Our Academy Blog

Teaching at NOPA - a student's view

posted 6 Mar 2017, 04:46 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 6 Mar 2017, 05:00 ]

 Starting a new placement is, I suppose, a bit like your first day at school. Will the children like me? When will I ever be able to navigate my own way through these classrooms? How on earth am I ever going to photocopy anything on that new printer let alone solve the intricate problem of a paper jam?!

Learning Environments

was clear from my first day at NOPA that this wasn't a ‘normal’ run of the mill school. I was amazed as I was guided through the rainforest, narrowly avoiding the canoe, watching the monkeys swing on vines above my head and marvelling at the beautiful waterfall. Next I was transported back in time to a quaint, wealthy Victorian sitting room complete with a fireplace and plates laid out for afternoon tea. These were the immersive learning environments. Their purpose is to bring experiences into the classroom for the children to interact with first hand. These learning environments are not precious, inaccessible and something that children should just look at. Teachers actively encourage children to explore. Rarely will you be walking through Year 2 and not see a child quietly working away in the canoe or a Year 3 child working by lamp light in the Victorian mine.

As a student this type of immersion in the learning environment was very new to me and threw up a mass of questions and- admittedly- scepticism. Won't it distract the children? Will behaviour be affected? What's the point? I can only say that it doesn't. Really. I was amazed as well but I think the uniqueness of the learning environment combined with the philosophy and ethos of the school just means that it works in this particular setting. What I would say is that you definitely have to see it for yourself and pictures don't do it justice.

Alternative Seating

Another aspect of NOPA school life that was very different was the concept of alternative seating. I understand that this is some teacher’s nightmare. I realised this as I divulged my delight to some fellow student teachers and have been met with horror when I eagerly tell them tales of children lounging on beanbags, using stand up desks and essentially sitting wherever they like. Something which really sold the idea of alternative seating to me was the schools idea of putting yourself as a child in the classroom- would I want to work if I was sat in this classroom? The answer hit me when I realised I did 90% of my feedback, planning and university work laid on my sofa or lounging on a beanbag. This is further reinforced by Hattie’s (2011) concept “The overall message is: teaching is successful if teachers see learning through the eyes of pupils” (p.429). This key message really is at the heart of the ethos of NOPA.

Challenges of teaching at NOPA

Teaching at NOPA has sometimes been a challenge. Adapting to the vast amount of technology that is integrated and woven into daily life at the school was initially a challenge. Luckily, NOPA is an Apple RTC and therefore provides regular training on how to successfully implement technology and iPads throughout the curriculum and in a variety of relevant ways (assessment, feedback and the curriculum).

Advice for future university students at NOPA

The most crucial piece of advice is to completely immerse yourselves within the opportunities and learning environment that NOPA provides for you as a student teacher and therefore a learner. According to Dunne (2002) “Teachers need to be provided with the learning opportunities they are expected to provide students.” (p. 69). This is what NOPA provides for student teachers- a safe and supported environment in which there are an abundance of learning opportunities for the student teacher that then trickle down into the classroom thus benefitting the children.

Wonderfully Weird and Wacky

There are plenty more wonderful and weird things that go on within NOPA- the storytelling caravan, our class bunnies, innovative technology, a wonderful staff team (for the first time ever I haven't heard the dreaded “why are you going into teaching? Don’t do it” spiel) and the final thing is just a ‘vibe’. Something which I can't quite put my finger on but it's contagious- teachers, teaching assistants and children all have it. It's the lovely feeling of welcome, new ideas and a great working/learning environment embedded within NOPA.



Dunne, K. A. (2002). Teachers as learners: Elements of effective professional development. In How to find and support tomorrow's teachers (pp. 67-77). Amherst, MA: National Evaluation Systems, Inc. 

Ewald Terhart (2011) Has John Hattie really found the holy grail of research on teaching? An extended review of Visible Learning, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43:3, 425-438

Sophie Turton (3rd Year YSJ student) - 06/03/17

The Impact of 'Slow Writing' as a Scaffold in English

posted 25 Feb 2017, 01:34 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 25 Feb 2017, 01:36 ]

‘Every artist was first an amateur.’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson). 

This statement is very true of the writing process and the journey on which every young writer finds themselves. 

Many may look upon the concept of 'Slow Writing' as stifling the creativity of writers. I would however contest this and state that ‘creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality.’ Through the use of 'Slow Writing' prompts, pupils are able to use their ideas by slowing down the process of writing in order to convey their message. When the pressure of thinking of what to include in a sentence is removed, the ability to be more creative is increased. 

Providing constraints can actually promote creativity. The use of 'Slow Writing' allows the writer to slow down and consider their craft. They are able to focus upon how they wish to convey a message, not just what the message will be. Thoughts can be organised and more structured when they are scaffolded effectively. It is essential to note that 'Slow Writing' should not be relied upon by children; therefore should not be used in each and every lesson. As with any scaffold or support, there should be a plan to reduce and remove the scaffold over time, leaving behind a more confident and competent pupil.

David Didau asked the question, ‘What do you need to know to write well?’ This is a question all teachers ask themselves when attempting to equip children with the tools to become independent writers. Some key principles for the process of writing are: having an awareness of impact, understanding the structure of a text and a sound and secure knowledge of grammar.

When I first heard about 'Slow Writing' I was immediately sceptical. I am a year six teacher, very much focused upon raising attainment and ensuring there is a plethora of evidence in my writing books. Therefore, how can I ask the children to 'slow' down?! However, as with any idea, I was happy to read around the subject matter and discover more.

Using it as a scaffold, I carefully selected exactly what I wanted the children to achieve from their piece of writing. It provided a clear and concise structure from which to work and base writing on. The statements used were intrinsically linked to the unit-specific success criteria, therefore ensuring that the pupils had focus for purpose. 

