August 2, 2018 by Mike Madden

Chinley School

This article first appeared in the High Peak Review.

Most people might commemorate their first anniversary in a new job with a celebratory drink with colleagues, but for Peter Lambert, Headteacher at Chinley School, there was a wonderful surprise as he approached the end of his first year in the post. When the School Performance Tables came out in mid-December, Chinley School were in the top 200 primary schools in the entire country, a magnificent achievement. The ranking is based on Level 4 grades, and to achieve a place in the “roll of honour” the school had to achieve 100% in this category. Peter was so excited that he could not wait to tell the children. “I got the teachers to gather all of the pupils in the school hall where I announced the results,” he explained. “I asked what we should aim for next year, and one ambitious youngster called out Number One.

Peter is a resident of Tameside, and he joined Chinley School from his position as Deputy Head at Fairway Primary School in Offerton in January 2012. Although the schools were very similar in size, there was an obvious contrast that Peter elaborated upon. “I researched the school and the area before I took the position, and the biggest difference was in the rural nature of Chinley compared to the urban environment in Offerton.”

On arrival at the school Peter was very impressed with the warm welcome that he received from the families connected to the school, as well as the super teaching staff that he had inherited. He also spotted great potential in the facilities, with large grounds and space to expand learning areas into. There was a need to update the technology within the school, but the number one priority had to be the children. The children were achieving well, but the new Head saw the potential for them to improve their standards based on previous years. He set the ethos of the school to aim as high as possible, and the results after just one year are a testament to the way that his targets have been supported by staff, parents and children alike.

A key area for improvement was to make the learning environment the best that it could possibly be. The school secured a £10,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund, and this was supplemented by around £2,000 raised by the PTA. The money will pay for an outside canopy due for construction at the end of January that will allow the children to spend more time outside in all weathers.

The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum has been renewed, and in order to reflect the school’s commitment to all children,  there has been a complete renovation of the Nursery classroom. The school has launched a new play session for pre-schoolers to allow them to get to know the school and its staff before starting in Chinley Nursery  or Reception class.

Staff are committed to making Chinley Primary a more prominent feature of the local community, and to this end they have also extended the provision of before and after school care to allow parents to access the Early Birds And night Owl Club(EBNOC) so that they can make the commute to work as seamless as possible. EBNOC has a variety of activities to engage all of the children. They have recently spent money on a TV/relaxation room, role play resources, Lego, footballs and dressing up costumes.

Technology plays a big part in almost all of our lives, and significant innovation was introduced in this area. The ICT room was cleared of all of the old fashioned tower based PCs that were shared out into the other classrooms. The old ICT room was then partitioned into quiet learning areas. The tower PCs are growing increasingly outdated, and a plan is in place to replace these with modern tablet computers. Fifteen have already been purchased, from funds that a very prudent board of governors had accumulated, so all that remained was for the new head to persuade them that the funds would be best used in ensuring that the pupils had access to the very latest technology, and the governors were happy to support his request.

The considerable grounds within the school perimeter also had great potential, and a few of the parents volunteered to clear and generally tidy up the pond area that had obviously not been looked at for some time. That task is almost complete, however the parents still come in every week to assist with digging and more clearing, working with the school gardening group. The real results of this should be seen in the spring when the area will become a valuable learning environment, as the work will hopefully encourage frogs and other wildlife to venture into the pond.

The gardening group managed to secure an Eco-Schools bursary, and this has allowed them to work towards creating a musical area where children from Chinley School, as well as children from Peak School and the Pre-School, will be able to create music whilst shading from the summer sunshine. The children have designed musical instruments to be made from re-cycled building materials. They have also have cleared the grounds and are ready to lay the foundations once the better weather comes.

The very active School Council collected more than 25,000 Tesco vouchers last year and used these to purchase a huge variety of playtime toys and games. This encourages sharing, turn taking and other social skills, whilst also encouraging the children to be active and fit during play and lunchtimes.

It is always useful having parents that are willing to help, and the efforts of one such, Dr Frank Mair, were particularly beneficial. Dr Mair helped the school to get a grant of £3,000 from the Royal Society, and this led to a joint project with the University Of Manchester. The pupils went on a trip to the university, where they learnt about plastics in relation to the environment. The university also sent a team out to the school where they helped the pupils to make plastics of their own, particularly “goo” that is so popular with schoolchildren. The grant also went towards equipping the school with white coats, so the pupils really do look like scientists when conducting their experiments. The work with plastics led to a visit to Vinyl Compounds, a company based very close to the school, and they are hoping for visits to other local businesses in the future.

It has been a very busy year, but Mr Lambert is clear on what he wants to achieve, and how he wants to achieve it. “The school has always had an open door policy, and we have encouraged more parents to come forward with ideas and to get involved,” he explained. “We have also created a website to improve communication, and with a small amount of training we are self-sufficient in its maintenance.” At the heart of everything, though are the pupils. “We aim to build on the positive results that we have achieved so far,” said Peter. “We are concentrating very hard on making the curriculum as interesting as we can. We have a great community of parents, staff and governors, and we are all committed to making the pupil experience as complete as possible.”

To date this year the children have enjoyed a puzzle day, “Chinley Has The Wow Factor” talent show, a Tudor day, WW2 day where they experienced rationing and “make do and mend” activities, and heart awareness day with a sponsored skip. They have also had visits from local vicars, dentists, nurses, and historians who have been invited to make the curriculum come alive.

With the infrastructure in place the future holds many interesting challenges. Renovating two mobile units is the next big project, whilst the school aims to continue the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) initiatives, including the link with the University of Manchester, as well as increasing the involvement with local businesses.