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 Palfrey Infant School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.
Palfrey Infant School
Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles
1PALFREY INFANT SCHOOL |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE
In reception, our beans are
growing well, and are almost
ready to plant
Year 2 writing a fantasy
Through the Secret
Alison Walsh is the headteacher at Palfrey Infant School,
which is located in an urban area of Walsall, West
Midlands. Palfrey’s intake is comprised of 362 pupils
aged between three and seven, who predominantly come
from backgrounds of high deprivation and speak English
as an additional language, some with no English at all. The
close-knit and richly diverse community of Walsall serves as an
excellent backdrop for the school’s inclusive philosophy – its
pupils speak 18 different languages between them. Alison tells
more about how their staff strive to
have “happy children, aiming high”.
“Happy children, aiming high” is our motto, and it serves to reinforce everything
we do. We look for aspiration, to provide children with opportunities in later life
and to ensure basic skill thresholds are met in every area.
Ninety-six per cent of our children speak English as an additional language, and
we have 27 per cent of pupils eligible for pupil premium. Additionally, a large
proportion of our families are classified as being “working poor”, so we provide a
lot of support systems for Palfrey pupils.
We foster resilience and encourage independence in our work – both in an
emotional and academic capacity – and believe this is of such paramount
importance. Key to this methodology is our close partnership with parents and
the local community – our school supports the entire family, rather than just
PALFREY INFANT SCHOOL
»Headteacher: Alison Walsh
»Based in Walsall, West
»Type of school: Local authority
maintained infant school
»No. of students: 360
»Palfrey pupils speak 18
»The school keeps chickens and
takes part in Walsall Against
Single Use Plastic, or WASUP
Palfrey Infant School
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
2| PALFREY INFANT SCHOOL
Our governors are also well-respected
in the local area, and they love being
a part of the school. They take their
roles seriously and recognise our
success, not just as a school, but as a
Delivering quality education
My favourite word for education is
“independently” – and while quality
teaching and learning should be at
the top of the agenda for any school,
fostering independence is equally
We recognise this, and consequently
drive opportunities for children to
develop independence on a daily
basis as a backdrop for their learning.
This allows them to recognise
and improve their aspirations and
objectives for learning, and translates
as high expectations for learning in
This is something we get our teaching
staff to recognise, too – these high
expectations for behaviour as well as
academic attainment are upheld in the
adult manner in which staff converse
with pupils. This, in turn, allows
them to develop communication
skills – something that’s of integral
importance when 96 per cent of
our children speak English as an
These expectations also translate in our
approach to assessments – it has been
recognised as “well-organised and
administered”, allowing us to discover
where children have natural gaps in
learning and address those sooner
rather than later.
Across school years 1 and 2, we
start to sculpt the curriculum in a
more personalised manner, tailoring
it to individual needs and our high
expectations for learning.
Outstanding EYFS provision
Our attitude towards early years and
foundation stage education is by no
means a groundbreaking one, but
it has worked for us consistently in
the past. We provide a stimulating
and productive learning environment
with a great many opportunities for
children to practise and demonstrate
their skills – both inside and outside
The staff who work with our early
years children pride themselves on
knowing their children incredibly
well and challenge them to develop
by asking them difficult questions
and expecting detailed answers.
We settle for nothing less than the
best with communication, manners
and behaviour. This not only helps
to prepare our children for later life
and education; they also treat one
another and staff with courtesy and
respect, minimising unsociable or
Mentoring and development
– at every level
We employ a skilled learning mentor to
fulfil a number of roles in supporting
the work we do. These include
implementing one-to-one and group
interventions to support behaviour
Reception: The egg
hatched and out popped
a dragon, creating
interest for boys’
is our motto
3PALFREY INFANT SCHOOL |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE
and leading workshops on attendance
– the effectiveness of which is
demonstrable in our low persistent
absence and high attendance. Finally,
our mentor serves as a link between
the school and other external agencies
and families to ensure the appropriate
additional support is made available.
As well as our learning mentor, our
governors and I also work hard to
foster relationships with parents –
many of whom are now more involved
than ever with their child’s education
given the crucial role they have to
play. I deliver a phonics session to
high numbers of them on a regular
basis which, for many of them, is
instrumental in supporting their child
to read and write English.
End-of-year assessments – the
framework is sometimes not
When children are assessed at the end
of Key Stage 1, there is not an option
to withdraw or disapply them ahead
of time. Their results are checked and
rolled into the rest of the data set,
even if the child in question has only
been in the country two months and
cannot speak English at all.
