Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Coombes

The Coombes Primary School (Reading)

Fabulous school. The Outdoor’s program was embedded throughout the school.

Students who were in trouble sat in the staff room. This didn’t appear to be a common practice but was accepted on the day necessity, however enabled teachers to be free. Support staff as in all other schools were on duty at lunch time. These staff then had a 30 minute break once the children returned to class.

Students played throughout the grounds at lunch time. There were two distinctive sites and the older and younger students had separate play areas. The Head Teacher who began the school was obviously a real visionary and the school has developed, over time, outstanding grounds and environmental program. Visitors are common, a group of Dutch student teachers ware visiting on the day I was there.

Paths were a real feature. Wood chips which were a very good environmentally friendly alternative to limestone paths abounded. Use of waste from the local government clean ups were beneficial to both agencies. Paths twisted and turned throughout the grounds. Children just loved running and exploring these. They really added to the area of the school, giving the appearance that the school was a great deal larger than was the case. There was even a path that was well hidden and went around the perimeter of the school. You felt as if you were in a hidden forest while on this path. Children utilized these paths and were more often than not out of the site of duty staff. This was no accident and was how they were designed. The Head Teach likened it to a garden, “You don’t want to see it all at once, you want to be lead to different areas”

There were countless areas classes could use for lesson outside. Numerous story circles, an unbelievable “enchanted” story chair, amphitheatre, sitting areas. Countless vegetable plots “allotments” as they are known here, which classes were free to use as they saw fit. Again fruit trees abounded, and were interspersed throughout the school rather than in a specific orchard. There was what appreared to be a large forest that included species from throughout the UK. Really gave the school depth. Wonderful areas to take children without having to go off site.

The school oval “field” was out of bounds at lunch times but with all the other activities on offer this was not an issue. There were lots of small rooms used as classrooms for small group instruction that were interspersed throughout the school. A tree house was a well used room. This wasn’t used for playing in during breaks but as a learning area during class times for small group instruction.

There was lots of inexpensive playground gear. Logs, concrete blocks, tyres filled with cement. There wasn’t soft fall under these areas. The A/Head Patrick Prichard explained children needed to learn their limitations, risk taking was a part of life and children soon learn what they can and can’t do.

Again as in other schools I have visited many children at lunchtime we off on paths or areas out of sight of duty staff (Teacher Assistants) children were trusted to behave and did. If something untoward occurred children would find the teachers. There was not a sense of all children had to be visible to the duty teacher. Little nooks and crannies were developed as play spaces rather than blocked off. A “Chill Out Area” was one such place where children who just wanted some quiet time could sit. A computer club operated daily by Carol the ITC teacher and this was full of students on line and having fun. There was no compulsion to be outdoors at break times.

The local town is adjacent to an army barracks. The barracks contributes to works at the school through the provision of labour and machinery as required.

The environmental direction of the school has been achieved over time, with the school’s board of governors’ fully behind the Head Teacher in the overall grounds development.

Paths. Use of willow to develop paths, this is grown on site to involve students and cut down costs. A geology trail existed with huge stone structures from all over the UK interspersed throughout the site. Many of the stones had rules, saying and the like carved in them. Literally written in stone.

Adventure Playground. Use of large logs just piled on the bitumen surface was really popular with students. Vegetation from dense undergrowth to open woodland was close to classrooms.
Several ponds had been dug into the grounds and were fenced off. These provided aquatic environments students could utilize for learning. Livestock were also part of the school environment with a few sheep including a lamb fenced of with portable fencing on a side of the oval. Days earlier the mother had died while giving birth. This provided an opportunity to learn about life, and death. Learning opportunist such as these were utilised as they came to hand. The staff appeared very adaptable and able to make the use of opportunities as they presented themselves. An amphitheatre was well hidden in the woodland, which looked capable of seating the entire school if required.



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