In this series, academy headteachers and principals talk about how they are using academy freedoms to innovate and raise standards.

This week, Val Shield, headteacher of Redby Primary School, talks about her school’s improvements as an academy in an urban setting.
Previous academies in focus articles can be accessed from this page.

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Academy in focus: Redby Primary School, Sunderland

Redby Primary School - Academy in focus

I am the headteacher of Redby Primary school in Sunderland. We are a larger than average urban primary school with a significant number of our 440 pupils coming from areas of high deprivation and with skills below the national average, 18% are eligible for free school meals. We opened as an academy in September 2011 and I am proud to say that in our 2013 results 82% of our pupils achieved level 4 or above at key stage 2 in reading, writing and mathematics, an increase of 19% on the previous year.

I strongly believe in educating young people in ‘life’ skills, alongside the crucial basic skills of literacy and numeracy. Academy freedoms have allowed us to encourage our pupils to develop the important, transferable skills which will allow them to become successful adults and be able to make a valuable contribution to society. We work hard to put learning into meaningful contexts. For example, our pupils run their own healthy eating company, their own school bank to encourage good habits in terms of finance and they also run their own radio station called Radio Redby.

Since converting to academy status in 2011, we have incorporated performing arts and new technologies as important tools for learning. Significant investment has been made in this area and now all of our year 6 children have a tablet and all year 5 children have a web book. In addition to this we have 2 class sets of iPads, 60 PC laptops and 30 AppleMac laptops. We’re also in the process of refurbishing the current ICT suite to make it more user friendly for the new Media Studies part of the curriculum which started this year.

Before making changes to our curriculum, we conducted research on various curricula on offer, and looked at how it related to our school and our pupils. We also looked at the new National Curriculum and although we don’t need to follow it, we took it into consideration when planning the changes to our own curriculum. We also held discussions at the planning stage about what our pupils would find helpful in a future society in an attempt to predict what skills they would require.

The development of digital skills and embracing new technologies will be the future, hence the development of the Media Studies strand. Further to this and as part of our data analysis and intervention development, we identified the need for more support, especially for those children who were underachieving. Our governors agreed to deploy further funding to staffing to allow us to do this. The first additional member of staff joined us in January 2012.

Over the past 2 years, we have changed our broadband and HR provision to ensure that we are getting best value. We’ve brought our cleaning staff ‘in house’ and I also plan to bring catering ‘in house’ in the near future.

Since we became an academy we have also worked closely with other schools across local authority boundaries. In the current educational landscape I believe that it is important for schools to liaise and support each other through the significant changes which are happening. We have supported a local school in up skilling their new qualified teachers and also provided training opportunities to other schools by organising and hosting joint inset events.

We have also partnered with a school in Trinidad and Tobago, where we assist them in developing their practice. The relationship with the partner school has broadened the experiences of our pupils and those of the children in the Caribbean. We recently hosted a group of 14 children, parents and staff from the school who were amazed at the facilities we have at our disposal. Recently all of our pupils were given a secure log on for our school virtual learning environment (VLE), allowing them to develop friendships and share experiences and ideas.

I believe that through making the changes we have made at Redby primary school our pupils will have a skillset which will allow them to function well in whatever society they choose to live in, in the future. Our staff feel supported in the work they do and they know that senior managers value their opinions in the future development of the academy. In the long term I am confident that the children who are presently in school will be able to make a valuable contribution to the local community.

Val Shield
Redby Primary School, Sunderland