The question on any teachers lips would surely be, 'But is this independent?' Well, no, not exactly. This is a scaffold, a teaching method and technique. This is not something that would be used in every lesson, it is not something that would create a degree of 'independence'. It is designed to quite literally 'slow down' the process of writing, in order for children to think through very carefully what they need to achieve from individual sentences. I have actively encouraged the children in my class to add extra sentences where they deem necessary and change the order of the slow writing prompts should they find that it works better in their written text. This has then created an added element of freedom and choice.

Writing should create choice, but without models and initial scaffolds many children remain unexposed to the choices that are right at their fingertips - or pen tips! Higher ability children have been guided by the prompts but often choose not to use them. I have made it clear that again, this comes down to choice. If they are truly capable and competent writers, they will be open to a wide variety of writing styles and opportunities. Those less able, require more guidance. This is but another technique to assist the writing process and is very much about quality over quantity.

I have enjoyed great success since trialling this technique. This has been particularly true for my middle ability children, particularly the boys whom as we know, stereotypically underperform girls. (See below for some selected examples.) They appear to like the methodical task of writing in this way. It has provided a 'comfort blanket' and a rationale behind their writing. As I have intrinsically linked it to the success criteria and the expected age appropriate grammar criteria, I am discovering that their knowledge of grammar, punctuation and spelling has increased. Expectations of the paragraph(s) have used technical vocabulary linked to our grammar lessons. This has also assisted children when answering questions linked to the grammar paper.

Take the example below: the prompts themselves have been edited so that the child in question understands what a 'subordinating conjunction' is, by using the acronym 'A WHITE BUS'. This is based upon child-friendly language, showing a concept many find difficult. This highlights how the child has transferred knowledge gained in a grammar lesson in to their writing. The 'Slow Writing' prompts have acted in this instance as a guide to remind children of their age related expectations. 

'Slow Writing' provides a focus and a structure to writing. I have also found it very beneficial to upskill children’s understanding of grammatical concepts. For example, when writing a sentence which must include a subordinating conjunction, they need to ensure that they are confident and secure in their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions. I have found this has enabled children to transfer knowledge from discrete grammar lessons, in to their independent writing sessions. The process itself ensures that the learning of the lesson is completely explicit. The Literacy Shed have also written a blog advocating the use of 'Slow Writing' for teaching children the technical concepts of sentence structure.

This piece of work was produced using 'Slow Writing' prompts. This child later chose the same piece of work to explain how the feedback she had been given had been helpful to her progress; she recorded her thoughts on a post-it note in her book.

Equally, this displays pupil’s feelings about the 'Slow Writing' prompts and their use. 


All examples have been taken from my own Year Six class, although other classes across school have also trialled the approach. For more information about ‘Slow Writing’ please visit ‘Tim’s Teaching Tools' here.

Stacey Campbell (English/KS2 leader) - 25th February 2017

Technology in Education – Sharing Practice Across Primary & Secondary

posted 16 Feb 2017, 05:05 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 16 Feb 2017, 05:07 ]

On Thursday 26th January 2017, a group of twelve year 7 secondary students and staff from Hillsview Academy visited North Ormesby to learn about the wide range of technology and devices we use to aid learning. Our team of Y5/6 ‘Digital Ambassadors’ demonstrated how we use technology across the curriculum with a view to possibly emulate back at Hillsview. 

On the day, the ambassadors introduced the tech that was being displayed on their table. They then handed the tech over to the Hillsview students, in pairs, so that they could get ‘hands on’. As they got to grips with the tech, the digital ambassadors explained how it would benefit in the field of education. After 15 or so minutes at each ‘station’, the students would rotate around.

There was a range of technology on show, including products such as: Osmo; Ollie; Dot and Dash; Makey-Makey and apps/software related to both augmented and virtual reality, and coding. There were opportunities to see how we use collaborative tools like Seesaw and Google Classroom, as well as ideas on how to use apps like Minecraft to inspire writing.


Approximately half-way through their visit, the Hillsview students were divided into two groups, one of which was taken on a tour of the school while the other group continued learning about the technology.

One of the North Ormesby digital ambassadors involved in this event quoted, ”I enjoyed it because we got feedback on our work and we were questioned on what we do'.

Our secondary neighbours had their say too – one young man said, “The event was amazing, I would like to go back again.” While another added, “It was class! I can’t believe how much the primary students know about technology.” One young man said, “I definitely want my brothers and sisters to go to that primary school!”

There was also some super feedback from the Hillsview staff: “I have never seen pupils so confident and engaged with the technology. The way they were able to explain to others was so valuable. The trip was a pleasure to take part in and the students and I learnt so much about how technology can be used.”

Hillsview have now gone on to appoint their own team of ‘Digital Ambassadors’ after displaying attitudes to learning that were impeccable and asking questions and being enthused about how technology can be used in lessons. The collaboration was hugely successful and we are looking forward to working together more in the future and improving our partnership between the two academies. 

Rebecca Mewse & Amy Doughton - Year 6 students (2017)

The North Ormesby Academy Reading Rabbits

posted 30 Jan 2017, 02:43 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 30 Jan 2017, 07:14 ]

When it comes to pet ownership, there are a number of proven health benefits for people; from physical, mental and emotional improvements, to enhancing social skills and decreasing a person's risk of heart attack.

There are wonderful organisations out there like PAT Dogs that train dogs and people to take their pets into hospitals, nursing homes and schools to provide some of the joy and health benefits pets bring.

As well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol, pet owners suffer fewer minor ailments such as colds. Dogs can also act as "early warning" to detect an approaching epileptic seizure or sniff out disease. Medical Detection Dogs is an amazing organisation that trains dogs to help people with life-threatening medical conditions such as diabetes. They are currently being trained to detect cancer. Dogs are used because their sense of smell is around 10,000 times more acute than ours.

Pets can also teach those with learning difficulties or autism to engage and interact with the outside world. There are numerous case studies of children who, before getting a pet, had been locked inside their own little world, uncommunicative and cut off. After forming a bond with their pet, parents find that almost by miracle their child emerges into the outside world; they engage and show levels of emotion not previously experienced. That is the miracle of pet ownership.

So what of pets in school?

