Mary Kirk takes a tour of St Edmund’s Catholic Primary School in Bungay
Maybe, like me, many parishioners will not have set foot inside a primary school since their own children were small. My children were that age in the 1970s and the early 80s. My own primary schooling was in the early 1950s. The differences between then and now are enormous.
But when I was taken round St Edmund’s by head teacher Samantha Barlow it was clear to me that, even given the changes in educational policy, St Edmund’s is a special place. In every classroom there was a quiet hum of work being done. Both the school and the atmosphere were warm, bright, tranquil.
The school’s excellent website lists the aspirations of a Catholic learning community. My morning at the school allowed me to see this in action. The best way to demonstrate the aims which form the school’s ethos is to take a pictorial tour.
Live and celebrate Gospel values, beliefs and traditions in our daily lives
Every classroom has a prayer space (the very young ones have a prayer bear to help them pray) and a “big book” for the children’s reflections.
A weekly Gospel assembly is held, and children can nominate their fellows for the Heart of Gold award for living Gospel values. Pupils are encouraged to respond in a spiritual way to current events, and events in their own lives.
The Mini Vinnies (St Vincent de Paul) help with spiritual development across the school. On Fridays there are visits to elderly dementia patients.
Parents can participate in “Stay and Pray” sessions, and there is a strong emphasis on prayer and reflection. Recently the statue of Our Lady has been relocated to what could be described as a grotto in the playground, and this is a central prayer space. May, the month of Mary, sees her decorated and garlanded.
Father Charles added that he says two Masses per term for the school, generally themed with the Church’s year ( for example, All Saints, St Edmund, Ash Wednesday). In my visit I had the impression that more might be welcomed, especially class Masses.
Create an engaging and challenging learning environment where all pupils are given the opportunity to succeed.
The classrooms have Working Walls setting out key vocabulary, plans of work, and expectations. There are visual knowledge organisers. There are story assemblies and three discrete reading sessions each week. Standards are high – as can be seen – because expectations and support also are:
Maximize the potential of every individual
Children take ownership of their work, and use reason and understanding across the curriculum. In part this is a result of a deliberate move away from worksheet-based learning. Despite inadequate funding, st Edmund’s is above the national average for special educational needs.On Fridays Benji the therapy dog comes to school, and less confident readers read to him.
Potential is of course developed physically as well as academically and spiritually; the list of sports I noted was long, and there were more than I could write down – gymnastics, non-contact boxing, tag rugby, Go Geronimo (delivered by Go Geronimo CIC of Great Yarmouth), football, martial arts, athletics….
Provide a safe and welcoming school environment
The school is very much centred round community and family, and there seem to be few behaviour issues, and minimal classroom disruption. Behaviour is seen as the result of relationship with others, and in the past two years there have been no reports of bullying. The presence of “play ambassadors,” children and staff, reduce any playground incidents during lunchtime. Children are encouraged to think things through and talk about any problems, and they know they will be listened to. Confidential “worry boxes” mean that individual concerns can be dealt with.
When I was there in early November two incidents imprinted themselves in my mind. In the first a child fell backwards off a chair because she was swinging the seat to and fro. There was no drama, no crisis; all was managed calmly and efficiently. In the other I witnessed boys practising building a bonfire safely.
Promote responsibility and a global perspective of citizenship
Enrich the intellectual, physical, spiritual, moral, social and emotional life of all pupils
How things have changed from the old days of rigid desk-bound learning! The arts are encouraged, and every pupil from year 3 onward learns a musical instrument. Outside in the playground there is a stunning glass mosaic representing the River Waveney, created by Fern Spray of SilverLore. This shining piece of art has encompassed learning around history, geography, and social matters.
Build a culture of tolerance where people of diverse identities are recognised, welcomed, respected and cherished
Here the words of the school’s curriculum intent document speak for themselves:
At our school the children in our care are at the heart of everything we do. Every pupil should leave knowing God’s love and being able to show God’s love. We believe that all children are unique and must be celebrated for the special gifts and talents that they possess. Each day we encourage our children to work hard, have a positive mind-set, have the confidence to make mistakes, persevere and not give up – in order to succeed, and to feel good about themselves. The impact of what we do and what the children achieve cannot always be measured in data sets and numbers so we always try to look holistically at each child. We consider our children as individuals who are facing future challenges and ultimately leave us high school-ready having enjoyed and embraced their learning experiences along the way.