Category Archives: Early Years

‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

ny2 007

I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

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All hours, all weathers.

UK roadworks sign. In other European countries...

M4 motorway. 8.30 p.m. Somewhere between Bristol and the Severn Crossing. We have been driving on motorways for three-and-a-half hours. There is another warning sign to reduce speed to 50 mph. Another long stretch of road works. There are average speed cameras looming at intervals. I am moving at exactly 50 mph and have another vehicle ‘tail-gating’ me, despite the fact that the passing lane is empty. 

Lynne commented, ‘They always seem to be working on this motorway. You never seem to be able to just drive it without road-works somewhere or other.’ That got me thinking…

The motorway is built to allow people to reach destinations as swiftly and safely as possible. However, it is subject to constant wear and tear from vehicles and the environment. 

It is alarming how quickly roads can become damaged. One short period of snow and ice can cause a rash of potholes to appear, which, left unchecked, become larger, causing accidents and/or vehicle damage. Underground watercourses can cause subsidence and the seasonal variation in temperature attacks the integrity of the road surface. Even roads built to the highest standards are subject to environmental attack. And the safety of the most well-constructed road is ultimately compromised by the individual or collective behaviour of its users.

The motorway regulations of the Highway Code are there for a purpose – safety. There are those motorists who flagrantly disregard them. You see them travelling at high speed, weaving in and out, ignoring lane priority, tail-gating, intimidating with total disregard for the safety of other road users or their own personal safety. Then there are those of us who, perhaps, just push the boundaries if we think there is a need…and we can get away with it…and then there are middle-lane drivers…don’t get me started!

Yes, road-works can be frustrating, especially when it is unexpected and a delay could have undesirable consequences. Yet without this vigilance and maintenance, the consequences could be fatal. So I had a paradigm shift as I was motoring at a constant 50 mph. ‘Hard hats’ off to the road workers, who are out at all hours in all weather.

A community ethos is a bit like that motorway. It is a ‘living’ thing, constantly changing as it interacts with its environment. You build it for a purpose, to carry your learners safely, swiftly, and as directly as possible, to their destinations. 

Learning communities will never be perfect. The ethos and infrastructure will always be and under attack from all sorts of environmental factors. That is nature’s way. And, no matter how comprehensive our class rules, charters and contracts may be, they are only as effective as the the ‘users’ decide they will be. There are those who will flout, those that will push, those that will comply and those who will be inflexible, unaware or unable to use appropriate judgement (middle-lane drivers…aaargh!).

To maintain a viable ethos in the learning community, we need to be attentive and proactive. Planning for ‘routine maintenance’ ‘seasonal repairs’ and dealing with the potholes as they occur, not waiting until the ‘accident rate’ triggers a response, by which time significant and possibly irreparable damage has been done.  Community building is not something that you do as a ‘one off’ at the beginning of an academic year. It requires constant vigilance and maintenance – reflection and discussion…and…it is the responsibility of all members. Sometimes, you need to be responsive and maintain or repair community when it is not convenient to do so. ‘All hours’ and ‘all weathers’. 

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A Different Permission…tread softly.

In the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of entering the magical worlds of several 3-5 year old children. Some within an Early Years Foundation Stage setting in Greater London, England and others within a Foundation Phase Nursery/Reception classroom in the South Wales Valleys. 

Yes, I was invited by schools to join their EY environments…but truly entering the world of a 3 or 4 year old requires a different permission – the permission of that unique child.

Anyone who has spent time with young children will know how carefully they judge you and your intentions. Those eyes that silently glance for seconds at a time or those hands that thrust something in front of you and watch your reaction. And for every child there is a different point at which they decide to let you enter their universe. It could take moments, it could take months, it could take years. But only they can decide you are trustworthy and let you enter into their magical world. 