Pets have been found to enrich the classroom experience. Observing and caring for an animal instills a sense of responsibility and respect for life. A pet brings increased sensitivity and awareness of the feelings and needs of others - both animals and humans.
Studies show that the presence of animals tends to lessen tension in the classroom. Caring for pets in the classroom is one way of improving school attendance and teaching children about responsibility.

Health & Education

It’s official! Studies show that children from families with pets are better equipped to fight off infection than children from non-pet households, showing significantly higher levels of immune system performance. When school attendance records were compared side by side, researchers discovered that children with pets averaged more days at school every year than their pet-free counterparts.


The study also showed that children turn to pets for emotional well-being, with 40% of children choosing pet companionship when feeling down. Children were also found to seek out their pets when feeling tired, upset, scared or lonely, and children said they enjoy doing homework and learning with pets nearby.

Pets Build Self Esteem

Helping to take care of a pet gives a child a sense of pride and accomplishment, especially if the animal is able to return the affection. Shari Young Kuchenbecker, Ph.D. (research psychologist at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles) says, “The child who cares for a pet knows that what he does matters, and so he’ll want to do more of it. The more successfully he feeds, walks, or emotionally bonds with the pet, the more confident he’ll feel.” In fact, studies conducted by the Waltham Centre have shown that children with pets have higher levels of self-esteem than those without pets.

Pets Teach Responsibility

Even a small child can begin to learn to care for the needs of another living being. Whether helping to empty a cup of dry kibble into the rabbit’s bowl, or filling the hamster’s water bottle, it’s never too early to start teaching children proper animal care. Studies show caring for pets aids in improving school attendance and teaching children about responsibility.

Pets become friends

Nobody enjoys being treated roughly. Children soon learn that if they want to be liked and trusted by the family cat, they’ll need to treat her carefully and kindly. This sort of training benefits all children, but is especially important to small boys who don’t often get the chance in our society to practise nurturing skills as girls do.

Reading Dogs

Dogs are being used increasingly in schools to help improve children’s literacy. 
It is an unusual idea but researchers think they have proved a link between stress and poor learning habits. The purpose of reading dogs is to lessen stress in the classroom and increase their ability to learn. It is being overseen by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and includes schemes organised by several canine charities: Pets As Therapy, Caring Canines, Dogs Helping Kids, Building Understanding Of Dogs and Reading Education Assistance Dogs. All use trained dogs in schools across Britain.

The idea has proved so popular that Pets As Therapy, which operates a scheme called 'Read2Dogs', now has 200 schools on its waiting list. The premise is simple: instead of reading aloud to a teacher or classmates, a child reads to a dog. The dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds as long as they don’t bark, bite, jump, growl or do anything frightening. Some sit beside the child’s chair, others even sit on a child’s knee. What matters is that the dog, unlike a human listener, is a completely uncritical audience. This relaxes the child and helps build confidence.

Our Reading Rabbits


The waiting list for a dog is long - we couldn't wait, so decided to explore the idea of other animals. It was then that we heard of two little rabbits looking to be 'rehomed' and adopted. Thus arrived Toffee and Truffle (as the children named them). The appropriate risk assessments are in place and they reside in the classroom during the day and go home to a teacher's house for weekends and holidays. They have a big outside run when the weather is nice.

During their classroom time they sit next to the children and offer them an outlet to read to or emotionally bond with. They have places to climb, hiding places to go and relax in when they want to be alone and a litter tray which they've been trained to use. All the children take their turn in caring for them and they've been settled with us now for almost a year. 

So what impact have the rabbits had within the classroom?

The children are best placed to answer that; here's what they've said...

"The rabbits have made the classroom a calmer and more relaxed place to learn."

"I enjoy the sense of responsibility it gives me by looking after the rabbits."

"I know they can't speak human but I still like to read to them."

"The rabbits have big ears so that makes them good listeners."

We simply couldn't imagine now life without our very special Reading Rabbits!


Chris Hall (Y3 teacher) - 30th January 2017

Why do we need to work in partnership and what does it mean?

posted 30 Jan 2017, 01:50 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 30 Jan 2017, 02:32 ]

Schools cannot stand alone and expect to be successful. Schools by their very nature have to work in partnership with a variety of people and external groups, the local, national and international communities. They are the central hub of any area and must reach out to parents, families, governors, local community members and many agencies.
From September 2007 schools had a duty to promote community cohesion under the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

Community cohesion suggests a society/group/community with a common vision and a sense of belonging in which the diversity of people's backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated, valued and celebrated; where similar life opportunities are available to all and strong and positive relationships exist and are developed. 

Community cohesion in schools was reported on and inspected under the three following headings:

Teaching, learning and curriculum

helping children and young people to learn to understand others, to value diversity whilst also promoting shared values, to promote awareness of human rights and to apply and defend them, and to develop the skills of participation and responsible action.

Equity and excellence

to ensure equal opportunities for all to succeed at the highest level possible, striving to remove barriers to access and participation in learning and wider activities and working to eliminate variations in outcomes for different groups.

Engagement and extended services

to provide reasonable means for children, young people, their friends and families to interact with people from different backgrounds and build positive relations, including: links with different schools and communities; the provision of extended services; and opportunities for pupils, families and the wider community to take part in activities and receive services which build positive interaction and achievement for all groups.

 In 2011 however, the explicit duty on Ofsted to report on schools’ contribution to community cohesion was removed, although community cohesion remained within the scope of inspection. This meant that some schools reduced the emphasis on community and partnership working and switched their focus to other areas of the curriculum.

Subsequently the rise in gang crime, hate related crime and terrorism meant that yet again the need for further promotion of community cohesion was needed.

From November 2014 schools were expected to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Then in July 2015 schools became subject to a duty under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. This duty is known as the Prevent duty.


So what does this mean for schools and why partnership working?

In order to meet their duty, schools need help and support. They need contributions from different individuals and different communities, each holding and sharing different ambitions, aspirations, beliefs and life experiences, all working together to demonstrate the richness of neighbourhood, town, country and world.


How do we do this at NOPA?

