Martins Wood Primary School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Martins Wood Primary 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 Martins Wood Primary 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

Headteacher Tom Evans
Year 4 students using Lego
to bring a project about
town planning to life
As the demographics of Stevenage have changed, and the
population has risen, Martins Wood Primary School has
changed with it. Historically an undersubscribed two-
form entry, they are now a popular three-form entry school.
With a strong local reputation for the performing arts, they look
to supplement their core curriculum with exciting events such
as dance week and trips to the theatre. Headteacher Tom Evans
explains how they adapted to a negative Ofsted inspection and
how they have coped with their expansion.
The school serves the northeast part of Stevenage, a mixed area that contains
the fourth most deprived ward in the county and some households comfortably
above the median. I became headteacher in 2000, having previously worked as
a head for seven years in another part of Hertfordshire. In my time at the school,
we have overseen many changes, and the demography of our catchment area
has changed significantly. When I came here, the school was an undersubscribed
two-form entry, which grew into an oversubscribed school before being invited
to become a three-form entry when the county council identified a rapid increase
in the Stevenage school population. In 2015, we received a negative Ofsted
inspection, just as we were reaching the end of our expansion programme, and this
did damage our reputation. However, the majority of our existing parents did not
recognise the school that Ofsted described.
Adapting to expansion
One of the main things we have accomplished is the restructuring of the
management system, ensuring that each part of the school is overseen by the
»Headteacher: Tom Evans
»Established in 1968
»Based in Stevenage
»Type: 3-form primary school
with a nursery and preschool
»No. of pupils: 750
Martins Wood
Primary School
Highlighting best practice
appropriate people. This has involved
distributing leadership away from
the centre. Prior to my appointment,
there was no clear process in the
development plan and a lack of
clarity about our future direction.
We launched ambitious plans to
change the school and began by
analysing what elements of the school
stakeholders liked. They identified the
internal social dynamic and the family
feel, which we have endeavoured to
maintain, despite our size. Initially, we
focused on IT and the importance of
computers on an everyday basis, soon
establishing ourselves as a beacon of
good practice in this field.
When we embarked on our expansion,
we visited other three-form schools
across East Anglia to study their
management structures. We created
the positions of assistant heads and
lead teachers, dividing the school
into four management units. We also
ensured that we became involved in
the design of our expansion to ensure
that the new building would function
day to day. Expansion is a tricky
process, but it has had many positives.
In 2015, we had challenges from
Ofsted, but in addressing the issues,
we have always tried to retain what
we value as a school. The primary
reason for this report was our
varied catchment and the ensuing
difference in achievement across our
student population from year to year.
Attainment has been rising steadily in
recent years, but current attainment at
entry appears to be declining.
The importance of an
engaging education
I was turned on to education by
inspirational teachers, and I want
to share this with our students. To
achieve this, we embed special events
in our curriculum. We organise a dance
week every year, in which professionals
come from the London stage to work
with our children. Activities such as
this are embedded in the curriculum
and support our strong reputation for
the performing arts. We have won
our local NODA youth theatre award,
which includes performers up to age
19, seven times since 2004. In our
50th year, we invited ex-pupils, staff,
parents and local residents to join
us in a production of “Oliver!” in a
professional theatre with a professional
orchestra. The impressive legacy of
this event is that we have created the
Martins Wood Community Theatre
Our production of
Oliver! which included
ex-pupils, staff, parents
and local residents
I was turned
on to
education by
teachers, and I
want to
share this with
our students
group, who continue to meet regularly
and are planning their next show.
While performing arts have been
a long-term strength, our sporting
provision needed improvement, so
we employed specialist sports coaches
to work alongside teachers in our
PE lessons and lead a wide variety
of extracurricular activities. We also
enhance our curriculum by organising
STEM weeks, in which figures from
industry come to the school to give
inspirational talks. Many schools have
been focusing solely on the core
curriculum, prioritising success in
league tables. Students deserve the
chances I was given, and for example,
as many of our children have never
been to the theatre, we give them the
chance to.
Although we do use a topic-based
system, we do not shoehorn subjects
into irrelevant topics, so we also teach
standalone units. One of the main
challenges our pupils have is their
vocabulary, meaning writing can be
difficult. We have planned different
schemes of work to alleviate this, with
the goal being the enrichment of their
vocabulary. We are about to embark
on a project with other local schools
to carry out research into the most
effective ways of using the arts to
improve standards in children’s writing.
Fundamentally, we were expanded
because of growth in the local
population, which now seems to have
reached its peak. The challenge for
us now is ensuring that we remain
successful at our new size. We have
struggled with financial difficulties,
which seems counter-intuitive, but, on
a per-head basis, we are the lowest
funded school in Hertfordshire. I
believe that the entire funding system
needs to be looked at, as the current
per-school allowance, which is then
divided per student, disproportionally
affects larger schools. Economies of
scale are not always the answer. This
school would gain significantly from
the national funding formula.
Developing our provision
While we have a steady supply of
people applying for vacancies, teachers
and teaching assistants are hard to
recruit, as quality applicants are usually
already in work. We are a popular
place to work, however, and many
who have left us come back.
Over the next couple of years, we will
complete our building project and
will look to save money for further
projects. We are planning a nurture
room, for those who need additional
support, and are in the process of
obtaining funding to expand our
preschool provision. The preschool is
a particular strength of ours, offering
30-hour childcare and provision for
two-year olds. Most children attending
move into our nursery and then on to
reception, providing strong continuity
in the early years foundation stage.
More generally, we are looking to
develop and expand the experiences
we can give to our students and live
up to our motto, which is “Inspiring an
Ambition to Learn.”
deserve the
chances I was
given and as
many of our
children have
never been to
the theatre,
we give them
a chance to
EYFS students learning
about where eggs come
from in the run up to

