A child about to take flight with cardboard wings

Sure, the blog attributes authorship to me, but this article was actually written by my dad, Iain Erskine. Iain is the Principal of The Fulbridge Academy. He led the school from special measures to outstanding, picking up the accolade of being a National School of Creativity along the way. He’s also presented at conferences all over the country, including the Education Show and the London Institute of Education, sits on the board of trustees for the Cambridge Primary Review, and is the author of Brilliant Head Teacher.

The Fulbridge Academy is a large primary school in an underprivileged area of Peterborough, with over 130 members of staff and more than 700 pupils from over 30 different countries. Despite considerable challenges, the school is in the top two percent of schools in the country for value-added. This is largely attributed to their creative curriculum. Fulbridge is now a Cambridge Primary Review Trust Alliance School and a Whole Education Pathfinder and Partner school.

This blog tells the story of The Fulbridge Academy’s journey with a creative approach. Over to you, Pops!

Why We Chose Creativity

When I took on the headteacher role at Fulbridge Junior School in 2001, the school was underperforming considerably. It had recently joined the special measures club. Attendance was an issue, as was behaviour; value-added was poor, and results were worse. The future looked bleak for the school and for its pupils. It was clear that something drastic needed to change; ‘more of the same’ was not going to work. Big changes were necessary. What we were going to change, however, I had no idea.

In a sense, I think that the staff at Fulbridge knew we needed a creative approach before we really knew or understood what that meant. At least, we knew we needed a new approach. We teach in a very deprived area; many of our pupils have not had the life experiences children in other schools are privileged to have. We were teaching about the seaside to children who had never been to the coast. Many of our pupils had never left the county, let alone the country, and yet we expected them to be able to relate to the subjects taught in geography.

In November 2003, I attended a one day conference led by Roger Cole called ‘Building for Tomorrow’. It advocated a creative curriculum based on first-hand experiences, with a greater emphasis on the arts. It was perfect.
Roger Cole was a great mentor and friend in the early years. I admired his vision and creative mind. Over the years, there have been many educational figures I have been fortunate enough to meet and learn from; people who have inspired me to the extent that I would spend evenings relaying conversations with them to my family.  My children referred to them as my long list of ‘man crushes’, such was the impact they had on my outlook and vision for education.

It was time for a paradigm shift in our thinking.

We worked closely with Roger Cole to create a creative curriculum for our school. We based our curriculum on experienced-based learning, utilising our local environment to cultivate and develop our pupils’ imagination, innovation, and creativity.

I believe that there are many ways to express ourselves, and many ways to judge intelligence. While ability in writing, reading, and mathematics are vital skills to acquire, sadly, in our current educational landscape, they seem to be the only holy grail of intelligence that all children are required to find and achieve at.

The reality is that some children will express themselves superbly through painting, sculpture, dance, drama or singing. Our system does not recognise achievements in these areas as truly valuable, and yet, they are what a country’s culture and character are built upon. Beckham expressed himself with a football; Jonny Wilkinson with a rugby ball; John Lennon through music; Picasso with paint, and Sir Laurence Olivier through drama. How much poorer our world would be without their ability to express themselves in these ways, as it would if Shakespeare had never put pen to paper. At Fulbridge, we now find it hard to prioritise one form of expression over another.

The results of our creative approach.

Our creative curriculum led to creative teaching, creative lessons, and creative classrooms. Our approach means that our pupils now have amazing experiences that inspire them to learn. We have had an alien land on our field, an Egyptian mummy in the cellar, and The Cat in The Hat run riot in KS1.

We decided that if our children don’t visit the seaside, we will bring the seaside to them. Very few of them will visit Harry Potter World, so we built part of Hogwarts and Platform Nine And Three Quarters in the corridor. We have turned our corridors into amazing themed areas, so our pupils can see and experience things they would never have experienced without us.

We brought the experiences to our children and allowed them to reflect upon them creatively in ways that suit their ability and skillset. Because sometimes, a creative dance far better tells the story of the day the school was overrun by zombies and monsters than a piece of writing ever could.

Our creative curriculum has gone a small way to bridging the gap between our children from deprived backgrounds, and those from privileged backgrounds. Whilst we cannot replace the years of bedtime stories, holidays, day trips and museum visits that our children miss out on, we have built a school that our children love to attend; that they are proud of. We believe that The Fulbridge Academy is a place that makes you long for childhood, which, for our pupils who would otherwise long to grow up and move out, is an incredible achievement, and one which every single member of staff and every child who has passed throughout the school is to thank for.

The children at Fulbridge achieve an amazing standard of work in not only reading, writing, and Maths, but also in PE and the Creative/Performing Arts. Let us not forget that creativity and creative thinking/thinkers are central to all subject areas, from Science and Technology to Drama, Music, Art, and Dance. The teaching of the arts has an impact not only on children’s ability in the Performing Arts themselves but on the children’s self-esteem and confidence that then transfers to a belief in themselves and attainment in other subjects.

This year, 2015, we have achieved our highest ever SATs results at Fulbridge – the seventh year of outstanding results – that put us, once again, in the top one or two percent of schools nationally for how much the children improve. This success is grounded in a broad and balanced curriculum approach that recognises the significant importance of not only reading, writing and maths, but also prioritises the Arts and PE, all in a creative approach to learning that creates innovative, flexible, resilient creative thinking learners.

Our country is great because of its rich cultural past, which is created by our nation’s wonderful contribution to dance, drama and music. Our children will succeed in life with the support of a broad, balanced, creative, and innovative curriculum, not a narrow one based on what is measurable.

Creativity is central to our educational journey at the Fulbridge Academy, a journey that will always continue in a world that will always develop; it is the never-ending story of imagination and innovation that not only makes our school, our community, and our civilisation, but also our world, what it is and what it will be.

At the Fulbridge Academy, we believe that if you give children the roots, they will grow wings and fly.

Iain Erskine
Head of The Fulbridge Academy

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