We embrace the idea of community cohesion. We want to raise the aspirations, hopes and dreams of our pupils. We want them to develop tolerance and understanding, have strong fundamental British values, access a wide variety of experiences, develop strong and positive relationships , build mutual civility, be well informed, respect diversity and give something back.


We believe strongly in 'youth social action' - defined as practical action in the service of others to create positive change’ which  covers a range of activities such as fundraising, supporting charities, supporting other people, and campaigning for causes. We do this through working closely with the Step up to Serve campaign to encourage participation with social action.

We use the curriculum to deliver understanding and tolerance of religious beliefs visiting the local Churches, Mosque, Hindu Temple, Synagogue and Gurdwara.

We participate in the Show Racism the Red Card campaign reinforcing the tolerance and acceptance agenda.

We encourage children to support international charities and initiatives such as World Wildlife Day, International Literacy Day and Water Aid. 


We use our curriculum to offer depth and breadth of experience, wherever possible immersing the children in an environment which reflects the subject matter being taught. For example studying a habitat the classroom is transformed into a rain forest and studying Ancient Egypt the classroom becomes the tomb of Tutankhamen.

We partner with the local art gallery MIMA and The Museums Service locally and nationally to enrich and support curriculum delivery. Bringing into the school Authors, Illustrators, Theatre Groups, Musicians and Dancers also supplements the curriculum and addresses any experience deficit.

We work closely and engage with local services such as the Police, PCSOs, Street Wardens, Fire Brigade, Dentists, School Nurse and Opticians participating in their campaigns and competitions and gaining an understanding of their work through workshops and assemblies.



We promote the world of work and have many great partnerships with local and national industries and companies including Dow Chemicals, Visualsoft, Spearhead International, Raw Digital, Campus North, Perspective, Marvellous Me and Iris Connect, to name but a few. 

By connecting with these organisations we are able to be at the cutting edge of some major developments to support education, give children opportunities to visit work places and see for themselves what the world of work expects and what opportunities could be open to them.

Most recently our engagement with local 'tech' industries has been driven by our knowledge that many jobs in the local area are going unfilled due to a skills deficit not yet being fully delivered on by colleges and universities. If we can foster an interest in technology at an early age then this may influence our pupils choice of educational and work pathway. It has also influenced our decision to apply and be awarded the ICT Mark and to become an Apple Regional Training Centre so we offer our own contribution to improving the delivery of technology skills by training teachers in the local area.


We work with other schools, teaching alliances, academy trusts, colleges and universities to enrich experiences and promote ambition. We believe we demonstrate the commitment to lifelong learning by encouraging staff to keep studying, supporting work placements for students and volunteers, lecturing at universities, supporting and challenging other schools, publishing supporting materials and website for teachers and writing and publishing professional blogs.


We encourage the children to be involved in fundraising for a variety of charities locally, nationally and internationally developing their social action and the idea of giving something back. We aim to do this in a fun way encouraging pupil voice to drive the ideas and implementation.

At NOPA we believe we have developed a collaborative culture, members of the school community work together effectively and are guided by a common purpose. All members of the community—teachers, governors, pupils, families and partner agencies share a common vision of what the school should be like and work together to fulfil that aim. We believe we are stronger together and cannot work in isolation.

The stronger the partnerships the stronger the school!

A huge thank you to all who work with us to deliver experiences, support, challenge, aspiration, dreams, tolerance, respect, diversity and values we couldn't do it alone.

Chris Kemp-Hall (Principal) - 30th January 2017


How we’re supporting Teachers in STEM

posted 26 Jan 2017, 00:14 by Craig Nicholson

We wanted to hold a STEM Teach Meet so that educators and industry could get together and discuss how we can help close the digital skills gap in the region, so we did just that last Monday at Campus North. With a talk from Alison Shaw from the UTC bringing to light some hard-hitting facts about STEM in the region, it’s clear that we all need to be working together to ensure that young people with the relevant skills will be able to take advantage of the 60k jobs in science and tech over the next 10 years!

We also had Christine Kemp-Hall and Craig Nicholson from North Ormesby Primary Academy along to chat about how they’ve taken their school from Requires Improvement to Outstanding in just 2 years, as well as how they incorporate digital skills throughout the curriculum. In their most recent OFSTED report, it was recognised that, “the academy’s use of information and communication technology is exceptional and permeates all of its work. It is used effectively to help improve teaching, communicate with parents and extend pupils’ opportunities to learn at home.” They shared some pearls of wisdom too, as well as resources and ideas via Tim’s Teaching Tools, an online bank of resources available for anyone to access.

Christine and Craig from North Ormesby Primary Academy

And, of course we had some wine and nibbles too to keep us going throughout the night…

So, following the success of last week’s, we’re taking the next one on the road to North Ormesby in a bid to build a community of likeminded people with one simple aim; by teachers and industry sharing anything from problems and ideas, to pearls of wisdom and pitfalls, we’ll build an invaluable learning network that we can all tap in to and benefit from. In doing so, schools and industry will develop stronger relationships, and children will become more exposed to the many different types of jobs and careers available in STEM in the region.
Why Tech for Life?

If you’re not entirely sure about who we are or what we’re doing, you can read all about the launch of Tech for Life here. Through various events and activities we put on, we became more and more aware of the disparities in schools teaching coding and digital skills, so that’s why we put together industry-led CPD sessions for teachers in coding and electronics. We want to support our local teachers, so that they can become more confident in teaching computing, as well as integrating tech throughout all of their lessons.

From a family of teachers, and having dabbled in teaching myself a couple of years ago, I for one know that teachers don’t need anyone else pointing the finger of blame and telling them what they should and should not be doing. That’s why we want to be available to provide this support network, so that instead, teachers can feel empowered and confident in integrating STEM in their own, creative way and open up a world of opportunities for their students.

As Campus North’s education initiative, we feel we’re in a good position to facilitate these STEM Teach Meets. Campus North is the place to be to spark conversations and connections in the tech community. We’re home to around 15 different tech meetups each month, and much like meetups, we see teach meets as the perfect opportunity for teachers to meet like-minded people, whether they’re teachers of STEM, interested in integrating more STEM throughout their lessons, or indeed industry professionals who work in STEM fields.

