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A different way of looking at City of York Council’s own primary places proposal

By Richard Ludlow, Chief Executive, Ebor Academy Trust

Alongside our proposal to provide an exciting new kind of primary school for York, is the added benefit that it would help ease primary place planning problems. These issues are especially acute in the South Bank area, where City of York Council officers have just come up with a recommendation (see Press article: bit.ly/1SFt0de).

Theirs is a conventional, practical and entirely reasonable way to solve which might otherwise be a crisis in our city. Our proposal, however, and the vision explained in detail on this website, pits conformity against diversity. Let’s just take a moment to consider.

Education guru Sir Ken Robinson argues that: “education and communities need to be built on a model of diversity rather than conformity”. It is very easy to build on the models that we are familiar with, the status quo, the safe option. However, the Ebor Academy Trust option challenges this viewpoint. Diversity and greater choice should be considered. This is an opportunity to create a diverse offer. It is not to say one provision is better than another, rather it points to the need to offer greater diversity and choice for parents to opt for a provision they feel best suits their child’s needs.

Our model will be unique, where every individual is able to discover and develop their unique talents and abilities. But this assumes that talent is a natural ability rather something which can grow and flourish. Commentator Carol Dweck states: “If we believe that someone’s talent is fixed – including our own – we are effectively writing off any options for growth. But if we believe that talent, or intelligence, or any other ability, evolves as a result of how much effort we put in, the opportunities are endless”.

Watching one of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks my ears pricked up when he said: “If you don’t know what you can do, you don’t know what you can be”. How many students do we talk to who say they don’t know what they want to do when they leave school? Maybe they just haven’t discovered their talent or been exposed to unknown opportunities.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all for a child in education is not knowing that something has been missing, or has not been offered; after all, why would you?

I have been in many a situation where a teacher has experienced a ‘wow’ moment, when they discover that a child can do something amazing and out of the ordinary. Every year, at Christmas, one of our academy schools hosts an ‘Xmas Factor’, a chance to showcase talents and each age group vote for the act they want to represent them. Every year I am blown away by the confidence and abilities young people share (and sometimes surprised with what young children see as talent)! Last year’s winners were a group of ten year olds who made up a crazy rap. They went on stage dressed in Hawaiian outfits and performed to the rapture of the children – as for the adults, they just didn’t get it!

We need a system that can capture and nurture talent. The proposed Creative Arts Academy York can achieve this by exposing children, through a planned whole school approach, to an array of experiences. Enabling children to explore themselves through dance, drama, music and the media arts. We can’t leave this to choice. Many schools put on extra curricula activities: some children opt in some don’t. Sometimes this is because of a lack of cash. If given a choice, some pupils will also be influenced by others, either preconceived views built on stereotypical views or by their own evaluation of whether they have the skills to participate (fear of failing).

I love the movie and musical Billy Elliot, a fictional story but one that would resonate with many. The story illustrates the rewards of hard work, perseverance despite parental opinion, and what can be achieved if someone believes in you.

In a recent article I read from educationalist Tim Brighouse, he refers to school Ofsted reports, stating: “you will find little mention of music, art, drama, dance, outdoor education or residential in them.” We are experiencing a period where we judge schools predominantly on the progress measures of the basics of literacy and numeracy. As Tim Brighouse states: “these are essential, but they are not sufficient. A focus on them alone will not unlock the minds of our future citizens”.

At the new Creative Arts Academy York we want to address the imbalance. We pledge that our curriculum model will focus on a truly integrated curriculum supporting innovative methodologies in teaching and learning. The curriculum will still cover the basics, and be based on al already ‘outstanding’ model, but will focus on creative, open-minded enquiry approaches. We will embrace new technologies that will support personalised and collaborative working.

For Key Stage 2 pupils there will be an extended day, whereby the traditional offer of a menu of after school activities will be embedded into the timetable. A longer school day will be seen as natural, obvious and essential to do what we want to do. We are designing our curriculum to allow for flexibility. The timetable will allow for deep learning, time to breathe and personalised learning.

This is a great opportunity to invest in diversity. We should consider providing a range of options. Please use this website to contribute ideas, views or register an interest in applying for a place for your child.

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