Back in December I had the pleasure of visiting St John’s C of E Primary School in Bradford. You have probably seen their facebook page ‘Continuing provision into Key Stage One’ and may have read the guest blog post on ABC does. Visiting this school and hearing Joanna Baxendale speak has had a profound effect upon my approach to play based learning, so I wanted share what I learned with you, as well as a few photographs for your own inspiration!

Lighting is a game changer

You may have seen the promotion of lamps and low lighting on the ‘Continuing Provision into KS1’ Facebook page. I had, so I knew to expect lower lighting when I visited. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how different it would make their classrooms feel! There were 120 children in their open plan space but it didn’t feel as though there were more than 40. Within the main light fittings some of the bulbs had been unscrewed to reduce their brightness, fairy lights were strung across the ceiling and the provision was peppered with lamps. The whole place felt homely and so incredibly calm. My first thought was, if my classroom was like this I would find it so much more comfortable; so surely the children would too. End result: me googling how much Ikea lamps were on the way back to school!

Let staff do the jobs they are trained to do!

St John’s have decluttered their timetable to allow maximum time in continuous provision. The teachers still deliver carpet sessions to their classes, but in between is where they really get down to business. The teachers teach their children in small groups of approximately six at a time, allowing them to differentiate and stretch the children’s learning further. Meanwhile the teaching assistants are in the continuous provision with the children supporting their independent learning and pursuing their individual interests.

One thing that became clear from watching St John’s in action was that everyone was highly equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to support the children in their learning. They even had an experienced nursery nurse working with teaching assistants! Without these experienced staff and their secure understanding of how to scaffold the children’s learning in continuous provision, the approach wouldn’t work. So ensuring that your support staff are experienced or well trained is definitely important when running continuous provision.

Continuous Provision in Key Stage One is possible and it works very, very well

When you’re battling to implement play based learning in KS1 you can become a little  . . . delirious? You know how and why it is beneficial to your children but it’s so difficult to get others to reach the same place of understanding. Between the back and forths, adjustments and rejections you do start to wonder whether you are in fact chasing an unreachable dream.

From the talk that Joanna gave it seemed as though St John’s had tried every variation of play based learning over the years. Many of which I have also already tried myself and found to fail. From only having provision on an afternoon, to having provision after whole class learning, to having teachers and assistants working with focus groups while the rest free flow etc. One thing that was made clear was that while all of these half way points didn’t work, they were a necessary process to reaching the successful approach that they have now.

I’m sure like me, you will be relieved to hear that their current approach has been rated outstanding and they are seeing a significant impact upon their KS1 data. Finally, here is a real life was school that is delivering high-quality play based learning in KS1 and they aren’t just getting by they are thriving!

You’ve got to learn to talk the talk

Whether it’s a teaching assistant, a member of SLT or a teaching colleague in another year group; everyone needs to be on board and supporting your play based approach for it to succeed. Joanna addressed this during her talk and she shared a true pearl of wisdom when addressing this problem. When others are struggling to grasp your approach, talk data, statistics, curriculum coverage; the things they feel comfortable with and use it to help them understand what you’re trying to achieve. This is a skill I’m still developing but I know it’s a crucial one!

Stop setting up your environment for you . . .

Or anyone else for that matter! Upon returning to my own room it became clear to me that any issues I was having with continuous provision wasn’t down to the children ‘not using it correctly’. It was down to the environment I had provided. Every activity I had out was pushing them towards more English and Maths practise, which let’s be honest, probably couldn’t have been achieved without adult support. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. But if your environment isn’t working it’s probably down to the provision you have provided.

At St John’s it was clear that every area could be accessed independently by the children with ease. Obviously, the adult support took the children’s learning a step further. But those who were learning independently though play were fully engaged in what they were doing and pursuing their own curiosities. Reflecting on my own room at the time I couldn’t say the same.

In conclusion . .

This school is awe inspiring. They are fully committed to their approach, have tried and tested many variations of play based learning and they have hit on a winning formula. I strongly urge you to take a look at their Facebook page and if they hold another open morning get in there quick and go! Over the next few weeks I’ll be updating you on the impact this visit has had on my own practice and environment, so please keep checking back!