You can read this and a little more here: https://medium.com/@TechforLifeUK/how-were-supporting-teachers-in-stem-88ba9324acef#.4d4ytw6jd

A Fantastic Piece of Work by North Ormesby Primary Academy

posted 26 Jan 2017, 00:08 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 26 Jan 2017, 00:09 ]

'Congratulations to the children at North Ormesby Primary Academy! Last week, we were delighted to hear that Year 5 and 6 children had been inspired by our best-selling title When I Coloured in the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi. They had shared their amazing art display on Twitter so we got in touch to find out more about it.'

Craig Nicholson (Vice Principal) tells us more:

We came across the book back in October, through social media, and posted a link to it on our Twitter account – we were so fond of the extract we read that we ordered a copy for school.

North Ormesby Primary Academy
The Y5/6 children had been learning about photography; how to use their iPads to take effective photographs in and around the school grounds. We talked about stance, angles, distance, resolution etc., and the children went around school and took some stunning shots of nature.

As the building work we were having done to the school was coming to a close, we knew we needed some ‘art’ for the new walls in our new meeting room – we decided to set the Y5/6 children a challenge; through some project-based learning using the book, they were to create some artwork to go on the walls.

We ran the project over the course of a day, starting by sharing, reading and analysing the poem. The children noticed there was a lot of repetition in the poem, in terms of its style and also that there was consistent evidence of synonyms. We took the opportunity to learn more about this, picking out the synonyms and coming up with our own antonyms. This led us to talk at length about the moral of the poem and really philosophical discussions were had!

After break, the children picked their favourite page/colour, and the gauntlet was laid out to them! They spent up until lunchtime going around school, using their knowledge of photography to capture stunning images that incorporated their chosen page/colour.

After lunch, the children spent the time editing three of their best images using the ‘colour-splash’ technique, enhancing their chosen colour to coincide with their text.

The final images were uploaded to our drive and we chose 10 to add the text to and print on A1 foam board to be displayed on the walls.

Chris (principal) and I loved the book the minute we got hold of it, and we chatted about all the incredible teaching and learning that could be done with it!

When we knew we needed artwork for the walls, it just made sense! The children loved learning about photography and this was a great way to master their skills, analyse poetry and just enjoy learning based on a fantastic book.

We couldn’t be happier with the end product and we’d really like to thank Ahmadreza for the inspiration!” Craig Nicholson (Vice Principal)

You can see this blog on the 'Tiny Owl' website here: http://tinyowl.co.uk/a-fantastic-piece-of-work-by-north-ormesby-primary-academy/ 

Alternative Seating Within The Classroom

posted 19 Jan 2017, 06:53 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 19 Jan 2017, 12:17 ]

Alternative/Flexible seating

Reflecting back on this journey takes me to May 2015 – Wigan was the destination of the ‘Google for Education Roadshow’ which I excitedly attended; an opportunity for Google staff to showcase their best and up-and-coming products and practices.

On my arrival to Wigan UTC, my wide eyes were immediately drawn to the structure, built within the gym hall, that I would be spending the day in, learning.

This was my introduction to the ‘Google dome’.

Breakfast bars laden with laptops and tablets greeted me as I walked through the door. Huge high-resolution screens hung on curved walls which hid a classroom-type scene which you’d think Willy Wonka (a techy version, if you will) might have built himself!

My choice of seating was the next interesting challenge – single-seater lectern chairs, a group picnic bench sited on artificial grass, curved, padded benches or an array of steps which lead the way to the ascended podium.

This was my first, real experience of the form ‘alternative’ or ‘flexible’ seating could take within the classroom.

It wasn’t a new concept – in fact, earlier that year I had been extremely disappointed to find that the Google HQ in London did not in fact have a slide for employers to descend floors quicker – I had read and seen examples of this on many occasions prior, mainly from practice in the US, and it was something we had already discussed back at school as a venture for the future.

Fast forward a month or so; post-Ofsted, post-SATs – my Y6 class were switching classrooms to prepare for a change in rooms the following year. On moving the furniture, I thought it was the ideal opportunity to give responsibility to the children on their seating and how they wanted the classroom arranged.

What occurred was extremely fascinating; the children chose a variety of seating (some of which they had acquired from other classes!) and positioned them in a range of learning silos – softer, fabric chairs in rows of 3 facing one-another, small stools positioned in a group of 4 around a wheeled whiteboard, horseshoe tables, bean bags etc.

On analysing their rationale, they said they wanted a classroom where they had a choice of seating; a classroom where there were options to work alone, in partners or in groups; a classroom where they could work independently and only draw on the teacher where/when needed. Epiphany!

What they wanted was a set-up they were familiar with, a set-up where they could be as free and as creative as they wanted, a set-up they blossomed in when they were in early years. Research tells us that children begin to lose their creative spark from around 5 years of age if not nurtured effectively – is it really just a coincidence that in school we impose formal structure on children at this age and start their ‘Victorian’ learning journey from Y1?

We now had a mirrored learning environment in our oldest and youngest (nursery aside) cohorts – this ‘top down, bottom up’ approach had worked effectively for the implementation of iPads (blog here) so why wouldn’t it work again?

We sifted (and still do!) through a plethora of research on alternative & flexible seating – these blogs by Erin Klein and Kayla Delzer contain some excellent research and opinion. Also, if you get a chance, have a look at a huge American initiative called ‘ditch the desks’ for more on this!

Some of this research points towards the aforementioned Victorian era. Compare the set-up of a Victorian classroom against most of those today. Is there really that much difference? Yet the Victorian model of teaching was built upon the notion of everyone learning everything at the same time, preparing for a life in an industry that probably doesn’t exist any longer. We live in a world where 40% of the jobs in 5-10 years don’t even exist yet. Can we honestly, hand on heart, say we are preparing our children for that world? Or, for that matter, can you?

