Ashmead Combined School

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Ashmead Combined School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Co-headteachers Marcus Pickover
and Michael Pearse
Celebrating success: Work
from the wonderland topic
Ashmead Combined School serves a diverse urban
community in Buckinghamshire. Close to 20 per cent
of the school’s intake of 721 pupils are classed as
disadvantaged and it caters for 32 different home languages,
placing it in the top 20 per cent of all schools for the proportion
of pupils who speak English as an additional language.
Despite these potential barriers, the Co-headteachers Marcus
Pickover and Michael Pearse have continued the work of their
predecessor in developing a creative curriculum that has led the
school to consistently be in the top 10 per cent nationally for
progress in each of the last three years with no attainment gap
for disadvantaged pupils.
Imagine doing a job every day where every hour or so you had to change the job
and the focus and contend with something completely different and unrelated. Or,
to put that into the context of a classroom, imagine being a child who had to move
from writing a formal letter to the local authority to request a safer route to school,
to learning Spanish supermarket vocabulary and phrasing, to making a model
bridge, to discussing the main differences between Christianity and Hinduism, all
within the space of three hours.
Many adults could not cope with this intensity of change and yet this is common
practice daily in many schools. So rather than think of disadvantage as being a
barrier to learning, we consider what curriculum organisation could look like and
then remove that barrier. We make relevant links between subjects and have a
»Co-headteachers: Marcus
Pickover and Michael Pearse
»Founded in 1977
»Based in Aylesbury,
»Type of school: Mainstream
combined school for pupils
aged 2 to 11
»No. of students: 721
»No. of staff: 97
Ashmead Combined
Highlighting best practice
core theme running throughout the
learning, thus making it more relevant
for the pupils who are engaging. We
choose a picture book in which the
story, themes and characters become
familiar to the children, and all lessons
are then linked to these themes and
concepts from the book.
For example, we chose
The Lighthouse
Keeper’s Lunch
as our topic book and
have used the story as a theme for a
number of different subject disciplines.
In literacy the children would be
writing instructions for how to make
Mr Grinling’s lunch. In maths they
would be investigating how many
pieces of bread Mrs Grinling uses in a
week or a month to make his lunch. In
science, pupils would be investigating
light and electricity so that when
they made their own lighthouses in
design technology they could light
them. In geography the pupils may be
comparing their locality to that of a
coastal destination, while in Spanish
learning vocabulary and phrases
linked to the seaside. In this way, our
curriculum makes sense to the pupils;
we provide them with the foundations
from which to learn and then learning
is seamlessly linked through each
subject and thus is relevant to them.
Our approach to teaching and
In addition to this curriculum
organisation, the core of our approach
to learning lies in the Chinese proverb,
“I hear, and I forget/I see, and I
remember/I do, and I understand”,
suggesting that children’s
understanding is more effective if
they experience or explore something
for themselves rather than being fed
information to retain. For this very
reason, we ensure that first-hand
experiences are a key element of our
All creatures great and
The lighthouse keepers
lunch topic
I hear, and I
forget/I see,
and I
do, and I
curriculum and that learning is carried
out in an environment that is enriching
and relevant.
In this way, when children enter
the classroom on the first day of a
term, they are surrounded by the
objects and key vocabulary from the
main topic text; in the case of the
example above, the room would be
filled with objects from the seaside.
In this sense, we are lucky to have
such a committed and creative staff
at the school, who buy into our vision
of education and work tirelessly to
create fresh and stimulating learning
environments for children every term.
Therefore, our curriculum does not
assume that every child has the same
experiences but rather provides them
with the experiences they need to
enable effective learning to happen.
Rather than expect our children to
adapt to a predetermined or published
curriculum, we use experiences
to build a curriculum around our
children’s needs, putting the child at
the centre and working outwards,
not the other way around. Alongside
this curriculum, we use assessment
effectively to inform our teaching
instead of gearing everything we teach
towards assessments. We have a staff
who are proud of the curriculum and a
pupil body who are inspired by it.
Home-grown staff
In recent years this curriculum has
resulted in strong outcomes for
pupils, which we have worked hard
to maintain by ensuring sustainability
of staffing and by becoming involved
in teacher training. We employ a
number of home-grown teachers who
have completed initial teacher training
through the school – some of whom
worked as teaching assistants in the
school prior to this and have been
supported through higher education.
Such apprenticeship has not only
relieved us of the pressures of
recruitment but also means that we
employ teachers who share our values
and vision for a quality education. We
also promote an “everyone teaches”
approach, whereby every qualified
teacher, from the headteachers to
the newly qualified teacher, takes
responsibility for teaching every day.
As such, the headteachers, deputy
headteacher, assistant headteacher
and special educational needs and
disabilities co-ordinator all have a daily
teaching commitment. In this way,
we are able to reduce ever-strained
classroom ratios in order to give our
children a better deal and to sustain
outcomes for all.
We have a
staff who are
proud of the
and a pupil
body who are
inspired by it
The Iron Man topic

This article was sponsored by Ashmead Combined School. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.