There are so many theories about Early Years Education, so much research, so many recognised practices and documents. All of which are helpful in terms of gaining knowledge and information. But when faced with that young learner, it is the quality of the interaction that takes precedence. The quality of those moments shared. These young children are busy making sense of their surroundings. They are busy constructing their immediate world. And, as educators, we attempt to enter these worlds and become co-creators and guides. Yet it is how we enter and how we aim to interact that can determine whether we co-construct or unintentionally destroy that magical world. 

Educational change is occurring everywhere. Advice is everywhere on how to provide enabling environments that allow the unique child to learn and develop. Yet the pressure is on to measure that development, to speed up the development, to get those children to attain and reach the expected levels. And, measurement of how this is being done does not always take into account that children and educators are people, not just sets of numbers and data to be entered into a system. Maybe, because of the types of measuring tools we use,  it can’t be taken into account. Maybe the systems have no space for the ‘human’ element. But if this is so, at what point do we lose the very essence of who we are and who we are helping our young learners to become? How do we maintain the quality time needed to build relationships, create worlds and enjoy learning moments? 

This is not just a UK pre-occupation, it is happening in many places around the world. I have been alerted to one principal in the USA who decided to take action and write a letter to parents/carers in response to the increase of testing and assessment. 

If we, as educators, attempt to enter into a child’s world purely with a measuring tape and an assessment purpose, then we run the risk of ‘treading on those delicate worlds’. There is a growing concern. A fear that ‘targets and assessment’ are becoming the driving force. ‘Yes’ to accountability. ‘Yes’ to aiming for quality. But, not at the expense of losing our souls and destroying the natural wonder, curiosity and imagination of young learners. 

So, how do we continue to create opportunities for ‘quality moments’ with our young learners? How do we stand tall and hold onto our values…because actually, for many educators, there is fear involved and a feeling that they are being ‘railroaded’ into operating in a way that is incongruent with their passionately held beliefs about learning. Moreover, what will be the real cost? 

This post is for the many educators that we have spoken with in the last few months. Thank you for what you do, often in the face of adversity and the snapshot judgements of others who are operating with a different, often ‘political’,  agenda. 

Lets hope that education never loses the human touch in the name  of ‘systems’ and ‘politics’ and can find the balance needed to inspire individuals, to help them uncover their dreams and to explore their potential – whatever their age. 

‘I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’  

English: Footprints, Omagh An ecco footprint h...

William Butler Yeats

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Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Live in contact with dreams and you will get something of their charm: live in contact with facts and you get something of their brutality”. When it comes to the current preoccupation with standardized testing in the United States (and, more particularly, in New York State), my fear is that we are replacing dreams and compassion and thoughtful analysis with a quick but brutal search for data and statistics. And it is wrong to do this. We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.

via Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data.

We recently published a blog about a child’s response to the standardised testing regime that they had been subjected to over the past few weeks. Testing that teachers may not necessarily agree with, but are forced to administer and then (in some places) publicly named and shamed in the media – and we are not talking about the ‘banding’ or listing of schools based on their performance (which happens in the UK), we are talking about the names of individual teachers. This is happening in parts of the US. How long before this trend spreads?  

The above blog by gilboafox caught our interest. It is well worth a read. 

This sentence in particular resonated with us.

“We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.”

We have just completed a 3 day event in Stirling, Scotland. Assessment within ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was a major theme – something that everyone is working towards. Assessment that encourages learners (of all ages), helps them to progress and involves them from start to finish. Assessment that does not just reduce the learners (of all ages) to a number, a piece of data that can be used by politicians to justify their existence and policies. Every practitioner this week talked about learning and learners with passion, respect, understanding and accountability. If only ‘those in charge’ talked about the teaching profession (who are also learners in their own right)  in the same way and applied an ‘indivisibility of principles’ approach.  All too often teachers are used as scapegoats…and forced into situations that are incongruent with their principles and values.  

If ‘health and well-being’ is high on the agenda, how do we as a profession help to create an assessment system that is not soul-destroying…a system that involves the learner (of all ages) at the centre of the process…a system that is accountable to the learner and not just the politician? Do we, as members of the education profession, have the confidence to stand up, stand tall and be heard? Do we have the confidence to question?

