Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fairview Primary School (Belfast Northern Ireland)

Fairview Primary School
Today I visited Neil McAllister from Fairview Primary School (500 students) in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Neil is a Year 6 Teacher who also co-ordinates the schools environmental programs.  I also met briefly with Mrs Maxwell the school Principal.  Neil was very generous with his time and despite undergoing his annual assessment the day of my visit was more than happy to have me sit in on his assessed lesson.  Neil’s passion for Fairview Primary extends over 6 years as a teacher and beyond that as an ex student. 
FairviewPrimary is currently involved in a number of programs I have already looked at to varying degrees:  Forest School, Learning Outside the Classroom, John Muir Award and Eco School.   What was particularly interesting was how the school incorporated all four programs into a holistic environmental program across the school.  Each program supplemented each other and worked well together. 
I was particularly interested in what the school did in relation to its Forest School program.  The deeper into Forest Schools I went the more it became apparent this was just a part of an overall approach.  Eco Schools, Learning Outside the Classroom, John Muir and Forest School all overlapped and supported each other.  Neil felt the opening up of the curriculum by the Education Department had made the outdoor environment more relevant.
Forest Schools
This operates across all three P6 classes.  Once a fortnight each class visits their local forest which is a 20 minute walk from the school.  Classes rotate lesson slots each fortnight. 
9:00am – 11:00am      Class 1
11:00am – 12:30pm    Class 2
1:15pm – 2:30pm        Class 3
Sessions are not always coordinated between classes.  Teachers run the sessions, however a forest expert provided by the local town authority, Dorothy Blackley remains all day in the forest to provide expert advice and support to lessons. This support is provided for the initial year of Forest Schools and will be withdrawn next year.  Teachers will then undertake the program in its entirety, having picked up expertise from Dorothy on the job throughout the year.
I had the opportunity to speak to Neil’s class about Forest Schools and they were so positive.  One common thread across the three P6 classes who undertook the program was when returning to class, students were required to keep a detailed diary.   Art, Health, Mathematics, Literacy, Science activities were all explained in detail by students.  They obviously had retained much of the information covered in Forest School and really didn’t liken this to in class lessons.  They just loved getting outside.  Next year the school is looking at linking each P6 class with a P2 class for some of their session with older students buddying up with younger students. 
School Grounds
The School Grounds have a well developed outdoor area with many spaces providing for future growth.  The area was more like a Forest within the school and included some outdoor classroom areas, tunnels and plenty of natural woodland areas.  Children were free to play in these areas during break times.  Staggered break times occurred due to constraints on facilities so younger students were not outside at the same time as older students.  When times do overlap students are restricted to Year level play areas.  Neil attended a Growing School Grounds conference in late 2009 which provided him with many ideas which he plans on developing into the school grounds in the future..  Many interesting grounds developments that I hadn’t seen before were as follows:

1.                    Each year level had a planter and looked after it for 12 months, each planter had a theme including, conifers, roses, healthy food.  Classes could add take away and develop these as they saw fit.
2.                    Year 7 leavers donated and planted a tree to the school grounds, and long term staff who were leaving the school also donated and planted trees.
The grounds development has been underway for four years and shows what is possible in such a short time.  The area had previously been a disused overgrown waste area of the school.

Eco Schools
This has also been underway for less than 12 months and the school is already on its Silver Award and looking towards its first Green Flag next year.  The driving force behind the Eco School plan is the Eco Committee consisting of 9 students and 2 teachers.  The school has major projects operating in Waste Management, Energy, Biodiversity, Water and Healthy Living.  There was evidence of all these projects throughout the school.  The real message here is Eco School is pupil lead.  There is not the legislative requirement to become an Eco School in Northern Ireland as there is in Scotland.  Travelling through Ireland earlier in the week the vast majority of Irish schools had Green Eco School flags flying.  It appears Northern Ireland is beginning to head in the same direction.

The healthy living project included a district competition “Green Mile” sponsored by the local government authority.  Students from competing schools either rode or walked to school for a week.  Records of distances were kept and submitted in two categories... most distance travelled and average distance per student. 

It is encouraging to see what can be achieved in such a short time with the whole school behind the project.
Link to more pictures. 


Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Stuart

You really are getting about over here! This school sounds like it's really trying to link up the learning well. I'm in Glasgow this weekend but travelling down withDi Blackmore to The Coombes School on Monday with my camera ready to go!

Best wishes

Stuart Cumming said...

Great to hear from you. say hi to Patrick at Coombes. his school will really inspire you. If you are looking for accom, Patrick organised a B&B for me with an ex staff member in a rebuilt barnhouse,which added to the visit as I was able to chat with the owners about the school over dinner.Loving Ireland and Nthn Ireland.How long are you in that part of the world for?I am attending a Heritage and Environmental Festival at Moulescoomb PS on Wed and Thurs I'm attending The World Outside the Classroom. An international event exploring school grounds
Based in Winchester, Hants and the South East of England, so may see you there? Friday I am back in Wales, so a busy week ahead, but really enjoying it.

Emma Strong said...

Those picnic tables look a bit too small for you, Stuart. But... just my size! So I vote we get a few for Withers, to save me sitting cross-legged on the cold concrete.


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