Should we not be taking and learning more from the likes of Google and their innovative approaches? Even on our doorstep, we have companies who are following a more flexible work/learning approach and seeing the benefits in their employees – Visualsoft, Campus North & SpearheadInteractive to name but a few of our school’s affiliates.

So, here we are a year or so later having followed through on the vision. In every classroom you’ll now see an array of seating and  learning spaces completely redesigned to fit the needs and interests of the children. There are deck chairs, boats, pool loungers and even a bed in the classes learning about ‘Seaside Rescue’. In the ‘Jungle’ classrooms, there are canoes, logs, woodland floors and jungle lofts. You’ll see gym balls, breakfast stools, circular tables, horse-shoe tables, bean bags, exercise bikes, break-out stools, mats, artificial grass, reading lofts, sofas and a whole host more seating across school all implemented to increase motivation, collaboration, creativity and behaviour across the school, because the children told us that’s what they wanted!

Whats the impact?

The million-dollar question! The question we ask ourselves and each other every time we have an idea for something new or different in school.

The impact on behaviour has been probably the easiest to see; both in terms of compliant behaviour and behaviour for learning. Children are free to learn as and how they want and with various teaching and facilitation processes like PBL, SOLE, etc. in school, they are constantly working collaboratively in a supported environment at their pace.

Children are happier in school – we know this because they tell us in our ‘Time for Talk’ sessions or when completing ‘Progress Checks’. They are thriving on the responsibility and ownership they have over their learning and how/where they learn and say that school is so much more exciting because they can learn in a way that suits them.

“I like the pods because they're individual and you can just ‘get on’. When someone talks to you in group work, you can work alone and concentrate. There's a lot more space to work in them. I like the grass back in the corner, I like working with my back to the wall – it is confined and comfy.” Lewis, Y6 
“I like riding on the exercise bike while I do my work – it helps me concentrate when I’m reading” Charlie, Y3

Our staff are happier too...

“I must admit to being a little concerned about the whole idea of 'flexible seating' and especially how it would impact on learning. However seeing the choices the children make, and the freedom to move to another area, I can see the benefits.

Our children choose where and how to learn for various reasons; maybe to work at their own pace or they realise they focus better themselves. Giving them this freedom promotes independent learning. They now know where they work best.” Mrs Dowie (HLTA)


“Although the approach to flexible seating is still in its infancy, the green shoots demonstrate that seating choice and seating variety impacts positively on the culture for learning.” Mrs Kemp-Hall (Principal)


Craig Nicholson (Vice Principal) - 17th January 2017

RTC launch event goes down a storm!

posted 11 Jun 2016, 02:19 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 19 Jan 2017, 12:16 ]

We were extremely proud to officially launch as an 'Apple Regional Training Centre' on Thursday 19th May 2016. Partners, collaborators and colleagues attended from far and wide to celebrate the opening which was led by our senior leaders alongside our Year 5/6 ‘digital ambassadors’ and the academy’s ‘Expert Solutions’ partner JTRS.

Over 80 attendees had the opportunity to look at the excellent computing practice on-going in school and got hands-on with some of the technology on display. The digital ambassadors led sessions on: virtual reality in the classroom; using ‘Minecraft’ to inspire writing; digital assessment; coding with iPads and using a range of robots and drones; augmented reality and using ‘Osmo’ across the curriculum. In addition, staff from JTRS opened the event with an inspirational ‘iPads in the curriculum’ keynote and demonstrated how to use the green screen to engage learners.

There was also the opportunity to network with some of the academy’s technology/close partners: Marvellous Me, Iris, Perspective, Trilby TV and Vision for Education.

The event was a resounding success and feedback received from attendees was extremely pleasing; the children making up the team of digital ambassadors were particularly high up on the list of commendations!

Claire Elliot, development leader of the ‘Middlesbrough Achievement Partnership’ said;
“The event was brilliant! The range of equipment showcased was fantastic, the digital ambassadors were brilliant and the whole event inspiring. I think it’s so important to embed technology wherever possible as these skills are so key for young people now and in the future and are skills employers look for in many sectors”.

Paul Forster, deputy headteacher at Whale Hill primary said;
“I thought the fact that the pupils showcased the technology was outstanding. They were great and really knew their stuff. As well as that, it hammered home the point that all children can embrace the technology!”.

All attendees received their very own ‘NOPA’ goodie bag, entrance to the ‘technology raffle’ with prizes on offer such as an iPad mini, Kindle Fire and many more, as well as a fantastic finger buffet provided by our excellent catering team.

With the launch now complete, we will be holding a minimum of 12 training sessions per academic year (a proposed schedule of is shown below). Anyone interested in attending can contact us on 01642 247985 or email at contactus@northormesbyacademy.org. 


Craig Nicholson (Vice Principal) - 11th June 2016

Improving working memory to enhance the learning capacity of children, to raise outcomes

posted 31 May 2016, 03:38 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 31 May 2016, 03:44 ]

In the past, people have considered ‘intelligence’ and the ‘learning capacity’ of individuals to be fixed. However, views have considerably changed over time. It has since been proven that the intelligence of individuals can in fact be raised. Working memory is vitally important to the classroom setting as it is the reason why children are able to progress at different rates. Obviously the way in which children progress, has a marked impact on the way in which teachers plan and assess individuals. 

The temporal lobe of the brain is associated with the long term memory. This provides individuals with the ability to remember past events, access knowledge for facts and have the ability to summarise key points; drawing on past experience. The frontal lobe is concerned with intelligence and the way in which information is processed. It is able to temporarily storing and processing information over a short period of time, sometimes referred to as ‘the gateway to memory’. 

We use Working Memory when we hold onto or store some information in our head, or to use or process this information in some way. Clearly this can have a direct impact upon the children’s ability to perform well in the classroom, whether that be positively or negatively.

Meemo aims ‘to increase children’s Working Memory we need to provide them with a range of targeted activities which stretch their capacity in just the right way.’

