Capital of Culture
by Natasha Young.
Knowsley’s Halewood CE Primary School ended 2015 on a high thanks to awards victory and league table recognition. Headteacher Dave Smith shares some of the school’s secrets to success with Educate.
Winning the Most Inspirational Primary School prize at November’s Educate Awards was the latest in a line of achievements acknowledging everything from Halewood CE Primary School’s work with pupils to its roles as an employer and a church school.
The accolade followed a recent inclusion within The Sunday Times’ 2015 list of the top 200 primary schools, as well as being awarded Investors in People’s ‘gold’ accreditation and a Church & School Partnership Award Two.
Dave Smith has been at the helm of Halewood since 2005 and believes the key to the oversubscribed school’s continuing run of success lies within the culture that has been put in place under his leadership.
“My belief is around the power of children to believe in themselves, have a go, take risks, be filled with energy and enthusiasm and the sort of things that make a difference,” he says.
“We’ve worked a lot on the culture for the children, the staff, the governors and everybody in the community around. (By instilling that)] you can make a difference, you can taste success and you can enjoy learning, you’re changing the mindset of some of the children and some of the community.
“We’ve been very successful for quite a long time now and I would say a lot of that is down to the culture of learning, the desire to succeed and a determination that’s married with that, and showing children we’ll give them the best chance they can have. No child should be left behind.”
One school initiative at the heart of this approach is the two-year Halewood Child of Excellence programme, aiming to provide a “values driven curriculum” as it focuses each half-term on one of 12 different principles.
“In the last half term we looked at wisdom, what it is to be wise and making really good decisions, whether that’s about [children’s] personal learning or how they should act, speak or react,” explains Dave. “It’s about building a school community where there’s a big respect for one another.
“We base everything on the ‘three Rs’ in our school; the right to feel and be safe, the right to learn and the right to be treated with respect.
“Children need to learn mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually so that’s a really important element for us as a school.”
As well as creating a strong school community, such values are also said to be integral when it comes to standing children in good stead for the future.
“The biggest thrill that I see is turning out rounded children who are prepared for life beyond Halewood CE Primary School emotionally, socially and academically,” says Dave.
“I often say to my Year 6 pupils when they leave that the type of person you are and the values you hold are more important than what achievement you have.
“I think a lot of secondary schools are very complimentary about the type of children we send to them as opposed to them being bright and able children but not very pleasant with it.”
Having initially trained as a secondary school teacher specialising in design and technology, Dave has reached his current position by following opportunities and taking on responsibilities as they have come about in his career.
A lack of jobs in the secondary field saw Dave find a way in to primary teaching at Hale CE Primary School in Halton which he never looked back from, before progressing to an acting deputy head role at Sylvester Primary School and then onto Malvern Primary School in Huyton.
Whilst he insists becoming a headteacher was another step he didn’t necessarily set out to take, Dave says the vision and strategic direction for Halewood CE Primary School is “very clear”.
“We know where we’re going and what we want for the children,” he says, explaining that the leadership team is never complacent about where it is heading.
“There’s an expectation around teachers, an expectation around learning, an expectation around outcomes for children and the whole thing has momentum and it works because we revisit it.
“We’re very keen to evaluate it and what that looks like for our children, our staff and our parents.”
A run of recognition from outside of the school at the moment though could surely be seen as a confidence boost that Halewood is firmly on the right path.
“We’re very proud and very thankful that everyone has bought in to where we’re trying to get to.
“It means a lot [to be receiving recognition] and we’re delighted with all the news and the accolades.
“We’re obviously over the moon and it’s lovely to see, but we’re also aware that sustainability is key in all success and not being complacent about what’s happened.”
As a new year begins Dave is optimistic about what it will bring for Halewood, whilst remaining aware of the challenges brought about by the “changing landscape of education”.
“We’re obviously looking at the changes that come within education, in the curriculum and in assessment which mean you’ve forever got to be on the edge of research knowing what to do next and how to change with what is expected,” he says, adding: “We’re excited about 2016 because it’s another year and another opportunity to give these children a brilliant deal.”