Laddingford St Mary's C of E Primary 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 Laddingford St Mary's C of E Primary School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Laddingford St Mary’s C of E Primary School is a traditional
Victorian village school with a proud history. With only
80 students on roll, it is on the smaller end of the scale
compared to many primary schools in the UK. Headteacher
Gemma Hitch took over five years ago and discusses the
progress she has made in the role since.
The reputation of Laddingford St Mary’s has fluctuated over the years, with staff
turnover and a number of relatively short-term heads creating unsettling levels of
change. This had been the case for around 15 years when I first arrived, so adding
a certain level of stability was my immediate target.
Another key thing for me to consider on my arrival was the diversity of our student
body. Around 25 per cent of our intake are from Traveller backgrounds, and I knew
I had to work closely with them to ensure we created an inclusive and accepting
environment for all of our children to study in. As a small rural school, working
collaboratively with other local schools is also important, and building on this
alliance has helped raise standards across the board, with all four schools in the
partnership receiving “good” Ofsted ratings in the past four years.
Our key provision
At Laddingford St Mary’s, our key focus has been on creating nurturing education
for all our students that includes an emphasis on mental health and wellbeing.
With that in mind, we are always looking at the potential adoption of new
»Headteacher:Gemma Hitch
»Founded in 1867
»Location:Maidstone, Kent
»Type of school:Church of
England primary school
»No. of students:80
Laddingford St Mary’s
C of E Primary School
Exploring new things at Forest School
HeadteacherGemma Hitch
Highlighting best practice
methods and take the feedback we
receive very seriously. We have trained
extensively with charity Nurture UK to
enhance this aspect of our provision,
and we are currently working towards
achieving the Natural Nurturing
Schools Award.
As a relatively rural school with a
small catchment area, our numbers
can fluctuate significantly year to
year. Therefore, to ensure a sense of
continuity, we really work to create a
community feel that represents all of the
students, regardless of how long they
have been with us. As our reputation
as a nurturing school has grown, there
has also been an increasing number
of students with a wider range of
educational needs joining us recently,
but this is a challenge we have been
able to meeteffectively.
One initiative we have seen become
increasingly valuable is starting the
day with child-initiated play for all
children. The impact of this has been
phenomenal, with children running
through the gate each morning to get
to their favourite activity – it allows the
school day to start in a really positive
way for all children. Each session is
set up and supported by the teachers,
but by allowing the students to lead
we have found that they are able to
take more responsibility and have seen
confidence grow.
We also employ an open-door
philosophy with parents, and we find
that by creating an ongoing dialogue
with them, we have been able to
further enhance the community feel
that we have strived towards. Our
chats with parents help get the day off
to a great start and keep them in the
loop with the progress their children
and the school are making.
Tackling unique challenges
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a
completely unique and unprecedented
challenge for the education sector,
and we have been working closely
with families in order to minimise any
potential negative impacts. Constant
communication is a crucial part of this
process, and we have encouraged
parents to engage in the wellbeing
aspect of the curriculum that is taught
in school too.
Our key focus
has been on
education for
all our
Continuing to ensure that
children have access to a broad
curriculum has been a focus
throughout the pandemic
We know that during the periods of
school closure, the home environment
varies considerably for each of our
families; with some parents juggling
home education with working full
time, and others managing additional
challenges related to poverty or
domestic unrest. While there have
been and continue to be challenges,
there have been benefits too. Like all
schools we have adapted quickly and
learned digital skills which will continue
to benefit our children long after the
pandemic. We know that children will
need support in the months and years
to come as a result of the school time
that has been missed, but we feel
confident we are in a good position
to provide this. The root of this is to
continue to be painstakingly detailed
with the individualised plans we have
developed, to help each and every
child as best we can.
A vision for the future
As we look to improve our service
day by day, we are hopeful that the
government and bodies like Ofsted
also continue to adapt. One area
we would like to see progress in
is SEN provision, with the level of
nuance required often not applied
when assessing the achievements
of students with complex needs
especially those with social, emotional
and mental health needs. These
students’ academic results can vary
dramatically, and this also impacts
our own performance, but this is
not considered, either when their
individual results are looked at or when
school performance is assessed. We
hope to see Ofsted and other bodies
look beyond the headline results, as
often academic performance is not the
best or fairest measure of progress.
That said, we do not water down
academic expectation and we want
all our students to achieve at the
absolute limit of their potential.
Wejustunderstand that often the key
to unlocking that potential is improving
their wellbeing and mental health, and
this can take time to do well. This is
an approach we have seen work time
and again, and I believe there needs to
be a wider acceptance of this among
education policy makers.
In terms of our own future goals, we
want to continue our emphasis on
staff development and securing an
outstanding team to move forward
with. We are a small school, and we
want to find the balance between
looking inward and empowering
our existing employees, while also
ensuring that they take on new ideas
from people outside our four walls.
We want our teachers to feel like they
have both knowledge and skills to
offer others, and that they can learn
from other schools and education
providers and bring the lessons learned
back to improve our provision. In my
view, creating a hub of knowledge and
a desire for continuous development
is the best way of securing the best
future for our school and our students.
We want to
continue our
emphasis on
and securing
team to move
forward with
Laying firm foundations in
Early Years

This article was sponsored by Laddingford St Mary's C of E Primary School. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.