Friday, 22 September 2017

Mathematical fluency, a school filled with love, and an enormous radish

Parkland’s School, Leeds, September 2017.

Twitter is a fantastic place.  In March 2016 my university housemate and friend @ChrisDyson got in touch after he read a tweet that @PieCorbett had tagged me into. Over the last 18 months, we have rekindled our friendship and met up at the excellent #ReadingRocks and #PrimaryRocks.

Since I got back in touch with Chris, the Twittersphere has been full of testimonials about the quality of mathematical learning and teaching at Parklands Leeds. Today, Chris invited three colleagues and me for a road trip up north.

Chris’s  open invitations to the  UK’s best educators is an opportunity for him to showcase the work he does with the young people and families at Parklands. In many schools inviting a conveyer  belt  of teachers  into  school each week would  fill staff with fear and apprehension, but this is no vanity project, and in my view, the open door policy fulfills  two purposes:

•    it makes the children and staff at Parklands feel immensely proud of their school

•    Chris and his team get the opportunity to learn from others.

Our day started at 10:30 am with Chris sharing his leadership journey. Here he generously credited support from colleague Headteachers,  a supportive LA and an HMI Maths inspector who invested a large amount of time post inspection to shape an improvement plan with the aim of making the teaching of mathematics outstanding.

Chris then took us on a tour of all the classrooms. Our pre-visit brief was to see high-quality mathematics learning and the school generously flipped their morning timetable to facilitate this.

As a long-serving school improvement advisor and serving Headteacher, I have been privileged to see some brilliant teachers, inspiring classroom environments, and many wonderful motivated children. However, the level of mathematical engagement and understanding  I observed this morning took my breath away. The numerical fluency at Parklands was simply the best I have ever seen. Young children fired back number bonds, a KS1 child, with complex needs, knew all their tables and children in KS2 could recite multiplication facts and calculate the number bond to 100 quicker than my University educated maths brain could compute. This was not just an example of children robotically regurgitating multiplication facts; there was clear evidence that the children’s secure knowledge of multiplication facts and number bonds were applied to real-life problem solving and mastery mathematics.

In addition to the outstanding mathematicians, we observed the highest standards behaviour and kindness. Three children were chosen to eat lunch with us; they helped us navigate the routines of an unfamiliar dinner hall, and demonstrated wonderful manners and conversational skills over our meal.

Walking through the lunchtime corridors, the children smiled and politely waved to us as we toured their school. I observed a year two child patiently teaching one of their peers how to tie a shoelace.

In summary, the standards of arithmetic at Parklands Leeds are the highest I have seen in any Primary School and  I do not doubt that the determined team at Parklands will reach the same standards in reading and writing.

Parklands serve a community with the highest rates of deprivation in Leeds. Chris, and his team is proving that if you have a relentless focus on what children can do and build on these achievements you can build a magical palace of learning.

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