“To question is to grow” (Great line in ‘Proud’, M People)

Now is the time to question more loudly than before. Now is the time to grow. 


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Thank you…and last chance…

Thank you to everyone who has already completed our short survey based on school holidays/vacation.

We will be closing the survey in the next few days and taking a look at the results and trends. 

If you would like to take this last chance to complete the survey and add your opinions, please follow one of the links below. 

Facebook Link: Requires you to have/sign up to a facebook page and will register your name.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/singlestepslearning 

Survey Monkey: Anonymous, no need to sign up, 2 quick/simple multiple choice questions (click on all that are applicable) and an optional comment box.

Survey Monkey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3PSZ9R6

Please click here to read our initial blog regarding the survey.

More coming soon…

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A ‘snapshot’ survey…

For many of us in the UK, the school holidays are imminent. Some areas are already enjoying the start of the break, others are counting down the days.

Around the world, other educational establishments will also be looking forward to a vacation or preparing for the end of their academic year.

So what will teachers, educators, practitioners be doing with their ‘holiday/vacation’ time? Do you in fact get a holiday? What are your thoughts on ‘school holidays and school terms’? Do you work in an educational establishment that is changing their organisation of the academic year? 

We have set up a couple of very short surveys which can be accessed via SurveyMonkey or our facebook page. 

Green tick

We are interested in collating these initial results with a view to extending the surveys and writing a post about education, schools and the varied perception of ‘holidays’. 

So, if you have a spare 2 minutes, we would be grateful if you would follow one of the links and/or forward them to family/friends/colleagues who may be interested in completing the survey. 

Facebook Link: Requires you to have/sign up to a facebook page and will register your name.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/singlestepslearning 

Survey Monkey: Anonymous, no need to sign up, 2 quick/simple multiple choice questions (click on all that are applicable) and an optional comment box.

Survey Monkey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3PSZ9R6

Thank you 🙂 

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Good Afternoon (Two Days in Stirling Part Four)

Single Steps Learning's Stirling Adventure

Re-caffeinated, and accompanied by the sound of screeching of brakes, we arrive at Riverside Nursery. It’s great to see Jackie Elliot and Lorna McAllister again (we are late but they are smiling!). We are excited to be here. We have already seen the ‘Documentation’ (annotated and pictorial record of learning) and we have been invited to observe the children collaborating in order to solve a problem. 

They receive a phone call from ‘The Zoo’. One of the animals has escaped! Can they help return the animal (represented by a soft toy), negotiating a series of obstacles…and without direct ‘hand’ contact. 

There is an assortment of resources that the children could use. They are immediately engaged by the scenario and ideas are flowing freely. Resources are chosen and one group settles on using some ‘tools’ to lift the animal into a carrier bag. Using a combination of readily available classroom materials, the children successfully cross a ‘river’ and a ‘swamp’. There is much celebration followed by a ‘debrief’ in which the children reflect on how they solved the problem and interacted with each other. 

Debrief with nursery children sounds a bit ominous and formal but it is a brief reflection and exploration of their learning. Unfortunately, we have seen, in a discussion forum of a national publication, disparaging and mocking comments about asking Early Years children to reflect on their learning. But isn’t this what ‘good’ parents do naturally – question, discuss, show interest and value the thoughts of their offspring? So why would we do anything less? The perception that the educator’s role is to fill empty heads with important stuff is still one of the biggest barriers to effective learning – but not in Riverside Nursery!

The careful questioning we observed, guided the children’s thinking and enabled them to ‘crystallise’ their experience into something tangible. There will, of course, be different learning outcomes for different children – some will be able to articulate reasoning, some may only be able to recall events and feelings and yes, some may not be ready to engage fully. However, taking part in the ‘ritual’ of valuing experiences has to begin somewhere – do we wait until children formally understand all the concepts of a birthday celebration before we allow them to take part in the ‘rituals’? No, we don’t.

