Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Glasgow Schools

Today was spent with Mark Irwin, the Sustainable Development Officer for the City of Glasgow.  This local authority is so committed to environmental education in primary schools that they have committed funds to employing Mark, who currently works with a large number of schools in the Glasgow area. Mark has a science and biology background and has worked in numerous locations throughout the world.

Our first visit was Oak Grove Primary, where I was shown around the school by two senior students, one with a Celtic background and one an immigrant from Russia.  The Head Teacher,  Jane Cerexhe spent considerable time chatting with Mark and myself.  Oak Grove Primary’s catchment area consists mainly of council flats and in many cases there is nowhere for the children to experience the outdoors, except at school.  Their outdoor classroom had a blackboard mounted on a wall, a number of fruit trees, a seated reading circle (square), a mud play area, mini beast area.  Children didn’t use this area at recess or lunch.

 Initial reluctance by some was overcome through staff linking the current curriculum to what could be done in the outdoor classroom.  That is to say they weren’t taking on additional work, but were delivering the same material in a more hands on/practical way.  Every class has bought in to different aspects of the curriculum that are set down in an across-the-school planner…e.g P4 task is compost waste management, P6 manage the mini beast area.  The outdoor class is not an additional task or add on, it is delivering the same curriculum but in a different way.  The curriculum is the driver.

Steve, from Grounds for Learning was working with students on planning for an outdoor nature based play area.  He had taken the students outside for a walk around the grounds and then gathered them for sit down interactive session on what they liked and disliked in the playground.  He had a number of pictures of possibilities and students collected what they were interested in and made a photographic montage of what they would like to see happen for their school.  The school had received a small grant to work on the free play area and as in other schools I have visited, the children drove the program.

The school has just expanded its grounds through absorbing the grounds of a city based Language Centre building that was resited.  Using the Grounds for Learning model, I can see how limited funding can go a long way to achieving what the children want to happen.

Merry Lee PS Head Teacher Elizabeth Mahindru showed Mark and I around the school.  The school is 2 years old and has very well developed outdoor free play areas.  There are allotments behind the school where the school has an allocated area to grow vegetables.  There is a large wind generator that promotes reusable energy which is part of the school curriculum. Although only 2 years old, the outdoor play area was an exciting place for students.

Initially the students were taken offsite into different parklands and were allowed to play.  They were then surveyed as to what they most enjoyed in these dense parklands.  Responses included rolling in long grass, playing in water, hiding in the undergrowth, climbing over fallen trees, rolling down hills.  The students then worked with a landscape designer and planned the outdoor play area.  The local Council approved all but the pond and water areas which are still being negotiated.

 Parents were involved extensively in the consultation and development stage.   A major concern from staff and parents was the health and safety aspects.  Holes in grassed areas were seen as potential hazards, however cracks and potholes in hard surfaced areas (bitumen) were common and often unrepaired.  This was pointed out to parents who could see the irony.  Staff concerns about doing duty in muddy areas was  overcome by providing Wellington boots to duty teachers.

A research scientist looked in to children’s accidents in play areas and found that there were far more injuries in playgrounds with tarmac than in developed free play areas.  Since the development of the free play areas there has been nil injuries in that area, whereas grazing and minor injuries are an ongoing occurrence on the tarmac.


There was lots of thatched willow tunnels, huts and walls, really encouraging the children to find their own space.  There were fruit trees, large boulders for stepping stones, a rope bridge, wine barrels submerged in the dirt (to hide in), reading circles and a number of quiet areas for children to escape to.

Kindergarten staff were concerned that the area wasn’t fenced, however since utilising the area the K’s know the boundaries and due to the fantastic play area have no intention of leaving anyway.

Using the allotments to grow vegetables developed a close working relationship with many of the elder members of the local community.  The school has a number of business partnerships and links, some of which play for two community work days per year, which is appreciated.  There appears to be a greater corporate responsibility across the UK.  Any developments close to a school require the developers to inject funds into community projects.  Schools are often the beneficiaries of these.  When the outdoor play area was complete, parents were the first people to play on it during the official opening held in the evening. Children respect and care for the area  and despite being open to the community no vandalism occurs.  In summary, an outstanding outdoor area and inspiring to see what can be achieved in two years.

Toryglen PS was surrounded by high rise flats.   The school is fighting a constant battle against vandalism and disaffected youth who constantly destroy outdoor developments. A recent thatched willow hut was destroyed after 7.5 hours of completion.  I was impressed by the large greenhouse, constructed entirely of recycled plastic bottles.  Windows along one corridor were painted out except for small ‘spy holes”.  Bushes outside these windows had bird feeders and an endless number of birds used these feeders.  Students had binoculars and bird identification charts and were able to observe the birds in their natural environment without disturbing them.  The Head Teacher is doing a wonderful job in a challenging environment.

More Pictures 

Tomorrow I'm off to visit two more schools, including one school with 40 students who are deaf and blind.  The outdoor areas are really special places for these students.  Mark will be taking me along to what I'm sure will be more inspirational Glasgow school. 


emma said...

