Using the physical environment as a tool for teaching

Using the physical environment as a tool for teaching: Netherfield Primary School

Provider background

Netherfield Primary School is located in the outskirts of Nottingham. It was judged to be outstanding in 2013.

Brief description

This Ofsted good practice example shows how a primary school makes highly effective use of resources and space to provide children with outstanding learning experiences. A range of teaching approaches, both formal and informal, sit side by side in a highly planned curriculum where both the indoor and outdoor environment are used creatively. A research-based approach was taken when setting up the environments, and a large staff team works together to seek ever better ways of ensuring that children get off to a good start. At this school, the headteacher is clear that ‘the environment is the best teaching tool we have’.

This is part of a set of eight good practice examples showcasing good practice in early years to support the report: ‘Teaching and play in the early years – a balancing act?’.

The good practice in detail

Making use of the indoor space

The indoor environment is highly structured. It consists of one large room (the unit) with several smaller, ‘groups rooms’ radiating from it. These rooms can be closed with moveable dividers. As the early years leader explains, the environment is “designed with the child in mind, ensuring ease of access and independence. It starts with the furniture, where clear zoning enables children to see exactly what resources are available. These zones are located strategically so that children can select resources from one zone that will help with their play in another. For example, ‘small world’ is adjacent to the ‘big blocks’ because children frequently play with these resources together.”

The great outdoors

Despite being located in an urban setting, with limited space and only a small playing field, Netherfield Primary School makes the absolute most of its outdoor resources. The early years leader describes the outdoor environment as ‘mirroring the indoor environment as much as possible so that children have access to all of the same kinds of activities and learning opportunities outside as they would inside’. This strategy responds to the school acknowledging that some children prefer to learn outside and would miss out if the areas were dissimilar. However, the early years leader also believes that, ‘the outdoor activities have to be challenging and open-ended to encourage and promote problem solving, creativity and critical thinking.’ The children’s interests are also reflected in the outdoor area

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