UKLA is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2023 UKLA Literacy School of the Year is Elmhurst Primary School in Newham, London. Three members of the UKLA Awards Committee were privileged to visit the school as assessors for the award in June, following a written submission, and they were impressed by the evident continuity of the school’s approach to children’s learning, from the headteacher and senior leaders through to all of the staff.
Elmhurst Primary School represents a whole community of learners – staff and pupils – where engagement is key. Throughout the school, the assessors could see that not a minute or an opportunity was wasted in making the pupils’ learning memorable. In the early years, phonics is taught with joy and expertise. The school has built on its existing strengths in implementing a Reading for Pleasure philosophy and culture across the school, to extend its efforts to developing writing. Everyone in the school – children and staff – speaks knowledgably about and delights in books; classroom book corners are well used and regularly refreshed. The library is well stocked, responding to both children’s requests and staff recommendations, and is in constant use, even at lunchtime and after school, where once a week a “mystery” reader reads aloud to parents and children who wish to attend. There are book clubs for staff and children, and high-quality texts are chosen for whole class reading lessons and reading aloud every day.
Over the last five years, the whole school has researched, developed and implemented a Writing for Pleasure approach, and the results are clear to see. From children in reception classes upwards, children are writing confidently, independently and with developing technical skill, with a sense of both purpose and audience. Through its research-informed approach, the school has carefully unpicked what it means to be a writer, for both teachers and children, and has carefully implemented its approach.
Elmhurst staff place as much importance on the development of oracy as they do on reading and writing; this is evident through formal opportunities, such as a hugely oversubscribed debating club, and performances in the beautiful theatre in the school, but most importantly in the opportunities for children to speak and discuss within lessons and the careful way they listen and respond to each other. The immersive approach to written and oral language in school is even more remarkable in the context of a school where the vast majority of pupils have English as an additional language and many begin school with little spoken English.
This is a school where the children have plenty to read, write and speak about. The staff, under the determined leadership of the headteacher, Sukwinder Samra, have taken every opportunity to build their children’s cultural capital. Each year a large party of children visit a European city, and the resulting spectacular art work can be found in school, from Paris, Venice, Madrid, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Some children are able to take part in a poetry residence in the New Forest and all benefit from visits from visiting authors. For the developing writers at Newham, modelling from visiting authors of colour, such as Sathnam Sanghera and Lenny Henry, provides obvious inspiration. The children take part in the national Shakespeare Schools Theatre Festival every year, as well as the annual, national debating competition, coming second this year in a final held in the Houses of Parliament.
Research based approaches are evident in all of the school’s work and they share their learning across the member schools in the New Vision Trust, as well as more widely through the English Hub it leads. What shines through, however, is the commitment and engagement of every member of staff, and their determination to review and improve their work. In the words of the mentor for their award submission, Professor Teresa Cremin, there is no “laurel sitting”.
“I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending Elmhurst for UKLA School of the Year, 2023. In my view, this award is well overdue. “
Professor Teresa Cremin
The headteacher, Sukwinder Samra, English leader, Sam Creighton and Assistant Headteacher and English Hub Co-Leader, Katharine Young will be presenting their school’s work at the UKLA International Conference on Saturday June 24th, at Exeter University.