West Thornton School

Making A Reality of Your Vision for Learning

“We believe children can consistently surprise us…but only if we let them” [Karen Dugan, Deputy Head Teacher]

West Thornton is an outstanding primary school that has been on an evolutionary journey for many years.

It has seen the impact of promoting Independent and pupil-led learning in the school and of promoting this as an alternative to more traditional models. The school, as a learning community, believes in offering learners an environment in which they can direct and control their own learning.

West Thornton Primary Academy was granted Teaching School Status by the National College in 2014.



“We are a learning community which creates chances for dreamers, idea-makers and innovators to connect, thrive and outperform. We empower our children to use their skills as divergent thinkers, responsible role models and leaders, to carve out their own futures and become extraordinary citizens.”

West Thornton has ensured that its vision has become a reality and that the vision is made explicit and translated into all aspects of the life and work of the school, for pupils, staff, parents, carers and the wider community.


Learning Outcomes Shared:

• More opportunities
• More time to talk about learning
• More helpful comments on marking
• Less directing
• More choice
• More responsibility
• More collaboration
• More access to the best resources, including ICT

In achieving  this, and in order to achieve it, pupils are fully engaged in their own learning and develop the skills and personal qualities that they will need in an ever changing world.

Di Pumphrey [Head Teacher] makes this explicit: “If you look at the skills our children need, it`s collaboration, teamwork, independent learning, time management, rising to the challenge – it`s all here; that`s what they all do everyday.”

It was very clear to Di and the leadership team that the pedagogy which would best enable this learning to happen, and would promote successful, self-motivated, life-long learners, would not be facilitated in their existing, Victorian classrooms.


Open Learning Spaces

A new design, with more open, dynamic learning spaces, was developed, to enable year groups of pupils to work together with a team of staff. A great deal of thought and evidence-based planning, went into the design of the  open learning spaces. It was important to ensure that more independent learning, choice, self- responsibility and collaborative activity, could be developed.

Di expressed one element of this as:

“We haven`t abandoned whole class teaching; we just can`t think of many situations where that is the best way to learn.”

The first year four learning space was created by knocking down the walls of the three classrooms, establishing a mezzanine floor, creating space for tiered seating and providing spaces for a range of group and individual work areas.

The design and development of the year four space was so successful that similar spaces for years five and six have been established.

The interior design of all these learning spaces is creative and imaginative, reflecting the strong ethos of striving for success, individual responsibility and continuous self-improvement.


Organisation of Learning

The teachers and support staff work as a team with ninety pupils in the Learning Spaces. The pedagogy, desired learning outcomes and pupil experiences, have been central to the design of the spaces. Small group work can be seen taking place alongside independent work, and pupils carrying out their own investigations and research; all are working on achieving  their own learning objectives.

Pupils can be seen making choices as to where and how to learn within the learning space as well as in selecting appropriate resources for their learning.

Children who are challenged are fully supported by staff in small groups or as individuals, in the most appropriate places, suited to their learning at that time.

Children who are struggling can choose to go to the `pit` as a physical representation of some of the challenges for individuals in the learning process.

Di describes spaces as:

“designed to make the children work harder than the adults. The teachers plan the children`s objectives for the week. You can`t predict how children will learn; it`s not linear. We constantly review where we are so we can push children who are flying along and help those who are stuck.”


Learning Journey for Teachers

“Teachers are hardwired to be at the front of the class; you can`t do that when there is no ‘front’. This space forces you to change your behavior. It`s about the adult being supportive, not the font of knowledge. Everyone is learning in this space and that makes it ok to not know; `how do we find out?` is where the learning happens.” [Di Pumphrey Head Teacher]

It was evident in talking with all staff that the collaborative approach to learning that the design of the new spaces had facilitated both improved the morale of staff and the quality of the learning outcomes that they were achieving with the pupils. Teachers felt liberated from being alone in one classroom to working within a learning   team  and were now  able to fully share ideas and best practice real time  on a day to day basis.

There was a strong feeling of both individual and collective responsibility for learning but more than that a profound sense of stewardship for all of the learners and the learning environment in which  the team were working. The learning space becomes a learning  community  in itself which is self – supporting  and can organize and plan according to the learning needs of pupils .Di could not remember the last time that supply staff were booked for a  days  cover.


Pupils, Parents, and Community

The vision for learning at West Thornton is to be seen in the day to day learning experiences of the pupils and staff. Standards and academic  achievement matter to the  school and are met for the pupils. The local learning needs of pupils and families are equally important and are  addressed with a strong emphasis on developing confident .purposeful, enquiring and resilient learners.

The vision has become systemic and pupils can be seen using ”their skills as divergent thinkers ,responsible role models and leaders carving out their futures” with staff “working with them, not doing to them”

Learning is made personal  and pupils are offered choice on where and how to learn within the framework and learning goals that  they need to achieve. The  design and use of  the learning tower ,the use of the maker space, the choice of moving into a created group work space  or creating a more impromptu working space adjacent to the main  learning  area can be seen throughout the  school. The use  of  technology  to support the learning is a key part of the learning choices that pupils make.

The school has a calm and purposeful atmosphere and pupils are keen to share their work and learning experiences with all adults.

There is strong and supportive parental feedback describing  how their children are so motivated to learn that they get home and simply carry on. This environment blurs the boundaries between school and home because the learning has become engaging and relevant to the pupil ,so why would that enquiry stop? Pupils are engaged and involved in reviewing their work and writing and sharing their reports as part of the assessment process.

This demonstrates that in this approach, children see learning as exciting, a worthwhile activity, and constrained neither by time nor location.

Where would you like to go next?

Comments are closed.