Comet Nursery School and Children’s Centre
Natural Explorers: Explore, Create and
Learn Together. Comet’s innovative use of the Early Years Pupil Premium
Case study by Lisa Clarke.
Tell us about your organisation
Comet is a nursery school and children’s centre which lies in the heart of Hackney within a richly diverse area and community. There are areas of deprivation and poor housing mixed with a growing community of young professional families. We have 23 different languages spoken in the nursery and 30% of our children are entitled to the EYPP funding. We also offer 2 year old free places for families on low income who are eligible for the funding.
We know that many of the young children who are eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium enter nursery provision at the early stages of language development. Children who attend Comet enter at an average of 22-36mths, which is below age related expectations. On-entry data analysis showed that the children’s limited language development often had an impact on other areas of learning, such as ‘Understanding the World’.
We identified that for many children there was limited experiences outside the home or community. Their world was often centred around their home, shops, nursery and family members. This is at odds with the broader experiences that more affluent families can provide for their children, this may include swimming lessons, visiting restaurants and going to museums. When we were considering the way in which we would use the EYPP funding we saw the challenge as being able to provide depth of knowledge, broader experiences and develop children’s cultural capital. To do this we had to be creative with our ideas and with the funding, while providing the children with high quality experiences that were meaningful and motivating.
With this is mind we developed our Natural Explorers programme to support the children who are eligible for the EYPP funding. This programme is based around the three elements of forest school, scientific enquiry and gardening and the notion of developing children’s cultural capital by offering opportunities to visit places and have experiences that may never have been available to them before. We also wanted to encourage parents to come on the trips with us and with this is mind and the inclusive philosophy of the programme we hoped we would go some way to supporting social mobility through education and different opportunities.
What did you do to create such notable success with the Early Years pupil premium?
The success of the programme has been both about the creativity, resilience and focus of the staff but also the effective use of the funding based on clear values and consistency of practice while keeping the children’s involvement at the centre of our work. There have been many identifiable strengths in our work and the Natural Explorers programme and many of these have been universal, having an impact on all children attending the provision at Comet.
We offer weekly off-site forest school sessions as well as forest school inspired activities at the nursery. To do this one member of staff has completed her Level 3 Forest School training and we are now working with a local school to use their space. One of the challenges of this provision is making sure we have enough adults to support the session and one of the ways we have done this is to encourage parents to volunteer for weekly sessions.
Teacher observations led us to believe that at times practitioners lack confidence in their scientific knowledge and so we have created opportunities for training through staff meetings and external training courses, while also being creative with our ideas and using the interests of the children. One child became fascinated in the world under the sea and in particular with octopus. To support this one of the teachers planned for an aquarium visit, use of technology to find out about octopus and then buying one from the fishmongers to better observe what they looked like!
Gardening sessions have been built into the spring and summer terms and we have employed a trained gardener for these sessions. She has worked with small groups of children to helping children understand the growing cycle and what elements plants need to grow. Other practitioners have supported this area and attended courses while recently we have bought more resources including a greenhouse, composter and wormery to extend our provision.
Finally, we offer children a range of experiences outside the nursery these have included a theatre trip, Tate Modern, street art hunt and restaurant visit. We believe by providing children with a breadth of meaningful and motivating experiences, where language is used in small groups to talk about the activities, will broaden children’s vocabulary, encourage metacognition, support children’s self-esteem and build confidence and resilience.
As with all new ideas there have been challenges along the way. These have included when we haven’t had enough staff or parents to be able to run a session or when costs are prohibitive. However, we have made changes when needed and we have had to be flexible and resilient when things don’t go according to plan. We have had to make clear decisions about the effective use of the budget and this is one area that supports the overall success of the programme.
We adapt our programme depending on the needs of the children, their interests and also the strengths of the staff. Monitoring of the provision and gathering evidence has been one way that we have seen the effectiveness of the programme but also the analysis of progress and attainment through our assessment systems. This includes individual children’s Special Books and also the collaborative Natural Explorers book that shows evidence of the experiences children are offered.
The children have benefited from more targeted work that has been tailored to groups and individual needs and the strength of our assessments and data analysis has allowed us to further support progress and development. Raising the awareness across the whole staff team about the direction of our work and providing training and information has developed a collaborative school/centre approach, which means that we are all committed to this work and identifying possibilities for children and families. Parents have commented in recent questionnaires that they have seen progress in their child’s skills and knowledge and particularly their personal, social, emotional and language development.
The impact of the programme has been carefully monitored through our existing termly pupil progress meetings and data analysis, alongside this we have incorporated regular cohort monitoring of the EYPP children including robust monitoring of assessments and planning.
Initial findings on the development of this work have been very positive. EYPP children have speedily narrowed gaps and in some cases exceeded their non EYPP peers. We have observed a small gap of 3% at 40-60 months and this we have identified as the difference in breadth of vocabulary and therefore supports the view of developing breadth and depth of experiences and opportunities to broaden the children’s vocabulary
What next for your pupil premium strategy?
We are committed to and continuing with our Natural Explorers programme this year and developing our strengths in our provision for forest school activities and also scientific enquiry. These elements form part of our School Development Plan and are included to further embed practitioner knowledge and expertise in this area. We are offering staff training to support subject knowledge while continuing to develop innovative ideas that encourage and promote children’s developing vocabulary, resilience and learning in these areas. We are continuing to monitor any gaps in attainment between groups and have planned for more outings for the rest of the year.
Our school motto of Explore, Create and Learn Together, we believe shows our commitment to children’s learning through meaningful, fun and innovative experiences that is universal for all children but provides focus on learning for our more disadvantaged children without using a deficit model of support.
Sharing good practice
Winning the Pupil Premium Award has provided us with many opportunities to share our good practice. Schools from both within Hackney and further afield have contacted us for visits and support in the effective use of funding as well as ideas for identification of a project.
I have spoken about our work at the DFE disadvantage division away day, where I enjoyed having the chance to discuss issues that have arisen with the implementation of policy from a grass roots level. I have also been interviewed for the Nursery World publication, which is focusing on the use of the EYPP funding, while a small case study of our EYPP work will be included in the Social Mobility Commission’s annual report.
I am currently devising a training course that will be offered through the East London Early Years and Schools Teaching School Alliance to support schools in the identification of children and their needs, while looking at the strengths that lie within the school and the effective and creative use of the funding.
We would also like to write more articles on the work that we are doing to follow up on our original articles in Early Education and Nursery World.
We have used the winners logo on our letterhead, website and email as a way of sharing our award
Winning the Award
· Recognition by families of the work that we have been developing. We have made a display for parents and visitors to see our award and work we have carried out so far.
· Recognition by the East London Early Years and School Partnership (ELP). This is the teaching school alliance that Comet works within.
· Recognition of our work by the local authority, Hackney Learning Trust and our Governing Body.
· Working with other schools and settings to share our programme and success.
· Development of training opportunities and school to school support to be delivered both in Hackney and the ELP.
· Further development of innovative ideas for working with children both universally and with the EYPP.
· Working with other agencies such as the Social Mobility Commission as a case study.
· Nursery World have written an article about our work which should be published in November 2017.
· I’m am currently working on a Masters in Education: Culture, language and Identity and have made a decision to write my dissertation on our EYPP work, social disadvantage and social mobility.
Get in touch
Lisa Clarke – Headteacher