Julie Arkell – Assistant Headteacher, Montgomery and Percy Shurmer Academies, Birmingham
Montgomery and Percy Shurmer Academies are two large and welcoming primary schools in the centre of Birmingham. Part of the Academies Enterprise Trust, the twin schools share an Executive Head and teaching staff, working in partnership to deliver an outstanding education. Their shared mission is ‘to help pupils lead remarkable lives.’
Inspirational teaching is at the heart of this, and the schools use Empiribox to nurture pupils’ spirit of adventure and inquiry as part of a connected curriculum.
Assistant Headteacher Julie Arkell shares their Empiribox journey and reveals the benefits of practical primary science, for pupils, teachers and even parents.
Encouraging curious learners
At Montgomery and Percy Shurmer pupils are encouraged to be curious. Teachers use real-life content to make links between subjects, helping children to apply learning in their everyday lives. Practical science plays a big part in this.
“The primary curriculum can be formulaic. Practical science brings excellence and enjoyment into the classroom. We want to create an engaging experience for the children, to allow them to have a hands-on ‘wow experience’ with science.”
Accessible for every child
Providing complete resources for over 280 investigations, Empiribox brings science lessons to life, helping children to learn fundamental concepts in an exciting way. Because it is practical, it is also accessible, appealing to pupils regardless of ability or background.
The Montgomery and Percy Shurmer Academies have a higher than average number of disadvantaged pupils, and nearly all children speak English as an additional language. Practical science creates real benefits for these young learners.
“Practical science is very inclusive. Because it’s hands-on, it’s a subject that children can access at their own level. Lots of our pupils are second language learners and some have special educational needs, but science creates a level playing field.”
Many pupils are in the very early stages of learning to speak, read and write in English. Teachers have been delighted to discover that practical science can help children to feel included, as Julie explains.
“Practical science creates speaking and listening opportunities. It has a buzz around it which means the children want to share their experiences with one another.”
Inspiring disadvantaged pupils
This enthusiasm for science extends to other subjects through the schools’ connected curriculum. Children are encouraged to discover the real-world relevance of subjects and to think about how they relate to future jobs. This is particularly relevant for science, and Julie believes that Empiribox can make a real difference to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Science builds real life skills. It raises aspirations for children who may not be academic or who lack confidence. They begin to see themselves doing something science-related in the future.”
Not only does science raise aspirations, it also has a positive impact on pupil confidence. Practical investigations help children to develop valuable skills including resilience and self-belief.
“Science is about not being frightened to have a go. It builds resilience. Children learn that if something doesn’t work first time it doesn’t matter. We can talk about why it didn’t work and find a solution. They become less hung-up on getting everything right, which is a valuable life lesson. The skills are really transferrable.”
Preparing for secondary school
These skills mean that Julie’s pupils are well prepared for the next stage of education. A group of local secondary school teachers were impressed after observing a KS2 science lesson at the academies.
“The secondary school teachers were blown away by the level of our science lessons. They were amazed by the children’s vocabulary, their confidence in operating equipment and in carrying out science investigations.”
Preparing children for KS3 is just part of the Empiribox magic. As pupils’ knowledge, aspiration and confidence grows so too does their enjoyment of science. At Montgomery and Percy Shurmer there is a definite buzz around the subject, even among parents.
“The children are very enthusiastic about science, more than other subjects. They say, ‘Science is great, it’s exciting, it’s ace! It’s really interesting and we learn a lot!’ Parental engagement has increased too. We recently held a science workshop for parents. We had a much bigger turnout than usual.”
This enthusiasm for practical science can be found across both academies, and Julie is delighted at how teachers have taken to the scheme.
“The teachers think that Empiribox is fabulous. You can see that they are really buzzing when they try a new experiment and it works! They enjoy having access to special scientific equipment such as the Van de Graaf Generator. This isn’t something you would usually see in a primary school! Teachers really value the whole experience, which is lovely.”
Many of Julie’s colleagues come from a non-science background, but now approach practical lessons with confidence thanks to Empiribox training, which enables teachers to build and enhance basic science skills.
“Our teachers feel much more confident about teaching science because they are fully supported by Empiribox. They receive excellent training at the start of each term. The expertise shown in the CPD is amazing.”
Inspiring future scientists
The benefits of upskilling primary school teachers in science are far-reaching, and at Montgomery and Percy Shurmer Academies the Empiribox effect is clear. Teachers feel motivated, supported and prepared to teach practical science. They also enjoy the subject and this in turn has a positive impact for pupils. Children see their teachers’ enthusiasm for science, and this helps them to feel inspired, raising their aspirations for the future.
“We’re making a long-term investment for the future and the children have the immediate benefit of this. Our teachers are enthusiastic and keen to teach science which gives children the spark of enthusiasm. They see science as part of their future because their lessons are practical and make links with real life. Empiribox raises everyone’s aspirations.”