Principles underpinning personalized learning (John West-Burnham 18/04/16- Workshop 3) ‘Learning is a neurological function’ Memory development is an essential part of the learning process, in order to children to process information gained accurately and over a period of time. Therefore it must be concluded that specific time must be set aside in order to discretely improve working memory skills of young people, where it is deemed to be of a poor quality. 

‘However old we are, our brain changes every day – the human brain has great plasticity,’ says neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of the Department for Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, ‘Each time we recognise a new face, learn a new word, we make changes in our brain structure. In a changing environment, the normal brain can’t help but learn.’  As a result of these findings, it is essential that children have good working memory skills. 

Additionally, Blakemore and Firth have discussed the ways in which the brain relies upon different structures to learn. ‘In terms of brain structures involved in learning, mathematics differs from learning to read, which differs from learning to play the piano. Each memory system relies on a different brain system and develops at a slightly different time.’ (2005)

Classroom impact

Interestingly, Dr Richard Skelton (educational psychologist and creator of ‘MeeMo’) states that between 10-15% of children within any average classroom (approximately thirty children) may have significant difficulties with working memory. This may manifest itself so that children struggles to concentrate effectively, struggle with spelling, reading, writing and mental maths and regularly appear ‘off-task’ for no apparent reason. Children who possess difficulties with working memory will also find it difficult to process and complete a series of instructions. 

Dr Skelton states that children of five years old have the ability to process a series of two instructions at a time, children of eight years old should be able to process three at a time and children of ten years old four at a time. Over the next six years, young people should only be able to process up to five pieces of information at any one time. This has considerable impact for the classroom setting and the way in which we should address children, at all ages. 

Working memory is key to being able to ‘perfect’ learning. Learning to blend and segment for both early reading and writing demands a lot of the working memory. Writing is a simultaneous activity and as such puts added pressure on children to remember a variety of skills at once. If children have an issue with their processing capacity, they will struggle to successfully answer mental maths questions. 

Children with poor working memory can be seen to be disruptive or lacking in attention. However, in many cases it is actually because they have literally lost their train of thought and are struggling to make links in learning with prior knowledge they have acquired. Many in fact are unaware altogether about prior learning that has taken place and have quite simply 'forgotten' Children with ADHD lack the ability to fully process due to their difficulties with concentration. They may in fact have a greater capacity, but may be too distracted to use if effectively. 

Recent research has indicated that working memory is key to emotional wellbeing, although more research is still required in this field. However, this would make logical sense as a child who has good working memory skills will be able to link knowledge and consider a problem. Equally, they will be able to store solutions to draw on for future reference in order to cope with conflict effectively. Working memory is required when children think and plan ahead. These are an essential life skills children need as they grow and develop; particularly for life in secondary school. 

The issue with working memory is that it can have a direct impact on how children perform in test situations and how they process and store new information. It affects how children actually learn. According to researchers Susan Gathercole and Tracy Alloway, about 70% of children with learning difficulties in reading have poor Working Memory skills (2007)

What we did

‘Meemo’ programme as developed by Rising stars was created and developed by Dr Richard Skelton. Recent advances in our understanding of the human brain have demonstrated that we can improve children’s Working Memory capacity and, in doing so, increase their potential to learn and achieve. Recently, I was fortunate to experience a webinar, led by Richard Skelton, in which he delved further in to the background information behind the ‘MeeMo’ programme. 

‘MeeMo’ is intended for all pupils. It can easily be used as a whole class, it is practical and a fun way to improve working memory through the use of short, memory tasks. Although it is not necessarily for adult use, from using the programme, I feel that it could certainly be used and utilised in Key Stage 3, despite originally being aimed at Key Stage 2 pupils. 

It is also true that some children can appear ‘passive’ learners. However, through the use of the ‘Meemo’ programme, the deficit in working memory can be assessed and worked upon. 

If difficulties related to working memory are not clearly identified then their learning capacity is significantly hindered. This essentially puts a ‘ceiling’ on children’s learning. By identifying problems with working memory, the possibility to improve becomes available. Thus enabling pupils to learn more, increase their capacity to learn and achieve more across the curriculum. 

The programme is essentially a six week programme, based on each child working with another child and attempting to remember a series of objects in order to list, group, spot the difference and mix up lists. Children are required to manipulate objects and answer linked questions. The programme takes place on a daily basis. In our school we felt that it was important to do this at the same time each day to ensure consistency. ‘MeeMo’ is a relevant and engaging programme, which was only developed and released last year. As such, the research behind ‘MeeMo’ is extremely current and up-to-date. 

Children are then reassessed at the end of the six week programme, so that their ‘before’ and ‘after’ results can be compared in a bar chart form. From this, children who still fall in to the category as ‘extremely disadvantaged’ will need to use this as an intervention. 

Research shows that using ‘MeeMo’ significantly improves children’s Working Memory abilities after six weeks. These improvements are still present after two months from when children have finished using ‘MeeMo’ However, given the importance of Working Memory, teachers often prefer to keep using ‘MeeMo’ every other term. Consequently, using ‘Meemo’ is a long term investment towards improving the working memory of young people over time. It is not and should not be considered a ‘quick fix’ 

In order for a working memory programme to successfully work across Key Stage Two, over time, it would need to be consistent. ‘MeeMo’ was designed with the classroom in mind. Its development was grounded in the needs, wants and preferences of children and teachers to ensure that it is something which teachers would find easy and practical to use in the classroom context, and children would find an enjoyable and engaging experience. Teachers have found it easy to set up, run and incorporate into their daily routine.’

What we found

Children were reassessed and some pleasing results were found. Many children had made gains in their working memory scores. When it was looked at in closer detail why the programme had had less impact one reason was due to attendance. I correlated the information through the use of attendance data across the six week period in which the programme ran for. 

Another reason for less impact was due to an already acknowledged SEND issue. 

It was interesting to deliver the 'before' and 'after' testing, as initially children were daunted by the task. It begins very easy, simply having to repeat back a short series of numbers, the amount of numbers then increases until children required to repeat back a series of nine numbers, in the correct order. The second part of the task requires pupils to repeat a series of numbers back in the opposite order to which they have heard them. Lots of children struggled with the concept, but this can be overcome by a few examples stated on the page. 