If our intake increases midway through
the term and those children cannot
understand the questions on the
assessment paper, our results go
down automatically as a result. We
have to take children above numbers
– we have 94 in our year 2 cohort at
present, instead of the standard 90,
and the additional four do not speak
English. That’s something we are of
course happy to do, but when you’re
also judged by the attainment of those
children, it makes things difficult.
In Key Stage 2, there is an option to
disapply and withdraw new-to-country
pupils. This needs to be reflected at
Key Stage 1 so infant schools like ours
are not judged by unfair results.
The curriculum needs to stay
When it comes to what the DfE could
further do to help us, it’s really very
simple – keep the curriculum the
same with a period of stability. Just as
we get used to a new framework or
policy, everything seems to change; the
carpet is pulled out from beneath us
in a sense, often without warning. We
try to stick to teaching basic skills and
developing a sense of independence
in our children, and that does tend to
tick most of the requisite boxes, but
stability would certainly be welcome.
Nonetheless, we will continue to move
forward by delivering outstanding early
years and Key Stage 1 education to the
best of our ability; our plans to further
develop our forest school are coming
to fruition too, and our children could
not be more excited about this.
Physical and emotional
health are supported
through happy playtimes
The Rt Hon Professor The Lord Blunkett's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review
A new Prime Minister, a new Education Secretary and, as we're all painfully aware, a deeply uncertain future. It is in this context that the education service continues to deliver for individuals, communities and of course for our nation.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the education service as a whole, schools, post 16/Further Education, and yes, lifelong learning, needs the most enormous injection of cash. Independent analysis shows that there has been at least an 8% average reduction in the amount of spend per pupil in our schools. Those damaged most by this have been pupils with special educational needs, whose voices are sadly rarely heard. The necessity of urgent action was underlined in July by the report of the all-party House of Commons Select Committee on Education. They could not have been clearer about the need for substantial funding and a long-term 10-year commitment.
At the same time, there are a number of reviews taking place. One of them, in relation to post-16 qualifications, is in danger of a classic mistake by politicians and officials who have little or no understanding of the complex territory they're dealing with. Namely, the ridiculous proposition that BTEC National Diplomas might be set aside because 'T Levels are the gold standard'!
I'm in favour of T Levels, but in the right context and for the right outcome. They are intended to be extremely focused specialist qualifications in defined areas of employment. When and if they eventually take off – there is predicted to be just a thousand students in 2021-22 taking up the qualification – they will not replace the BTEC, which has been the workhorse providing a general and high-quality education for decades. The BTEC has equipped young people for a variety of opportunities in a very changing employment market where the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, and changed working practices makes confining the choice of vocational pathways to one narrow focus, frankly ridiculous.
Meanwhile, her Majesty's Opposition continue to throw out titbits which do not give, as yet, a very clear idea of what, if elected, Labour would do in office. What is needed is positive proposals. Abolishing this, that or the other – assessments/tests for those leaving primary school, for instance – is not the same thing as a very forward-looking agenda for radical improvement in standards and equity between those who can and cannot afford additional help for their children.
There are a handful of Labour Party members, supported by some people who ought to know better, who have decided that a full-frontal assault on private education would be a good idea. For those worried about this, stop worrying. A party that put this in its manifesto wouldn't get elected, and if by some fluke it did, it would be challenged in the courts to the point where all the contradictions would be exposed for everyone to see.
Just contemplate one simple fact. 20% of secondary schoolchildren in the borough of Hackney attend private schools! Yes, Hackney. This is because a large number of parents, some of whom scrape the money together, are sending their children to private education in London which happens to be the area of England with the best academic outcomes from state education. What's more, very large numbers (again, particularly in London) pay for private tutors. At the last estimate 40% of parents in London had at some point over the last year paid for a tutor for their child!
Perhaps therefore an opposition party, hoping to provide unity rather than division, opportunity for all rather than a futile class battle against educational privilege, would seek ways of ensuring that those who can't afford tutors have the kind of support outside school that would put them on equal terms.
One thing is very certain, no government would be able to stop parents buying additional tutoring for their children.
So, a practical agenda for equalising opportunity, for investing where it's needed most, for transforming the pipeline from school through college, apprenticeships, or university, is a goal worth fighting for. A positive way of linking business and education through political decision-making, with the delivery by excellent professionals in the education service, to the children of today and the economy of tomorrow. Surely that is a much more progressive and less negative way forward for both government and opposition.