Educational exhibition showcases Wirral’s Viking history

On Friday, 5 July, Woodchurch Road Academy in Wirral proudly hosted its ‘Walking in the Footsteps of Strangers’ exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery.

The event was a celebration of the school’s new expeditionary learning (EL) approach and featured a diverse array of student-led projects. This exhibition, the culmination of months of dedicated work by Year 4 and Year 5 pupils, highlighted the historical and contemporary movement of people to Wirral.

The gallery buzzed with excitement as visitors explored the exhibition, which presented an insightful human timeline of settlers in Wirral, from ancient times through to modern-day inhabitants. Information leaflets, prepared by the students, provided detailed accounts of Viking Wirral, while interactive displays explained migration, incorporating activities on push and pull factors. Visitors engaged in board games and sorting games that enhanced their understanding of migration dynamics.

Cath Varey, a dedicated teacher at Woodchurch Road Academy, expressed her admiration: “This evening has been truly inspiring. Seeing the children showcase their work with such pride and excitement is incredibly moving. Their depth of knowledge and the way they articulate their learning is phenomenal.”

A reflective space allowed attendees to consider the emotional experiences of refugees, inspired by the children’s readings from ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ and reflections from the extensive literature studied around refugees and migration.

Identity maps and global footprints created by the students displayed their research into personal and family histories, connecting local heritage with broader global narratives. Additionally, students presented first-person diary extracts of Vikings settling in Wirral and debunked myths through a series of fake news reports, challenging the stereotypical image of Vikings as purely vicious invaders.

A ‘poet-tree’ invited visitors to read and contribute poems about the concept of home, celebrating the idea of walking in the footsteps of strangers. This interactive installation became a symbol of the community’s shared history and collective memories. Information leaflets about modern Wirral, including reasons to visit the area, complemented the historical exploration with a contemporary perspective.

The exhibition also featured artistic representations, including ‘The Arrival’ and Viking symbols, crafted by the students. In the story tents, children captivated audiences with readings, and the evening concluded with a stirring performance of ‘The Wirral Song’, written by the late Don Woods and performed by his son, Steve Woods.

Distinguished guests included representatives from the Oxton Society, the Conservation Society, and the Local History Society. These organisations expressed their enthusiasm for collaborating with Woodchurch Road Academy on future projects, recognising the school’s innovative and visionary approach to expedition-style learning.

A parent attending the event shared their thoughts, saying: “The transformation in my son’s enthusiasm for learning through these projects has been astonishing. He comes home eager to share what he’s discovered, and I’ve never seen him so engaged and excited about school.”

The event marked a significant milestone in the school’s complete transformation under its new leadership. Over the past year, headteacher Alex Borrill has spearheaded a radical shift towards an expeditionary project model, resulting in a unique and compelling educational approach that has already drawn interest from schools across Merseyside.

Alex remarked: “As a passionate advocate for project-based learning, I am thrilled to see our vision come to life. Our pedagogy is firmly grounded in research and tailored to meet the social context of our students. We believe in thinking globally while acting locally.

“Our ultimate goal is to nurture confident, compassionate, and capable children who are prepared to thrive in an ever-changing world and to make a positive impact on the lives of others.”

Visitors praised the quality of the students’ work, noting improvements in writing and the ability to recall and apply key curriculum points effectively. The event showcased how the school’s dynamic projects have enhanced academic performance, increased student engagement, and fostered strong community ties.

The impact of Woodchurch Road Academy’s new educational direction was evident throughout the exhibition. Projects such as those exploring diversity, slavery, and the Windrush generation in Year 6, as well as representations of great individuals through time, have become integral to the school’s curriculum. From sustainability and global projects starting in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) to future planned collaborations with St George’s Hall, Chester Zoo, and Oxton Gardens, the school has demonstrated a commitment to holistic, contextually relevant education.

This transformation, driven by a shared vision and the unwavering dedication of the staff, has positioned Woodchurch Road Academy as a beacon of innovative education. The school’s success story has become a model for others, exemplifying how a clear understanding of educational goals and a collaborative spirit can lead to exceptional outcomes.

As the school continues its journey, the ethos of ‘learning without limits’ will guide future initiatives.

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