Best practice in action: The Meads Primary

  • Best practice in action: The Meads Primary

For headteacher Richard Jenkins and his team at The Meads Primary School in Luton, having the right attitude to teaching and learning is imperative if everybody is to succeed, as Jacob Stow explains...

Children who have followed Values education for three or four years become ambassadors for the approach in the local area; in my previous school it has definitely changed that community
Richard Jenkins, Headteacher

If there’s one accusation guaranteed to be levelled at each generation of children, it’s that their values don’t match up to those of their predecessors. Whether there has been a genuine decline in children’s levels of respect and work ethic, and society is truly headed down the swanny, or this is largely a case of parents and grandparents paying too much attention to the Daily Mail is debatable; what’s not is that schools and policy-makers are placing a growing emphasis on the teaching of values, and more stock in the idea that doing so can make a real difference to children’s behaviour, education and prospects.

That’s certainly the standpoint of staff at The Meads Primary School in Luton, which makes its commitment to developing the fine upstanding citizens of the future more explicit than most. Headteacher, Richard Jenkins, calls upon the widely trumpeted evidence of social malaise in recent times, the London riots of 2011, to sum up why his school has adopted Dr Neil Hawkes’ Values-based Education ( approach. “I care whether children can read or write, but I also don’t want to see them in 20 years mugging someone on a bridge – I want to see them helping their fellow man,” he says. But, as he explains, ‘values’ at The Meads is far broader than establishing what’s right and wrong – it’s about helping children to become confident, effective learners, and encouraging staff to do their very best for those entrusted to them.

The school’s holistic philosophy is also apparent in the manner with which it has embraced the Achievement for All programme, whose own values, the ‘3As’ – Aspiration, Access, Achievement – are being harnessed in an effort to give vulnerable and disadvantaged children the same opportunities as their peers; and the way in which it is engaging with parents. In combination, these elements are helping Richard and his team ‘kick on’ from their ‘good’ inspection in 2011. While there’s a recognition that hard work is still to be done at The Meads, it seems clear that solid foundations have been laid for the future…

1. Choose your attitude

For Richard, embracing Values-based Education was, in many ways, a pragmatic decision, chosen to inject new life and enthusiasm into a growing school he describes as having needed a bit of TLC on his arrival, and a staff team who wanted more freedom to express themselves. “There was a need for everybody to be drawn together as a cohesive unit,” Richard explains, “which is really where Values-based Education came in. We decided that we would be a Values school, that we would have 22 values each two-year cycle, and that we would focus on a new value every month. We said that when that value comes up, we’re all going to live it; we’re all going to be whatever it is – not just for that month, but from then on. The first one we ever did was ‘positivity’ because we needed to be positive, and since then, every September, we’ve either had ‘positivity’ or ‘enthusiasm’ as our main value, to kick everything off for the year. It didn’t take as long as you might think to go from focusing on the idea of people being positive to people actually being positive,” he says.

Children who have followed Values education for three or four years become ambassadors for the approach in the local area; in my previous school it has definitely changed that community
Richard Jenkins, Headteacher

Other efforts were made to change attitudes and boost motivation – for example, the adoption of the FISH philosophy (, the presence of which is still felt throughout The Meads thanks to ubiquitous ‘choose your attitude’ posters. “We talk about leaving any baggage from home at the door,” Richard says. “Even if you’re feeling down, you can put on a happy face and have a happy attitude. And the thing is that if you start doing that, people will react to the way you behave, and it goes in an upward spiral, so you suddenly start to feel a lot better about yourself. As one of our phase leaders describes it, as a school and as a staff, we’re fiercely positive. That’s exactly what it is. We make a conscious, stubborn effort that we will be positive, we will be happy, and we will have the energy and resilience to remain that way.”