We then have our own ‘debrief’ with Jackie and Lorna, who are modelling high quality learning themselves, using collaborative tools and strategies to develop reflective practice within their setting. Thank you both!

We leave the nursery building at a respectful walking pace, run to the car, then back to Bannockburn and Park Drive Nursery. The ‘Drive’ was easy…the ‘Park’ was more difficult. We arrive just as children are being collected…not a parking space to be seen…

Eventually, we meet with Jackie Dupont, discard our coats and bags and have a tour of the setting. We are delighted to meet Sharron McIntosh again and see how she has been visibly recording the children’s ideas for developing their learning. There are some wonderful questions about animals – ‘Can a giraffe fit in a house?’, ‘Why does the farmer put ‘jobbies’ on the field?’

We are thankful for some refreshments and settle down for a chat with Jackie, Sharron and Head of Nursery, Joan Gillanders. Our informal chat turns into an exciting and productive brainstorming/planning session. The minutes fly by and it is time to leave. Thanks to you all for the invitation and the welcome.

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Killin Time

We had been warned that it would be an ‘interesting’ drive to Killin, especially with the threat of icy roads, however, no-one had told us how beautiful if would be! Dawn broke as we passed through Callander and the magnificent mountains appeared through the morning mist.

On arrival at Killin Nursery, we were welcomed by Head of Nursery Elizabeth Hancock, who is responsible for the Killin and Crianlarich Nurseries. It is also an unexpected treat to see Wendy Garner again, who had been on our training last year. 

©Killin Nursery 2012

After a quick tour, Elizabeth leaves us in the capable hands of her Early Years Educators and the children. Everywhere you look in Killin Nursery there is evidence of learners leading learning and purposeful ‘documentation’ – from the visible wall-planning to the fascinating and captivating ‘photo-books’.

 

Everyone is talking about ‘the wolf’ and it’s whereabouts. A model wolf, which had once stood outside the recently closed Tourist Office, had been removed. This has caused consternation amongst the children, for whom it was an identifiable landmark. Recognising that this was an issue of genuine interest to the children, the educators have made ‘What has happened to the wolf?’ a central focus from which the learning grows. 

There have been letters from the wolf, footprints, and sightings. The children have been investigating by asking local community members (including a bemused policeman) to assist with locating the wolf. 

We overhear a fascinating discussion between some children about how high a wolf can jump. There is higher-order reasoning going on here. One boy knows how high his dog can jump and estimates that the wolf is a similar size, so, should be able to clear a fence. 

On seeing us standing nearby and listening, one boy grabs my hand and leads me over to the wall. He excitedly points out his map amongst many.

‘This is where the wolf is. This is where we went looking!”

He then proceeds to tell me about all the other maps and who they belong to…ending the conversation with,

“But don’t be scared. No need to worry. The wolf only comes alive at night. He sends us letters then.”

There is a real feeling of community with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement about learning…from learners of all ages! Thank you Elizabeth for our invitation. We look forward to a return visit in the not-too-distant-future. 

©Single Steps Learning 2012

By the way, Andrew used to be a werewolf but he’s alright noooooooooow!

 

 

 

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Embedded CPD in Aberbargoed Primary

Coping with Change (Part 1)    

As you drive down School Street in Aberbargoed, the sign on the fencing next to the gate reads ‘For Sale’. No. Headteacher, Mr David Lewis, is not selling off bits of the school to make ends meet! However, David and his staff are doing a fantastic job of providing a sense of normality for their learners, while new classrooms are being built across the road from the old Victorian building.

The old school was the venue for two days training, Step 3 in the Designing for Learning journey. We explored the concept and use of rubrics as formative assessment tools and once again made reflections and connections on ways to empower learners.

But it didn’t end there! We had the privilege of spending the next three days, teaching and observing in every class throughout the school.

In Foundation Phase, Sarah Driscoll’s Nursery children made and tested waterproof footwear for gingerbread men; Teresa Hamling’s Reception class designed and constructed vehicles to transport a giant turnip; and Ly-Anne Pyle’s Year 1 and 2 produced crowns for the royal wedding of Prince Charming and Rapunzel.

