Jan Hilary · Sarah Collymore · Sounds-Write · St George's

St George’s Church of England Primary School: from crisis to calm

St George’s – from crisis to calm is the story of a school that twelve years ago was failing, and failing so badly it was in special measures. What that failure meant was that a good number children moving on to secondary school were unequipped to cope with the demands of the secondary curriculum. A huge proportion of the children were classified as having special needs and they were failing in the two subjects most necessary to underpin any sort of quality education: maths and basic literacy.

Since that time, and with a considerable amount of hard work on the part of all the staff involved under the leadership of Ms Janet Hilary, a National Leader of Education, the school has been transformed into an oasis of learning and of calm. Situated in an area of ‘severe deprivation’ in the heart of London, the school now finds itself in the top 2% of schools in England and head teachers from all over the country are visiting to discover the secrets of its success. 
Recently, following in the footsteps of some Australian educators, two principals from Cedar Rapids in Iowa have been to see the key instructional influences that have been brought together to produce this success. The video above is the product of their visit. As one of the principals Joy Long recognises, this is what ‘no child left behind’ can really mean. Joy’s colleague Angie Hoyer really puts her finger on it when she tells us that what struck her was ‘the leadership and the focus on leadership’.

Although you will hear the words ‘joy’ and ‘outstanding’ being used in the video to describe what is taking place at the school today, the answer to its achievement lies not in fine words or overinflated rhetoric but in the programmes implemented to bring such a high degree of success.

As the current head Sarah Collymore makes clear, much of the previous lack of attainment and substandard behaviour was attributable to the poor quality of teaching in the classroom. To remedy this situation, Jan introduced a much tighter structure to the school because, for children, structure means safety and security, and a secure environment is one in which children flourish and learn.

Starting with what Jan calls ‘positive directives’ – ‘speak nicely, listen carefully, act kindly, move calmly’ – and because ‘language models in the home were very often so impoverished’, oral language was given a strong focus in teaching and learning. And, as we know, oral language is the foundation for the successful teaching of reading and writing.

Sarah also talks about how they had been searching for something that would help the school with early literacy and, although there are, as she says, lots of programmes out there, ‘none of them have the consistency of Sounds-Write’. By introducing a solid and consistent early literacy programme, the leadership team understood that a similarly rigorous approach needed to be applied across the curriculum.

Jan once explained to me that the foundation for everything that is done in the school depends on children being able to read and write, and that Sounds-Write has provided the answer to that most basic of needs. Theresa Plummer, the reading specialist at St George’s spells out just how important it is to get this right from the beginning: ‘If you haven’t caught them by the age of seven,’ she says, ‘the gap is too big to make up and you are playing catch up all the way through primary school.’

You can also see from deputy head Sam Limon’s comments, that this is a terrific learning environment in which everyone wants to improve, to learn and get better at teaching, and much of this comes from the fact that there is a huge emphasis on teacher development.

Many thanks to everyone involved in making the video and special thanks to Chuck Peters, who first conceived the idea and then made it happen.

4 thoughts on “St George’s Church of England Primary School: from crisis to calm

  1. The Head Teachers and teachers certainly talk a good game, but we hear very little from the kids and see very little of their performance or of their instruction.

    Do you have their stats on the Year 1 and 2 Screening Check?

  2. Hi Dick and thanks for writing in again.
    100% of pupils at St George's passed the Phonics Screening Check in 2015. There will therefore not be a need for re-testing pupils who didn't pass the check. The same is true of the previous year.
    I'm just waiting for the school to let me have results of the baseline spelling test the school are now using. This is Dennis Young's Parallel Spelling Test and is the same one Dave Philpot and I used and on which our 'Report to school' was based and of which you are already aware.
    In case you missed it when I posted it before, our pilot school St Thomas Aquinas (2003) posted these results at the end of the first three years of schooling (before the PSC was introduced):
    The school is still using Sounds-Write and is still getting fantastic results (top of the area SATs tables again last year!) and they got 97% in the PSC. And, by the way, the school has an extraordinarily high number of children getting Level 5 in the English SATs. This, to me, has always been a good marker for whether pupils really can read and write when they get to secondary school.
    Best wishes,

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