Chris Dyson is Headteacher of Parklands Primary School in Leeds. Chris loved school himself and always wanted to be a teacher. He worked in Stoke on Trent and York before moving to several different schools in Leeds and helping one of them move from Special Measures to Outstanding. Finally, he became headteacher at Parklands.
How do you build a culture where learning is admired and children are heroes because of their learning?
Chris points out that shouting at kids who are already shouted at for most their lives doesn’t work. When he reached Parklands, staff morale was at rock bottom, there had been many exclusions and 5 heads in the past year and the first thing he did was to ban shouting. He believed in the children, he listened to them.
Incredibly, lunchtime had been banned in order to improve behaviour. Chris asks us to imagine what the afternoons were like without a lunch breaks for the children. The real problem was there was nothing for the children to do at lunchtime, nothing to play with and no structure.
“Tig on the roof was a very popular game before I started.”
Children would climb up onto the roof of the school at lunchtime and chase each other around. As soon as Chris arrived he said that if anyone went on the roof he would call the Police to get them down. Within 20 minutes a child was up on the roof and 5 minutes after that the Police arrived. No-one has been on the roof since.
To combat the lunchtime problems, Chris collected all the children who had been been excluded for behaviour at lunchtimes together and gave them a £10,000 cheque from Pupil Premium money to design their own playground. They invested the money really well in football pitches and basket ball courts. It had a huge impact because the children now wanted to be out playing at lunchtimes.
Was taking hold of behaviour and making sure kids were safe the best thing to do first, before innovating on teaching and learning?
Chris believes 100% that this was the right way round.
“As soon as you get the behaviour right, the children are ready to learn.”
How does Chris create the ‘Maths Heroes’ in his school?
Paul is amazed by the level of maths knowledge and skill in Parklands Primary. Chris says that he has always had a focus on times tables from the moment he started teaching. He started by creating a ‘Times Table Knockout’ competition in his class and then when he became a headteacher he could transfer this to the whole school. He now has weekly competitions with the winners able to sit on ‘winners’ row’.
The children take part in national competitions against secondary age children on times tables and Andy believes that when you understand times tables, maths becomes straightforward.
How important is competition in learning for your school?
Chris is unashamedly keen on competition. He manages the times tables competitions so that the same children don’t win all the time and the culture he has developed means that the children who don’t win are spurred on to win themselves next time.
Are parents involved?
Chris thinks it’s essential to include parents. He is dogged and unrelenting in encouraging parents to come to the assemblies and from a very low baseline he now has 80-90 parents attending regularly. A lot of these parents didn’t have good experiences themselves so Andy believes it’s very important to include them.
Christmas at Parklands
Chris realised that a very small proportion of the children at his school had ever had the chance to go to a Christmas Grotto. He contacted local businesses and managed to give out over 300 presents to children as well as providing over 300 Christmas Dinners on Christmas Eve. One company even arranged for reindeer and a sleigh! This was two years ago. This year they managed to raise over £15,000 worth of gifts in two weeks. This meant they could give away 798 presents and serve the same number of meals – including to children from the local secondary school who turned up as well!
What are the hard decisions for a head today?
Chris says that funding cuts are the most difficult things to deal with. He managed to avoid redundancies through persuading local businesses to do building work for free but the pressure is a huge difficulty.