In his cross-phase (Year 2/3) class Teifion Lewis. guided his learners through the process of designing more appealing dental hygiene packaging.

At Key Stage 2, the Year 3/4 learners in Jayne Harris’s class explored sieves and designed and tested their own. In order to demonstrate their understanding of the human body, Marilyn Phillips’s learners made 3-D body maps. And last, but not least, Jacqueline John led her Year 6 through discussion and debate about the rich and poor in Tudor times.

A wide variety of curriculum knowledge and skills! However, all learners explored their specific curriculum area(s) in collaborative groups. It’s been a year since many of the learners and practitioners were introduced to the tools and processes of collaborative learning. This has now become embedded in the classroom culture with learners showing a high level of engagement and the development of skills and attitudes to support independent and interdependent learning.

In addition to those above, we would like to mention the other staff who work in Aberbargoed Primary and attended the training  – John, Karen, Sian, Gill, Wendy, Michelle, Katrina, Cheryl, Kelly, Nicole, Leanne and Kelly. Thank you all for making us so welcome.

A final thanks to David for inviting us back to assist in the continuing professional development of staff in Aberbargoed.

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Planets, Penguins and Pirates…

Thanks to Mr Steve Rees and the staff of Evenlode Primary School, Penarth for co-designing, co-delivering, and ‘co-llaborating’ this week.

Could Mr Cuff’s Year 5 learners research, prepare and present essential information, about all the planets in our Solar System, to interested aliens from Devolene (yes…it’s an anagram of Evenlode…what a coincidence!)…in 50 minutes? Yes they could! They were able to delegate tasks to group members – some researching, some preparing presentation materials. They felt they owed their success to helping each other (if they were stuck or had too much to do) and didn’t waste time arguing.

Mrs Hayley Hodgkins’ Year 4 class have been finding out about the Antarctic – hence the penguins! They have just read about Ernest Shackleton‘s incredible feat of survival and the difficult decisions he had to make. However, under pressure of time, could their groups come to a consensus about which 5 items would best aid their survival, in polar conditions,..from a selection of over 20! Yes! They could! There were some fantastic discussions and reasoning (…a torch would have more uses than a mirror because…). Creative and critical thinking, decision making were all in evidence and demonstrated in an environment of respect for differing opinions. ‘We listened to each others ideas and thought about them. We didn’t always agree. Once, we got really stuck, so we used scissors/paper rock!’ 🙂

 

Avast! I spy Year 2 on the port side. Buckles were definitely being swashed in Foundation Phase with Miss Kirsty Mainwaring, Mrs Jo Roberts and Mrs Emma Thomas! Could Year 2 help Professor Jones* from the Museum to create  child-friendly displays about Pirates  – in an afternoon? Yes they could! And, what’s more, they used their checklists to make sure their displays were complete. One efficient group put dots against criteria to show ‘work-in-progress’, which then became a ‘tick’ when the job was done! In small groups, children demonstrated creative thinking and organisational skills.

If the purpose of school is to prepare children for a specific future that we cannot imagine, then they are going to need skills that will give them the best opportunity to lead successful lives in a world of rapid change. They will only develop these skills if they are given the opportunity to acquire and refine them in real life situations (or scenarios which reflect life). They need the opportunity to collaborate with others and experience all the ‘problems’, ‘positives’ and ‘potentials’ that interdependence brings. They need opportunity to reflect on these experiences and discuss them in a ‘safe’ environment. The earlier learners begin to experience and use tools and strategies, in order to solve problems, the more likely they will be to develop a confident approach to solving all sorts real life problems.

Children at Evenlode Primary School are well on their way to developing skills for their futures. No matter how advanced technology becomes we will still need creative and critical thinkers, decision makers, organisers and effective communicators to solve not only the everyday problems but the problems that, at the moment, we cannot imagine.

*Professor Jones was Lynne in disguise…where did Mr Rees find that mortarboard and gown?

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