and all parents are able to have a face-to-face conversation with a member of staff. We work closely with our local residents’ association too, and believe that our traffic congestion around the academy is no different from most other primary schools.
The Nursery shares the same building as the rest of the school and the teachers have the benefit of all of our school resources at their disposal, however the Nursery children and their parents come and go at different times from the rest of the school. The children spend three hours a day in school in either the morning or afternoon session.
Whether we have four or five Reception classes, each class will have 30 pupils. Each class has a class teacher and teaching assistant working with them as well as a phase leader, who oversees the lower part of the school, and several other adults often in the classrooms at any one time. The classes are registered in their own classrooms, and spend part of their day in that room, but have the advantage of having various activities set up for them within the Reception classes area, including a fantastic outside learning environment. The size of just our Reception classes is bigger than some small schools in the country, and the Reception children feel very much part of a small group within our school. At lunchtime they go into the hall together first, and have the opportunity to mix with our Y1 children (5-6 year olds). Supervision and an emphasis on good behaviour ensures that all the children benefit from the experience.
In the Infants (Key Stage One – Year 1 and Year 2) the organisation is very similar. Each year group in the school has a Year Group Leader (a more experienced teacher with responsibility for the classes in that year group). Two year groups together have a Phase Leader. The classes in KS1 come together regularly for daily assembly and other activities. The group of children in Y1 and Y2 is the size of a typical school, and the structures we have in place ensure that it runs like that.
Once children move into the Juniors (Key Stage Two – Years 3 to 6), similar structures exist – each year group has a Year Group Leader, and there are two Phase Leaders for KS2. They are split into two phases – lower KS2 and upper KS2, and have separate play times.
So, our structures exist to ensure that children feel part of a smaller group in school and are not overwhelmed by the size. On special occasions, such as the beginning and end of term, we come together as a ‘whole school’. This is an exhilarating experience for both staff and children. Having a large school sometimes means that we have to compromise on some aspects. For instance, we can’t have a whole-school sports day, but we still have sports days for two year groups at a time and, actually, not having to mix age-groups together is an advantage.
A large school means a relatively large budget allocation, not dissimilar to that of a small secondary school. With that comes economies of scale. One such example of where this is visible is our swimming pool. A number of primary schools have pools but many have had to close them because they are a drain on resources.
We are able to employ a large staff of teachers and support staff. We have a part-time school nurse and our own Family Support Worker, as well as other well-qualified and trained staff to support all the needs of our children. Our premises staff and office staff help to ensure the smooth running of the school. We have a number of leaders and senior teachers all without class responsibility. These leaders are able to support teachers across the school in their own professional development, including modelling good and outstanding teaching.
Professional Development and training is such a high priority for our school’s development, that we actively encourage our staff to continue their own education and ensure that our environment is not just a learning environment for children. If a class teacher is away from their class for any reason (and this is regularly), the children are taught by one of our own, experienced staff. It is this commitment to development that attracts the best staff to work at Avenue, and keeps them here! Because of our size, and what we are doing to support other schools, teachers have a career progression and promotion prospects within our own academy and Trust. Our school buzzes with learning!
We also have a unique curriculum, and provide many other rich and varied learning opportunities for our pupils. Many of these examples are captured on our Academy and Year Group Blogs so do take a look!
We hope we have given you a sense of why our school is special and how it provides an outstanding education for our children.