“Have you read this book?” asks Matthew Shotton, reaching behind him for his bookshelf. “This is where the culture of this school was born”.
He holds up James Kerr’s Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business of Life. It comes as no surprise that rugby might be the preferred sport of a Welshman but it is clearly about more than just a game. As headteacher, Matthew is taking the culture of one of the world’s most successful rugby teams and applying it to Glebe Farm school.
“The All Blacks live and die by their values,” he says. “It means nothing to be the most capped player in the world if you have no humility and no team culture. They call it ‘sweeping the sheds’. It means that their changing room is in exactly the same condition when they leave, as when they entered.
“I asked the staff what ‘sweeping the sheds’ means here. And it looks like this: this morning we were short-staffed in our nursery so our secondary art and design teacher volunteered to go and spend half a day there to help out.”
Starting from scratch
This brand-new all-through school, in Milton Keynes, which opened in September, sits on the edge of an executive housing estate, still largely under construction, with major retail distribution centres within sight. There is the potential that, one day, those companies may partner with the school and provide apprenticeships and employment for Glebe Farm’s former pupils. But that is for the future.
For now, most of the school stands empty. The state-of-the-art £33 million buildings are an impressive feature on the local landscape but most of the classrooms remain locked, chairs are up-ended on desks and the floor coverings are clean like virgin snow. It will be another five years before these rooms are full and the school is at its 1,500-students capacity.
For the time being, there are children only in nursery, reception and Years 1 and 2. The secondary phase has admitted its first Year 7s, making around 250 pupils in all. Year on year, the school will grow as the next consecutive cohort arrives.
Glebe Farm is part of the Inspiring Futures through Learning (IFtL) multi-academy trust, which competed with other trusts for the right to create a school on this site, in keeping with local plans. The Trust has experience of turning around struggling, as well as managing high performing, primary schools and this is its first foray into the secondary sector, as Stephanie Boak, the Trust’s Head of Professional and Governance Services explains.
“We have always wanted the combination of capacity givers and takers, and the Trust has so far worked in partnership with schools that have brought different strengths to it,” she says.
“We work very closely with the local authority on its school-based planning, but we were keen to have a route into the secondary sector, and to grow the MAT.
“The staggered approach to admissions and entry felt like a real opportunity for us to grow gradually. There was a clear vision about how the school should be structured, that it should be one building and that there should be interaction between the youngest and oldest pupils.
“Linked to this was the development of our valued-based curriculum, with secondary teachers bringing their specialist knowledge and expertise not only to older pupils but to the younger ones too, so that there is a continuum as pupils go through the school.
“Our philosophy is that everything is based on our values, and we work hard to embed these in the life of the school.”
Driving achievement through key values
Glebe Farm has five of these key values - integrity, responsibility, endeavour, bravery and empathy - and three curriculum drivers: ambition, belonging and creativity.
“Within the primary phase, being a new school with a small staff, we’ve taken an off-the-shelf option - Cornerstones Curriculum 22,” Matthew explains. “This worked really well in my previous school, Fairfields Primary, but here we have paired up our teachers in the early years and key stage one with Fairfields teachers, so they can become familiar with its use and we can slowly develop it into our own version.
“We want to link the curriculum back constantly to those key drivers. So, for example, when thinking about ambition we consider how this is being reflected in what we are teaching. It could be talking about people who showed real resilience and overcame barriers, such as Rosa Parkes, about whom the pupils have learned.
“At every turn we try to bring in those drivers. And it isn’t just about being creative in art, but in every subject. The challenge lies in how we make a subject such as maths creative and fun for our pupils, in particularly the children who might be struggling.”
The retention of “sticky knowledge” - the key information pupils need to recall in order to progress with their learning – is another important feature of teaching and learning.
“We have to ask ourselves ‘what is the end point for our pupils?’ What do we want them to remember at the end of Year 1 in history, for example? What are the things they will need to know by the end of Year 2, and how do we map that out?
“Our aim is that by the time they reach the secondary phase their humanities teacher will have a sound understanding, and will have had an input in the pupils’ academic journey, so there is no time wasted at key stage 3.”
In reality, it won’t be quite as simple as that. Glebe Farm will have three forms of entry into its secondary phase from its own primary, and it will take a further three forms from nearby St Mary’s Wavendon CE Primary School. Matthew acknowledges that “there will be some integrating to do”.
“Those incoming pupils won’t be at a disadvantage because we will liaise with the school about doing linked topics, but from a subject specialist’s point of view they will have the luxury of knowing the journey and will have a clear baseline in their mind.”
The all-through structure of Glebe Farm has other benefits. It was decided early on, in the design of the school, that there should be one staffroom, with no separation of primary and secondary. Nor are teachers restricted to teaching pupils in their phase.
“We were clear from the start that if we’re going to be an all-through school, then it has to be exactly that, with no staff divide,” Matthew says. “We don’t want secondary, or primary, staff thinking they know it all. Sitting in one staffroom means they get a sense of how each other’s day is going and understand that their challenges are often similar. It’s a chance to find out about problems across the phases, or where something is going well.
“We also use our secondary subject specialists in primary. From Year 1 pupils are taught music, PE, Spanish and computing by a specialist from the secondary phase.”
Literacy, and particularly reading, is a priority across the whole school. “I’m really pushing the Ofsted focus on reading. We have a new cohort of Year 7 children, but how do we know how they learned to read? Do our secondary staff understand how phonics was taught in primary? So, we currently have all our staff going through phonics training to get an idea of where is starts.”
His expertise as a primary and early years specialist means Matthew can see what effects that early experience has had on the older children.
“We use such a vast number of resources in primary, but we narrow these as children get older. I’ve watched some of our Year 7s go into the nursery and head straight for the toy vice and workbench, and I’m like ‘yeah, you remember doing that but now we’re narrowing this with talk of GCSEs, and leadership and responsibility’.
“As much as I understand it’s about outputs and results, we also need to make sure children have clear and solid foundations for learning all the way through school, and not just in primary.”
The importance of continuity of delivery across the phases, and the need to maximise the impact of teacher expertise between primary and secondary, takes us neatly back to the New Zealand rugby team and the culture of teamwork.
“When we’re in a meeting or doing CPD I sometimes ask the staff ‘what is your legacy going to be here?’ If you are the English or science lead, what are you setting up and doing now that will benefit the children who join us year on year? What is your impact, what is your purpose?
“It is what everyone of us needs to ask when we’re “sweeping the sheds”. What are we leaving behind? The staff have started using this terminology now when the opportunity arises or when I ask them to do something, and they respond: ‘we’re sweeping the sheds, Mr S’.
“We are all on the same journey and all having to do whatever it takes. And through their hard work and dedication, we have the cleanest sheds in Milton Keynes.”
School Fact File
Name: Glebe Farm School
Headteacher: Matthew Shotton
Location: Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Size: 250, rising to 1,500
Extra info: The school opened in September 2022