2. Values for learning

At its most basic, then, a Values-based Education is transmitted to young minds through the day-to-day actions and demeanour of teachers. But what began as merely an ethos for school and community has come to play an important role in the substance of lessons, too. Sessions based upon the value of the month have been introduced, with an emphasis on making the experience as practical and engaging for children as possible – the examples Richard gives us involve children guiding blindfolded classmates through an obstacle course, and, more deliciously, feeding each other M&Ms from spoons attached to the ends of long, unwieldy cardboard tubes. Both are activities designed to illustrate trust, but which have that crucial fun factor.

Plans to develop the idea further are ongoing, with the focus having now turned to ‘values for learning’. “We decided that we needed to develop our twenty-two values a bit more, to come up with a way that the values could have a day-to-day impact on children’s learning,” Richard explains. “We had an INSET day last September when we looked at a number of values, including those that are part of Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power. We asked staff to pick out which they felt were most important, and then used their feedback to decide what our fifteen values for learning would be. ‘Enthusiasm’ came out on top, with ‘Resilience’, ‘Cooperation’ and ‘Respect’ up there as well. Now, every lesson has a learning question to be answered by the end of the session, success criteria, and then a learning value. Quite often that value is negotiated with the children; they might have a list up on the wall and the teacher will ask which one is best suited to the lesson. They might say, ‘We need to show determination, or resilience, or cooperation’.”

Assessing the impact this focus on values is having is not an exact science, but, says Richard, it’s readily apparent in children’s behaviour and attitudes. “Primarily it’s about the number of children we get referred to the office who have misbehaved during a lesson, which is very few nowadays. When they do come down, we tie values into the refection they’re asked to do. They’ll sit outside the office and fill in a form that says what happened, and they’re honest about it. Then they have to think which values they could have exhibited that would have made the situation better. They sign it and we keep these forms together with the referrals that the teachers send through.

“Other measures are anecdotal. There’s a display in the staffroom called ‘values in the air’ where teachers have made a note of what they have overheard the children saying to each other; these get paraphrased and stuck on a cloud. Then as far as values for learning are concerned, it’s about listening to the evidence of the teachers. They talk about how engaged the children are with their learning, and how much they do actively demonstrate the values. If you do spell those values out to the children, they have nowhere to go but to do what the expectation is – especially if they have chosen the focus of the lesson themselves.”

3. Achievement for All

The Meads’ involvement with the Achievement for All programme ties in perfectly with its commitment to values. “The first thing that attracted us to AfA was its provision for special needs,” Richard says of the school’s decision to sign up in 2012. “Because the school was expanding we were getting children in from varying backgrounds, including more children with EAL and SEN. Historically, the school hadn’t been doing well with that group of children and this was something we could do to try and address that.”

For assistant head and AfA champion, Catherine Glantz, and the teachers she has led in implementing the programme it has meant a lot of hard work, but the results, she believes, are more than justifying the effort. “It’s very much what it says – Achievement for All,” Catherine explains. “It means having really high expectations, a shared vision, and no excuses for vulnerable children not making any progress. It took a long time for people to get their heads around that. AfA firmly places the responsibility of achievement back on the teacher – there’s no more relying on a TA – and that message can be very hard to deliver. It meant liaising with staff for the whole year and constantly monitoring progress; we would meet every two weeks – and still do – to check the data, to see which children hadn’t improved. This year we’re running AfA in Years 1, 3 and 6. Last term, these Years all made two, or just under, APS progress,” she concludes.

“The most important thing was ensuring our interventions were being tailored to individual children,” Richard adds. “It’s a more bespoke approach. It involves pre-teaching and then over-learning at the end. Any child who doesn’t get it in the lesson needs to be followed up with afterwards, and that’s been rolled out across the whole school.”