This article was sponsored by Martins Wood Primary 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 Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss

Even by the standards of the day –this has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in British politics.

The leadership election we’ve just seen marks a huge moment in our country’s history. This government is taking a decisive new direction, embracing the opportunities of Brexit and preparing our country to flourish outside the EU.

As international trade secretary, I’ll be driving forward work on the free trade agreements that are going to be a priority for the government. Free trade isn’t just an abstract concept bandied around by technocrats. It is crucial for a strong economy and for the ability of families to make ends meet. Free trade benefits people in every part of our country, as British firms export to new markets and people doing the weekly shop have access to a wider choice of goods at lower prices.

The essence of free trade is in the title: freedom. It’s about giving people the power to exchange their goods without heavy government taxation or interference. Commerce and free exchange are the engine room of prosperity and social mobility. I’m determined to tackle the forces who want to hold that back.

One of my priorities is agreeing an exciting new free trade deal with the US, building on the great relationship between our two countries and the Prime Minister and US President. But I’ll also be talking to other partners including New Zealand, Australia and fast-growing Asian markets.

And with the EU too, we want a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals, and as friends and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead – a relationship based on a deep free trade agreement. Our country produces some of the world’s most successful exports, and the opportunity to bring these to the rest of the world should make us all excited about the future. It is this excitement, optimism and ambition which I believe will come to define this government.

For too long now, we have been told Britain isn’t big or important enough to survive outside the EU – that we have to accept a deal that reflects our reduced circumstances. I say that’s rubbish. With the right policies in place, we can be the most competitive, free-thinking, prosperous nation on Earth exporting to the world and leading in new developments like AI. To do that, we’ll give the brilliant next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Since 2015, there has been a staggering 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18 to 24 year olds – twice the level set up by the same age group in France and Germany. We’ll help them flourish by championing enterprise, cutting taxes and making regulation flexible and responsive to their needs.

As we do that, we’ll level up and unite all parts of the UK with great transport links, fibre broadband in every home and proper school funding, so everyone shares in our country’s success.

2019 has been the year of brewing economic and political revolution. 2020 will be the year when a revitalised Conservative government turbo charges the economy, boosts prospects for people across the country, and catapults Britain back to the forefront of the world stage.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for International Development