Part of the reason for increased scores may have been that children were more aware of the task. However, that does not account for children actually remembering more content, in the correct order. 

In comparing the two cohorts (Year Five and Six) it was found that there was a 75% and a 65% improvement in working memory scores respectively. When exploring the differences between the gender divide, some interesting revelations were shown. 

I noted that during the reassessment, children appeared to have a 'method' when remembering order of the numbers. One child did not give any eye contact and looked directly at the floor in front of him. His eyes moved in the direction of where numbers would be on a phone. This particular child's score rose from a score of eight out of sixteen to sixteen out of sixteen, over the six week period. This taking the Year Six male from the 'average' category in to the 'exceptional' category. 

Another Year Six male traced on his hand where the numbers would be as if pressing buttons on a mobile phone When he completed his reassessment his score rose from five out of sixteen to twelve out of sixteen. This meant he had moved from the category of 'low average' to the 'advanced' category. 

Unfortunately, this was not reflective of all males within the Year Six cohort. In fact only 54% of the Year Six males made any progress at all through the use of the programme. Six out of thirteen male Year Six pupils did not make progress, with their working memory results, across the six week period. However, one of the male pupils was a New To English (NTE) child and found accessing the activities difficult, due to the language barrier. 

Although on an individual basis the Year Six females did not make as much accelerated progress as shown by th two specific examples, it does appear to have been more successful for the girls, on the whole. Of the Year Six female cohort, 86% made progress over the six week period. The one female who did not show progress in her working memory results was in fact in the 'high average' category at the beginning of the programme. However, as there are only seven Year Six female pupils this year, it is difficult to accurately compare the male and female divide. 

Interestingly, 73% of the Year Five males made progress by using the MeeMo programme. Only three children did not make progress by using the programme, however three of the male cohort have already acknowledged SEND difficulties. After the programme began, a new pupil joined the class, but for the interests of the research his scores have not been included within the data. 

Although it was more successful for the Year Five males than females, it was only marginally. 70% of the Year Five girls were shown to have made progress. Four of the females did not make progress through the programme, one of which has a ‘statement’ for SEND. Another of the females in fact performed less well in the second screening. I was aware of an attendance issue and investigated further, the attendance for the six week period of the programme was in fact less than 80% As one of the female Year Five students moved schools during this process, none of her data has been taken in to account for the purposes of the research. 

On average the progress made by the Year Five pupils was three points. Whereas the girls made, on average, two points of progress. 

Another technique utilised by some children was looking up to the left, which studies have found helps with the retrieval of information, as it shows they are usually attempting to visualise a picture. 

It is too early to presume that one six week programme will dramatically improve overall scores in Reading, Writing and Maths, but the programme guidance itself states that it should be completed more than once to see a greater impact.

From data analysis of the Year Five and Six cohorts, a group of ten pupils were selected to form an intervention group. Due to the position of the Year Six cohort in terms of the end of their primary school career and heading towards the SATs, they were deemed to be the biggest priority. Children were chosen based on having a low-average to average result from the reassessment data. All children have now undergone the programme again for maximum effect. 

Please see below for a summarising table of the results of both the Year Five and Year Six cohorts. (The categories used are those taken directly from the ‘MeeMo’ programme. The greatest differences between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ assessments have been highlighted).

Year Six cohort (male and female) 20 pupils.


Exceptional- 0


Exceptional- 1


Advanced- 0


Advanced- 3


High average- 1


High average- 2


Average- 9


Average- 11


Low average- 9


Low average- 3


Disadvantaged- 1


Disadvantaged- 0


Extremely disadvantaged- 0


Extremely disadvantaged- 0


Year Five cohort (male and female) 28 pupils.


Exceptional- 0


Exceptional- 0


Advanced- 2


Advanced- 6


High average- 3


High average- 1


Average- 10


Average- 19


Low average- 2


Low average- 0


Disadvantaged- 9


Disadvantaged- 2


Extremely disadvantaged- 1


Extremely disadvantaged- 0


Moving forward, it would be recommended that the Meemo be completed at least yearly by all Key Stage 2 pupils. The programme guidance states that benefits can be seen up to two months after completing the programme. However, in order to sustain a longer lasting result, it also states that many teachers prefer to conduct the programme every other term for maximum effect. 

It could also be used as an intervention for pupils within upper Key Stage Two, in order to assist with SATs. 

Memory apps to be investigated in order to use alongside the ‘MeeMo’ programme, which could be used as a daily intervention. It may also be accessible for Key Stage One pupils so that younger children are able to enhance their working memories earlier, as ‘MeeMo’ is aimed at Key Stage Two and upwards. 

I would recommend that when ‘MeeMo’ is being used within a year group, the class teacher administers the ‘before’ and ‘after’ assessments on an individual basis, with each child in the class. Assessments should be completed by the same person for all assessments, to ensure maximum consistency when scoring and administering. 

A huge advantage of the programme is that it clearly tracks the children’s starting points, through the use of the initial assessment. Children are then placed in to a category; ranging from extremely disadvantaged, disadvantaged, low average, average, high average, advanced to exceptional. Once the assessment is re-administered, at the end of the six weeks, a direct comparison can be shown clearly between the two results. 

Dr Richard Skelton recommends the need to reduce the cognitive overload which some pupils may experience in the classroom setting. This could be in terms of reducing the amount of instructions children need to interpret and carry out. Repeating the instructions or having a recording device available, may be another way to support those with working memory difficulties. Increasing the amount of processing time children have when answering questions. Allowing for visual support, regardless of age. This would ensure that once the information has left the short term memory, pupils can independently refer back to material which would aid their learning. In my experience, resources are often utilised well in the Early Years and in Key Stage One. As children progress through the school career, less resources are, at times, used. It is important that considerations are made for those who lack capacity in their working memory. 

Stacey Todd (English/KS2 leader) - 31st May 2016

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