Another aspect of the AfA programme is parental engagement, and the changes made in this regard are best illustrated by the school’s termly ‘structured conversations’. Replacing the common-or-garden, 10-minute parents’ meeting, these are designed to give parents a say on their children’s progress, and a role in helping them towards their next goal. “Traditionally the teacher would do all the talking,” Catherine says. “A structured conversation lasts for up to an hour, and there’s a defined format you follow. The first part is very much the parent talking and the teacher listening. Parents come in and we ask them if they have any concerns. Then, together, we work out targets for the children. These could be academic targets, or targets for home – it’s about looking at the whole child. The targets are reviewed every six weeks, sometimes via a phone call, an email or a quick meeting – but there’s always some form of ongoing contact with that parent.

“From being uncertain initially, all of our teachers are positive about these conversations now. They’ve discovered important things about the children they didn’t know, and parental engagement has improved. We’re now in our second year and we’ve opened them up to all of our children with SEN.”

Making an impact

AfA’s structured conversations aren’t the only way The Meads is reaching out to its parents. As we’re shown around the school, we pass a hall packed with parents and their children – thanks to a programme called Impact for Learning. “It’s the work of Charles Desforges, who has done a lot of research on the difference that engaging parents – not just involving them and keeping them informed, but actually bringing them in and engaging with the children’s work – can make,” Richard explains. “Part of the programme involves our family workers going out to meet the parents in the playground. If they can’t meet them, they’ll ring them and tell them they need to come in – they’ll hound them, basically, until they agree!”

Delivered by the school’s literacy and numeracy coordinators, the programme enables parents to work with their children, and then receive feedback from teaching staff. “Quite often you’ll find the children helping their parents – ‘No, Mum. Not like that, like this!’,” Richard says. “It’s about highlighting to parents that things have moved on, and just because children are using a method they don’t recognise that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Then they can support their children at home.”

Meet the staff

Richard Jenkins, Headteacher
“Neil Hawkes feels that reflection is the fourth ‘R’, so we’ve introduced a daily, five-minute reflection time – children might think about a particular value, or a specific issue. It ties into AfA, as the children are encouraged to reflect on their learning, and what their approach to learning has been – which in turn ties in with the FISH philosophy of choosing your attitude. It’s all linked.”

Catherine Glantz, Assistant Head
“When we first ran the structured conversations I wanted the parents to get on board, so I tried to involve them as much as possible in the process and decision-making. It was quite shocking that we had parents of children with SEN who never engaged in school – so how could they be supporting their children at home? But by the end of our first year of AfA, all the parents were engaged.”

Jenny Mills Y2/3 Phase leader
“We have an open door policy. In younger year groups I have most of the parents of the children in my class for 10–15 minutes every morning. They bring the children in and help with their Morning Challenge; they potter round, have a chat with me, and then they’re off again. I really like it. It builds relationships. They’re now more likely to come and tell me about things I need to know.”

Rajneet Parmar, Y5/6 Phase leader
“The best example I can give that the Values-based system works is that children refer to it independently. They’re coming in from lunchtime saying who has, or hasn’t, shown particular values. They put people forward as good examples of values. The know The Meads’ ethos is the values ethos, so they know our expectations. It doesn’t matter what religion they are because it’s inclusive.”

Pupil voice

Wayne, Year 6
“Achievement for All helps because you have one person who helps you with specific things – you don’t have to wait for them, and you have more time to focus on things. It’s helped me make more friends, and I’ve improved my levels quite a bit.”

Paris, Year 6
“Determination is a good value. In lessons, your teacher teacher might say be determined and you’ll understand it more and it will help you. I’m more determined now because we talk about it in class. When I first learnt long division I had to be determined.”

Georgia, Year 6
“Sometimes we have reflection after lunch. One of us writes a question up on the board, for example, ‘What does responsibility mean to you?’, and we have to think about it for a minute. We pick out people to answer it, and the best one gets to write the next question on the board.”

Sadia, Year 6
“If a new boy or girl was starting here I would tell them that there is nothing to worry about, because we’re all kind to each other… Though maybe in friend groups we might get into a few arguments! We just talk about it and then we’re friends again.”

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Pie Corbett