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BigDug May 22
BigDug May 22

A primary university

March 18, 2022, 13:46 GMT+1
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  • Sue-Ellen Lamb’s school offers life-changing experiences to broaden pupils’ horizons
A primary university

Recently, we launched what we believe is a pioneering project at Race Leys Junior School, in Bedworth, to allow pupils to experience a taste of university life. 

Griffin University, an initiative that is also a feature of other schools within the Griffin Schools Trust - a family of primaries and secondaries based in the Midlands and south-east of England - enables pupils to access the sort of rich and broad extracurricular experiences offered to much older learners at university. 

Every Friday afternoon, Race Leys invites its pupils to attend seminars and activities, with a wide range of options available to them, including subjects as diverse as forensic science, pop art, and business and economics.

Widening horizons

First and foremost, the atmosphere of excitement, innovation and challenges that underpin an experience like Griffin University allows children to broaden their horizons and raise their aspirations. 

For some pupils, the allure of a topic such as forensic science might pique their interest, generating a thirst for knowledge or awakening a previously dormant excitement towards learning.

By igniting children’s innate curiosity and wonder, we can leave them with the exhilarating sense of just how much there is to discover about the world and the part they might play in these discoveries. 

In broadening the curriculum in this way, children are permitted to think and learn more freely, with a greater emphasis on developing their unique interests.

In doing so, pupils are inspired to take charge of their learning and interests, discover the joy of knowledge and culture, and spark future ambitions of entering higher education.

Widening the horizons of our pupils is one of the three pillars at the very heart of Race Leys Junior School’s ethos. Indeed, integral to the culture of all of the schools with the Griffin Schools Trust is the value that we place on the interconnection between ‘Wide Horizons’, ‘High Achievement’ and ‘Proud Traditions’. 

In practice, this entails pupils and staff alike embracing and demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for the broad range of opportunities that may fall outside of the traditional school curriculum – for instance, the Griffin Arts Festival, the Griffin Sports Festival, and the Griffin Science Symposium to name but three. 

The importance of music, arts, and sports reflects our understanding that children have a wide range of aptitudes, talents, and interests.

In prioritising these subjects, our pupils recognise that they belong to a school culture in which all are valued, and all skills are given the space and time to be nurtured.

Extracurricular programme

The benefits of a school committed to providing a high-quality extracurricular programme are far-reaching. In offering pupils an array of rich experiences, schools promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development.

In providing children with ‘cultural capital’, which can be described as essential cultural knowledge and reference points, professionals are ensuring that children are able to make connections and apply their learning to different topics. 

For instance, children at the Griffin Trust schools perform in a National Shakespeare Festival. This early awareness and knowledge of Shakespeare is key cultural capital that prepares them for their next steps in education and helps them navigate the reference points embedded within their learning and their communities. 

Our school’s links with the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet further reflect a vision for celebrating a broad range of learning and activities and striving for excellence.

Pupils take part in singing, acting and dancing projects, and two gifted and talented children are selected for sponsorship to attend the local ballet school for three years. Subjects such as the performing arts have inherent value: many children experience profound delight when immersed in music, dance, and drama. 

The benefits are even more wide-ranging than this, though. For example, a rich extracurricular programme can promote children’s self-esteem and emotional wellbeing and support them in forming and maintaining positive relationships with their peers. 

Accessing Griffin University and a range of activities and festivals is life-changing for pupils. One of these school activities might represent their first ever experience of the theatre or science as a real-life discipline, or of art as a subject that has relevance for them personally.

This is about opening doors for children and widening access to the very best of human art, science, and culture. 

Furthermore, Griffin University and other similar ventures can connect with the broader community. For example, the delivered seminars might draw on the expertise and skills of parents, carers, and other members of the local community.

Through this, pupils can better relate to others and work for the common good.

A can-do attitude

In fostering a sense of being part of something ambitious and aspirational, pupils are more likely to respond positively to challenge and responsibility, to respond with a ‘can do’ attitude when opportunities are presented.

In addition, taking part in sports, music, and drama and engaging with new subject areas can help pupils navigate risk and develop resilience when faced with change and adversity. 

Opportunities for movement allow children to develop physical skills and encourage them to value a healthy lifestyle. Everyone takes on some responsibility for the physical and mental health of themselves and others.

Links with the local community also encourage pupils to value their achievements in the context of life and society beyond school. 

For instance, involvement in charity work supports future community engagement; delight in music, arts, and sports helps pupils self-direct and appreciate their leisure time; communication with local businesses and organisations can allow children to picture themselves in future employment.

These things work together to raise children’s ambitions and broaden their perspective on life. 

In offering an extensive and exciting extracurricular programme, Race Leys Junior School seeks to build on pupils’ strengths and experiences.

Pupils Voice allows children to evaluate, self-reflect and to shape aspects of their learning and their curriculum. This equips them with essential skills for the real world, such as the ability to think critically, work as part of a team, and communicate through a range of mediums. 

The richness of such a curriculum thus contributes to pupils’ sense of identity. Staff, pupils, parents and carers are all working collaboratively to appreciate the highest achievements in art, science and technology. 

While this is a school-wide undertaking, the personal responses of individual pupils are also significant. By experiencing rich and varied extracurricular opportunities, children are supported to be critical-minded, creative, problem-solving, and community-spirited. 

Griffin University provides unique opportunities for pupils to be innovative, leaders, and creative. These qualities are of the uppermost value to their future selves.

Therefore, we believe that offering our pupils an early university experience will enrich all aspects of their future lives, as individuals, as professionals and as citizens. 

An ever evolving, inclusive and diverse curriculum is an exciting journey for Race Leys Junior School. We eagerly await the future achievements of pupils attending a Griffin University!

Sue-Ellen Lamb is headteacher of Race Leys Junior School, Warwickshire.