Irk Valley Community school

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Irk Valley Community school's best practice article

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 Irk Valley Community school is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Highlighting best practice
Engaged learners in a year 6
Our teaching and learning
policy in action
Vicki Lord took over as head teacher of Irk Valley
Community School in September 2015. Serving inner-city
north Manchester, it had been judged no higher than
“satisfactory” by Ofsted since 2005 and in November 2012 had
slipped into “requires improvement”. In the two years prior to
Vicki’s appointment, the school achieved a “good” standard
in the inspection of July 2014. The school had been through
a huge turnover of staff: 13 teachers had left in July 2015
and the school was struggling to digest such rapid change.
Making sustainable and incremental changes and reducing staff
turnover were key to Vicki’s fledgling headship.
I made the decision to involve all of us – staff, governors, parents, families, the
local community and, above all, the pupils – in formulating a vision for the school
to act as a constant reference point. I think we
are now united in our aim “to develop confident,
successful, happy and caring individuals who
love learning and are able to make a positive
contribution in the world”, by living the values
shown in our motto, REACH (Respect, Excellence,
Aspiration, Cooperation, Happiness). Rather than
making everyday and longer-term decisions for
the school based on ever-changing circumstances
and external requirements, our vision is governed
by theseethos.
»Head teacher: Vicki Lord
»Founded in 2010
»Based in Lower Crumpsall,
»Type of school: Community
»No. of pupils: 517
»85 per cent of pupils have
English as an additional
language, of which half are of
Pakistani origin
Irk Valley Community
Focusing on teaching
Following the resignation of one of
the deputy heads, I restructured the
leadership team. I appointed two
assistant heads, experienced across
all key stages, and, together, we
set about improving teaching and
learning. This was especially important
as there had been many changes to
the staff team and we had also taken
on seven newly qualified teachers.
We worked with the staff to develop
a new teaching and learning policy,
setting out what good teaching and
learning should look like in every
This was backed up with a
programme of staff training, coaching
and personalised professional
development, based on each member
of staff’s individual needs. In order
to give more support to the teaching
team, I stripped back certain aspects
of planning and marking enabling
them to manage their workload
and focus on the learning of the
children in their classrooms. Alongside
this, I supported and developed
a new middle leadership team
made up of the four departmental
heads, encouraging them and the
senior leaders to take on nationally
recognised leadership qualifications
(which they have now all been
awarded). There is now a different
atmosphere around school: teachers
and teaching assistants feel that they
are well supported and everyone is
welcome in the classrooms, owing to
our ”open door” approach.
Personalising the curriculum
We made considerable changes to
the organisation of the curriculum.
Prior to my arrival, the curriculum had
been delivered through a number of
published schemes. While we still use
published materials where relevant
to support teaching and learning, we
now deliver teaching through topics
based on our children’s interests and
needs. We serve a diverse community
and many children do not speak
English as their first language, some
having limited experiences beyond
their own homes. Our learning topics
are now therefore rooted in practical
experiences, beginning with a “hook”
to engage the children and help
them buy into the learning: e.g. a
visit to a museum, a Roman soldier
visiting the class, some eggs to hatch
in the classroom. The children also
have a practical and creative task to
complete with their families for their
homework e.g. build a lighthouse,
make a volcano. These are displayed in
the classroom and provide a “museum
of learning”, where the children
showcase their learning at the end of
each topic.
In addition to the academic curriculum,
we try to give many opportunities for
our children to learn about taking on
responsibilities and caring for each
other. We now have many pupil-led
teams: playground buddies, safety
monitors, prefects, digital leaders,
our “eco team”, “urban crew”,
healthy tuck shop monitors and an
active school council. We are trying to
provide experiences for children which
will help them prepare for their life
beyond the schoolgates.
“Rainbow challenge” in
the construction area
It is clear to see
that the children
really enjoy their
education here
and enjoy
coming to
school for the
opportunities it
gives them
Inclusion Award,
September 2017
Highlighting best practice
Starting at the beginning
Our excellent early years team have
made significant changes to enable a
continued rise in standards:
»Improvement of the outdoor
environment – creating specific
reading, writing and number
learning zones in the outside space.
»Interaction clipboards – staff use
these to detail pupil achievements as
well as gaps in learning. Staff now
effectively seek to use children’s play
as a teaching experience.
»Rainbow challenges – children
collect coloured lolly sticks to make
“a rainbow” as they complete
challenges set in each area of
Involving parents
One of the key changes we have
made is to make the school as open
as possible for parents. Since in post,
I have introduced many simple ways
for parents to know more about what
happens in school enabling them to
be part of their children’s learning. I
introduced parent open days. Each
term, every classroom has an open day
where parents and carers are invited to
come into a lesson and learn alongside
their child.
In the first year, I also included a
tour of the school as part of the day.
Along with regular class assemblies
and creative homework assignments,
this has enabled parents to be more
involved in everyday school life and
consequently supportive of the school’s
aims. We have coffee mornings,
parent classes and are developing
a Parents, Teachers and Families
All of these things make the school a
friendly place for everyone. In a recent
Parent View survey (October 2017),
of the 158 parents who responded,
97 per cent agreed that their children
were happy at the school and 98 per
cent would recommend our school to
There is still quite a way to go as we
“REACH” towards our vision. It is not
always easy to work in a school like
ours, but, as I have found out, it is
incredibly rewarding.
All parents spoken to, whether as part
of a group or individually,
acknowledged the superb work the
school and its staff are continuously
involved in to support their children
and themselves and that they often go
above and beyond what is expected of
them to ensure successful outcomes
Inclusion Award, September 2018
Year 2 children sharing their creative
and practical homework tasks
“Hands-on” experience to
enhance science learning


This article was sponsored by Irk Valley Community school. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister