Science workshops at Sibford School
When given the opportunity to form an ISSP we chose to focus on Science as the area for the project, with children from both schools working with staff from the Senior School Science Department of Sibford School. We chose to focus on Science for several reasons: it provided what we felt was the best opportunity to track progression across the duration of the project (a requirement of the ISSP); it allowed primary staff to develop subject skills from specialist teachers (Sibford School secondary science teachers); and we felt it provided a format wherein children from each school would draw mutual and equal benefit while working together. We ran two science workshop days at Sibford School, one based around chemistry following a visit from Simon Mayo discussing his children’s book about an ‘element hunter’ and one based around physics and linking in with the solar eclipse.
The Junior Department of Sibford School and Sibford Gower Endowed Primary School formed the Independent State School Partnership. At Sibford Gower the partnership was led by the Headteacher, Jane O’Sullivan, and the Year 5/6 class teacher, Sarah Harrison; while at Sibford School the partnership was led by the Assistant Head with responsibility for the Junior School, Edward Rossiter, in conjunction with staff from both the Junior School and Science Department, particularly Nick Hadley and Cath Harding. The Senior Leadership Teams and Governors of both schools fully supported the partnership application.
Through this project we sought to raise the interest in and profile of Science as a subject in the two participant schools. We also hoped that staff within the schools, both primary and secondary would have the opportunity to share best practice through observing each other: the science specialist, for instance, might pick pedagogical skills for teaching younger children from the primary staff, while the primary staff would hopefully develop their subject knowledge and skills when teaching science.
We faced several obstacles when trying to plan the partnership: some practical, some theoretical and some aspirational. The practical challenges largely focused around finding a suitable time when both primary schools were available and there was also space, both in terms of staff and laboratory, in the science department, especially with the constraints of GCSE and A Level requirements. Once a date had been fixed however, it proved straightforward to organise supply staff to cover extra teaching.
The theoretical dilemma centred on what we wanted the nexus of the project to be. The parameters from the ISSP were quite specific calling for a focus on either use of ICT or innovations in curriculum. The provision for ICT in each primary school differed little so we chose to explore the alternative curriculum provision at Sibford School. Science, for pupils in the Year 6 of the Sibford Junior School, is led by the Science department and therefore we felt this would be a valuable opportunity for all participant children, irrespective of school or year group, to engage in something that would be of mutual benefit.
Finally, our broader challenge was to see beyond the science workshops and envisage what we wanted the partnership to achieve in the long term, ensuring it remains both sustainable and of reciprocal advantage. Between the two schools we decided to focus on the discrete remit of the science workshops as an initial step to gauge how successfully the children interacted with a view to pursuing other collaborative activities (which we have now subsequently achieved). In doing this we were able to easily measure the success (or otherwise!) of the venture and, at the same time, pave the way for future events linked to other year groups and parts of the curriculum.
All the challenges were overcome through effective and considered communication between staff from each school and through the eagerness to make sure the workshops were successful.
The Junior Department of Sibford School and Sibford Gower Endowed Primary School formed the Independent State School Partnership (ISSP). At Sibford Gower the partnership was led by the headteacher, Jane O'Sullivan, and the Year 5/6 class teacher, Sarah Harrison; while at Sibford School the partnership was led by the Assistant Head with responsibility for the Junior School, Edward Rossiter, in conjunction with staff from both the Junior School and Science Department.
We used the Senior School Science Department and staff to run the workshops as well as an associate member of staff to assist with transport to and from the events.
There were two science workshops within the project, however further events have subsequently taken place, with more planned for the future.
There was a limited amount of funding provided from the government for the project, with any extra financial input provided by Sibford School.
The two planned workshops took place in March 2015 and saw around 90 Year 5 and 6 pupils from the two schools coming together to work on chemistry and physics related activities. Before the first event we asked the children to complete a questionnaire gauging their engagement with and understanding of science, followed by similar questionnaire upon completion of the second workshop. The results were pretty impressive:
More children cited science as their favourite
More children felt they would consider a job;
that needed science;
More children rated their own experience and
ability at science in positive terms following the workshops.
This demonstrates what we observed on the days – an enthusiasm for and engagement with the subject in a positive way that led to deeper and more embedded learning as was evident also in the children’s comments at the foot of the questionnaires.
However this only tells half the story of the success of the partnership; many of the benefits came in the use of ‘soft skills’. This was evident in the communication and teamwork skills of the children from each school when asked to work together. Indeed all bar one child felt that working with children from another school was a positive experience, while they all struggled to list things they disliked (“Nothing” being the most popular answer!).
The teachers involved in the workshops also benefitted, whether Primary or Secondary, State or Independent, be it through picking up classroom management tips from observing each other with their children or gaining an increased understanding of how to teach science topics or how to carry out investigations. It was also interesting for us to note how the children responded to a different peer group both by challenging themselves to achieve more and in how they moderated their own
The biggest signifier of success though is that we have already carried out further collaborative activities – several sports fixtures and a geography workshop – and have sought to broaden this to other subjects and year groups in our schools. Already in the pipeline are proposed Forest School sessions or working together in Sibford School’s living history area. Beyond this we have also looked at pooling resources, combining First Aid training and organising joint educational visits in support of history topics.
There were roughly the same number of children involved from each school, a total of around 80. This represented the Year 5 and Year 6s from each school and were evenly split between boys and girls. As part of the project data was collected regarding the different gender responses to the two questionnaires.
We ran the science workshops as a single event however we have subsequently run orienteering sessions and hosted sports fixtures between the schools. We are also intending to run Forest School sessions this year for Key Stage 1 pupils as well as combine to share costs for training between the schools.
Although the partnership funding period has only been for this year we intend for the partnership to continue into the future.