The pupils file in quietly class by class, the school hall lit from the front with five candles on a table.Oooh! ‘elf n’ safety!
Soft music plays in the background and images of the pupils taken at various times of the year appear as a slideshow. It is the last assembly of the academic year at Tower Hill primary in Witney, Oxfordshire, and an opportunity for staff and children to reflect on the last 12 months.And what …ummm, ‘reflections’ they are:
Brandon comes forward and tells the school how he learned to curb his anger. He now counts to 10 if someone has made him cross.
Annie says pupils tend not to tell lies any more or try to "get out of" something they have done wrong.
Alana says she is proud of the moment she persevered with a difficult task in class when it might have been easier just to give up.It’s easy to mock. Very easy.
This school is located in the heart of David Cameron's Witney constituency in west Oxfordshire, but its philosophy is some way removed from the culture of change and competition brought to the system by Cameron's government via its education secretary.
"Michael Gove would consider our approach far too ephemeral and touchy-feely," says Tracey Smith, the headteacher. "But we would like him to visit us, and will be extending an invitation, so he can see what we're achieving here in a stable, happy environment. It might do his public image a lot of good if he did not appear so rigid in his thinking."This is, of course, the latest fad: ‘values-based education’.
A very different sort of primary school, this one. No more simply babysitting little Shaneece and hoping she won’t eat too much fingerpaint mix before Krystelle picks her up, not cramming young Eustace full of facts before the nanny comes to pick him up.
Now, the school is ‘teaching’…well, frankly, the sort of things they should have already learned at home:
The ethos embraces qualities such as respect, courage, honesty, compassion and integrity among the school community, underpinned by high expectations. Its proponents believe that this ethical vocabulary, which is used and understood even by the youngest children, creates the ideal environment for learning by promoting a peaceful and calm atmosphere.And this isn’t just a fad that we can pass off as affecting the Islington set, either:
Nobody would describe Witney as a disadvantaged area but this school does not mainly serve the affluent "Chipping Norton set" or their like. In this school more than 30% of children are entitled to free school meals, against a national average of 19.3% in primary schools and an Oxfordshire average of 9.8%. A third of pupils here have special needs.This is…rather sad:
At lunchtimes a family scenario is created in the dining hall with pupils and teachers sitting in groups and serving each other. No one eats before everyone has their food.
"It teaches them manners and creates an environment that some may not get at home," Smith says.So now schools are becoming families, as increasingly, families no longer bother.
How long before we move straight to the State Podding Hutches?