Thursday 8 December 2011

Missing the Chickens at Four Dwellings High

Feather-footed friend at Woodgate
On a beautiful sunny November afternoon, I was with my kids, admiring the feathered feet chickens, and avoiding the chinese geese at Woodgate Valley Urban Farm.  Looking out from the corner of the field, I think I saw the astroturf (or something light greeny) of Four Dwellings High.

Chickens are something you can't help hearing when you walk around Four Dwellings High.  They are there, strutting around in the central square - a living school farm in the middle of the school.  Strangely, when you spend a bit of time there, the noise isn't disturbing.  It's actually quite comforting, and in keeping with the relaxed, warm, friendly atmosphere you'll find there.  As the Head, Bernie Smith, pointed out in 2002, the chickens do represent something of the philosophy at the school:

'to get chickens laying, you have to get the conditions right. Even then it will be some time before they start to produce eggs.'

Looking to pioneering work nurturing young minds, encouraging engagement and participation with important issues of today, FDH keeps popping up.  I was at an event looking to the future of green schools at Thinktank - Four Dwelling students were there.  The chickens weren't, but were much talked about.  I was talking to a teacher from a girls school recently about Birmingham suffregettes - FDH have done it already:

Children’s Lives, which will be the first major project in Birmingham and the West Midlands to consider children’s lived experiences from the 18th century to the present day, again FDH are there.  It was one of a handful of UK schools identified in a report written by University of Birmingham:

'As part of the Carnegie Young People Initiative and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation programme of work on pupil participation, we were asked to identify case study schools in different contexts in England, which demonstrate good practice.'

So all this nurturing of young minds, is it working? Well, they recently beat Camp Hill to become Midlands champions in a national competition to inspire business leaders and entrepreneurs of the future last month - The National Final will be held at Wembley Stadium on January 25th 2012.  FDH also boasted two England shirts for the 1-0 victory against Sweden last month.

There are individual successes, but what is more impressive is the development of a community feel throughout the school, despite the distance many students live from each other, and 'many of the areas from which the school draws its pupils are deprived' (OFSTED).

I'm writing this blog because that feeling of 'family' - mutual support and empathy - includes staff and even visitors like me.

'Eternal Light' near Tommy Knocker's Tree
I first worked there in 2005 to support Graham Langley, working on 'Who are we?' - a project where we created a story (and a scrap model) from the wonderful local place names and performed to Four Dwellings Primary Yr6 as part of transition to the High school.

Since then I've worked on a range of projects as part of Creative Partnerships, with Birmingham Library Service and Birmingham Archives and Heritage, with various year groups, departments, staff and creative practitioners, all fantastic fun, and always reflecting the school’s philosophy to ‘make life better for all', listening and enabling students to make decisions, take action for themselves.

I agree with Bernie Smith and 'urge you to come and find out why it is so special', if only to sit and listen to chickens laying eggs.

Other projects:

The Goo!
Working with Science Embassadors (yrs 7 to 9) to make a short science fiction film and launch a school-wide 'science invasion' day.

Chocolate and Slavery

Film re-creation of a court case one hundred years ago in which William Cadbury sued the London Standard for libel, having been accused of using slave labour in his Sao Tome and Principe plantations.  Comparison with modern day slavery in chocolate industry and the positioning of media, the public and chocolate industry in light of continuing child labour, bonded labour and slavery.


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