Assisting creation of a new Free School
West Newcastle Academy is a one-form entry primary Free School which opened in Benwell, in the heart of the deprived West end of Newcastle (an area also short of school places) in September 2013. It now (academic year 2015-16) has Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 cohorts.
This partnership is now 5 years old (see background below). Currently the RGS headmaster is involved in governance of WNA: by choice he is not a governor (though he is a Member of the Trust) but acts as critical friend to the ehadteacher, with the title of Achievement Partner, regularly visiting the school and reporting to the governing body, partiuclary on standards, achievement and behaviour. Serving on the WNA Governors' People and Resoruces sub-committee he also priovide advice on HR/employment, staffing and budgetary matters.
As suggested below, as WNA grows and its age-rnage starts to overlap with that of the RGS Junior School, it is anticipated that the current basic provision of advice and support by the RGS will grow into more active joint working between staff and pupils in both schools.
(See background re need: poverty/deprivation and lack of school places in West Newcastle).
WNA sets out of offer a distinctive and child-centred curriculum: its stated aims are as follows:
WNA is a place where children are encouraged to be curious – to ask questions and learn from one another. Teaching and learning is child-centred with a balance between teacher-led and child-initiated learning.
Children spend time every week learning away from the school – at local woods, the beach or visiting museums, galleries, farms and parks.
Is based on respect for the intrinsic capabilities of children, and the recognition that all children are unique individuals with a wide range of abilities and potentials.
Children are valued as strong, sociable and capable individuals, constantly learning and enquiring about the world about them. WNA is a place where children will be encouraged to be curious, to ask questions, to learn from one another and create their own theories and ask questions.
Dialogue with, and democratic decision making between children, staff, parents and the wider community will be central to the running of WNA.
Learning will be experiential, open ended and enquiry based and undertaken in rich and exciting learning environments, including the outdoors.
All children will achieve their full potential, with holistic support, whilst they enjoy, own and drive their learning, gaining self-respect, self-esteem and self- belief
Will achieve their full potential and all can achieve excellence
Have a supportive learning environment at home and school with parents valued as the primary educators
Develop a love for learning when seen as unique individuals and engaged in meaning projects
Have high levels of respect, self-esteem and self-belief when they learn through collaboration with others
Cultivate a variety of intelligences and competencies when given the opportunity to learn from experts in a democracy
Have ownership of their learning and develop interests and talents by learning through investigating with others and taking responsibility for their own thoughts
Be fully prepared to succeed in secondary education and wider world by achieving highly throughout WNA.
The need identified was for the new school tom priovide hope and life-chances for childsren in an area of exceptional deprivation, and particularly to be accessible and approachable by families alienated from mainstream education (and other services) - see Background below.
Critical fractors for success lie in take-up of places and acceptance within the community (both strong) and to see children trhive and make progress: the school's first OFSTED inspection in May 2015 demonstartes a very successful early phase. For the RGS in this early stage, it is a matter lending epxertise where possible and[particularly its headmaster acting as critical friend and assuring the governing body of the maintenance of standards/quality control.
The RGS headmaster was approached in late 2010 by WNA's founding charity, Kids and Us (now wound up, seeing WNA as its long-term legacy, but then an established charity working with marginalised and alienated families in the deprived West end of Newcastle) to help with the project which was bidding to set up a Free School in that area.
He and the Deputy Head advised the steering group which put together the first (2011) bid to the DfE and carried out assessment of need and canvassed parental support as required. The first bid was unsuccessful. The group redoubled its efforts and the headmaster was one of the group interviewed at the DfE in Sheffield in the successful 2012 process, speaking particularly on curriculum, standards and quality control.
At present, because WNA is still in its infancy, resources offered by the RGS tend to be limited to significant amounts of the headmaster's tuime (see box above), plus practical help in the form of advice, expertise and where necessary time from the RGS's bursarial/finance team to the WNA's School Busniess Manager and administration.
Impact on children and families and their life-chances is immense and incalculable: WNA is strongly supported in Benwell and parents are fulsome in their praise of what it offers and acheives: reported in its first OFSTED inspection, May 2015, which judged it good overall and contained significant words of praise:
The inspection in May 2015 rated WNA as "good" describing the school as "a magical place" where "children make good progress"
"Children spend time every week learning away from the school – at local woods, the beach or visiting museums, galleries, farms and parks."
"Pupils are enthusiastic about their learning and develop sustained concentration and resilience.”
“The curriculum is exciting and fully engages pupils in a range of first-hand experiences in a variety of settings.”
“Children play well together, cooperate and are happy. There is a focus on developing personal, social and emotional skills so children become confident learners.”
In time, as the children grow up through WNA to Y6, both schools beliove passionately that contact between children of the same age in the two schools will bring immense benefit to both schools.
In these early years only to the extent that RGS sixth formers (Y12-13), as part of their Voluntary Service programme, visit weekly to help childfren at WNA with reading. When WNA's age-range overlaps with that of the RGS (Year 3 upwards), it is anticipated that opportunities will develop for peer-to-peer contact and partnership.
It is an open-ended relationship which we hope to see grow over many years.