Parklands Primary School is based in an area of Leeds where 85% of pupils are eligible for pupil premium. But rather than being an obstacle, it’s a driving force; the school is rated ‘outstanding’ and was awarded the Tes Business Collaboration National Award in 2017. For the March issue of Education Executive, we spoke with business manager DIANNE MCELWEE to learn more about how they inspire staff, students and the wider community
Sometimes all it takes is a little inspiration – and this is exactly what Parklands Primary School offers every day to students, staff and the local community. We often talk of areas of high-deprivation; this school is officially the most deprived primary school in Leeds, with 85% of students in receipt of pupil premium. However, to walk its corridors, consider its academic prowess or see the achievements of students and school in your Twitter feed, you wouldn’t think so. This comes down to a simple mantra according to Dianne McElwee, business manager at the school. “We don’t use deprivation as an excuse here at Parklands Primary; we use it as our driving force. The school is proud to be in the top one per cent of schools in the country in maths (we actually scored the highest progress score of any school in the country) and in the top five per cent in reading and writing. Given we are the most deprived, we are very proud of this.” The school’s accolades are impressive; in September 2017 it was recognised by Ofsted for the work that they do and was awarded the ‘outstanding’ grade – the first non-academy school to achieve this in two years.
Inspiring and achieving
So, what sets the school apart? “The drive of our headteacher and leadership team – the school is referred to as the ‘fun palace’ because it’s constantly positive and inspires our pupils to believe that they can achieve,” Dianne answers. The school is committed to elevating the educational aspirations and outcomes of all students – something that is exemplified in weekly awards for students – for example, ‘Stars of the Week’, or ‘Writers of the Week’ – and reinforced in the opportunities that the school provides through partnerships within the community. “We do our best to get our pupils to leave their deprivation at the door and work with all our pupils to give them the best chance possible of continuing their academic and personal progress at their secondary schools,” Dianne explains.
In June 2017 the school was awarded the Tes Business Collaboration National Award. This, Dianne says, was as a result of the business partnerships the school actively seeks out to the benefit of every member of the school community. “Collaboration is in the DNA of Parklands Primary School. Their innovative partnership stems from resourceful leaders working collaboratively for the benefit of the school and the local community. So much of what this outstanding school does will endure for years to come,” the judges said when making its award to the school. Through such strategic partnerships, not only is Parklands Primary successfully supporting students’ academic learning, but also introducing students to the wider working world – inevitably raising aspirations. “We have seen improvements to the school environment through numerous volunteer projects – for example, murals, decoration, gardens, etc. Local businesses also send in groups weekly to do reading and maths with pupils – providing one-to-one contact. Plus, contact with many from the world of work – inspiring pupils to aspire to similar jobs,” Dianne says.
Making it work
Fostering this collaborative spirit requires the support of the full school community. The school leadership team is responsible for embedding a collaborative approach and does so in a very simple way. “It’s about making everyone welcome; we invite businesses in to visit the school and we wow them with the enthusiasm that is felt here,” Dianne explains. With beaming students, happy to learn, it’s easy to see how this might work. But it also requires continued effort. The school understands the importance of brand proposition and ensuring that your wider community is aware of your school, as well as the outstanding work it does with students and within the community. The school works with Business in the Community, one of the Prince’s Charities – set up to establish the wider agenda for corporate responsibility and bring businesses on board – and is involved in a relentless campaign to promote the school. Plus, they follow up every connection, Dianne adds. By no means is this an easy task, but the benefits are manifold – it’s not often a school can change the fortunes of so many of its students. Schools sit at the heart of their communities and people are often willing to support them. Every school has a community that can be enrolled to help support teaching and learning; maybe it’s time to tap into yours?