You've gotta love those British beaches. The sun was out that day - what more can I say? And I love the wellie idea - I'll start looking for a groovy pair now. Glad to see you're getting the lingo: playing field, allotment, etc. But remember it is 'dinner' not lunch. And I hope you've tried a school dinner, something like toad-in-the-hole followed by spotted-dick and custard.
Emma Strong.

Room 3 WPS said...

Good morning Mr Cumming,
Natasha: Hi, other than going to schools, what other things have you been doing?
Taliesin: How is your holiday? Happy holidays.
Brittany: Can I move to the school?
Best Wishes from Room 3 :)

Joan said...

Very interseting Stuart, photos are great - it does look cold. Has it rained much?

Fiona said...

Glasgo is looking good, love the stonework in the architecture there, how is Gourock and how is the stats of raining 4 out of seven days going? Enjoy, a great experience, schools look great , we really are lucky with space we have here.

Stuart Cumming said...

Hi Room 3 Natasha it doesn't get dark here till 11pm so yesterday I finished work at 4pm and Mrs Cumming and I went for a drive for 7 hours..we didnt get back to our hotel till 11pm! There are some photos of what we saw on the blog. Thanks Taliesin for the holiday wishes, I know Mrs Cumming is having a lovely holiday and even though I am working it is fantastic to see how different schools are compared with Withers. Brittany you can move if you want but Bunbury is a pretty good place to live. Thanks again Rm 3 for your comments and hi to Mrs Jacobs too.

Stuart Cumming said...

Fiona...we actually went to Gourock yesterday afternoon....ended up doing a 7 hr drive. It was beautiful...we wanted to see where you loved...what a fantastic area! Stu

Stuart Cumming said...

Hi Emma. ..thanks for the local knowledge...Jen and I still think everyone else has a strong accent, then we realise that no....we are the ones with the accents!! Saw something black and round at brekky yesterday but we weren't brave enough to try it...heard it was black pudding! Thanks for your interest in the blog...Stuart

Stuart Cumming said...

Mum and Fiona...no rain as yet, but this is only our 3rd day in Scotland so if Fiona's stats are correct we should have rain for the next 4 days! Off to Loch Lomond after visiting schools today.

Room 8 WPS said...

Hello Mr Cumming,
We really enjoyed looking at your photos, especially the ones of the playgrounds.
Here are our two questions for the day.
1). What types of foods have you eaten and most enjoyed?
2). How you seen any strange or unusaul animals/creatures in your travels?
Cody would also like to know if you have visited the queen yet?
Enjoy your travels and thank-you for keeping us updated
Room 8

Stuart Cumming said...

Rm 8...lovely to hear from you and I am glad you are enjoying the blog. We have been in Scotland for 2 nights now and went to a restuarant for dinner which was the same as in WA but at breakfast yesterday there was this black round thing that looked quite disgusting...we were too scared to taste it but heard someone calling it a black pudding. Can you let me know what that is? We haven't seen any strange animals but there were some beautiful woolly sheep with black heads yesterday. Everything is very, very green and there are lots of rolling hills. And I did go to visit the Queen but she wasn't there..at Buckingham Palce or Windsor Castle, so maybe she is at Balmoral castle in Scotland..I might go and see!! Keep working hard at school...hello Mrs Yates.

Lucinda Pre-primary said...

Hi Stuart, Have been following your travels and love these ideas it is what I have wanted for a playgroung for years but kept gettin told things were not safe, I have started making a plan for our outdoor area with Carol from some of the ideas from your travels, I think I will have to approach Bunnings. Say hi to jen

Fiona said...

Thanks for the photos of Gourock, it is all so beautiful there, enjoy Loch Lomond, a lovely place for a warm drink at end of day at the base of Ben Lomond( a mere 3 hr hike to top! but the wee hotel on the shores is a beauty ,rowardennan hotel if my directions are right its the north side.Can do some of walk for views or just ask Im sure. Also note the tv series filmed by Loch Lomond wasHeartbeat and Take the High Road.:)

Elly D said...

Hi Stuart,
I'm Elly, one of you're mum's quilting friends on the net. I'm up in Caithness.
I had to laugh at your question about the black pudding. It is quite delicious honestly best eaten hot. It is made from.... pigs blood.. :)) sounds very disgusting but it's really tasty. (I wish I could see the look on your face right now ;))
Anyway, sounds like you are having a wonderful holiday. I don't know if you plan to come as far up as Caithness but you can give me a shout if you are. Enjoy the weather.. it's seems to be not bad at the moment :) Best wishes Elly

Room 3 said...

Selamat Siang Pak Cumming, nice pictures,
Natishka: Have you been enjoying the food you have been eating?
Danielle: Hey, can I come with you next time?
Adam: How long until you return to Australia?
We hope that the rest of your holidays are very bagus. Room 3 :) Sampai Jumpa


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