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The Belfry CE VA Primary School, Overstrand

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How We Teach

How we teach. How children learn.


At the Belfry we are very clear that we are here to educate your child! Our aim is that all children will leave the school being able to read and write, and be numerate, up to and beyond Expected Standards.


We do so by recursive teaching (see section below)


However…it is also a central part of the school that we operate on the principle that Happy Children Learn.


At its most simplistic it could go into a table like this!



Unhappy child

Happy child

Child who wants to learn



Child who doesn’t want to learn




We want all our children to be B children – happy learners!


A and C children will receive our support and help and we will work hard to make their time in school happy! And an important fact that we remember is that children can become happier through learning – that the progress they are all capable of can give them the independence and agency to be a success, whatever their starting point.


D children are the interesting ones! When we first started with the ethos of Happy Children Learn we found that there was a subset of children who were happy at school but... were quite happy to stay as they were, thank you!


This where we have developed our high expectations and clear drive from – as a school we are here to educate children to the best of their abilities whilst remaining happy…and sometimes that involves challenging expectations!


This can mean that we challenge pupils – that the reasons that explain difficulties at school are understood, but those reasons are not automatically used as excuses – we challenge pupils to be the best that they can be, and will support and encourage them in as many ways as we can.


With some children, such as those who may have Special Educational Needs, there may be a difficulty in achieving Expected Standards, but there is still the support and desire to see everyone improve and achieve.


Of course, all schools will hopefully say the same thing, so how does it look in practice?


Recursive teaching (see additional section below)


We have developed a recursive approach to teaching. We also approach teaching in a relatively formal manner – this is because we believe that it is very effective in enabling all children to succeed.


Learning is about hitting those speed bumps and then working out how to move forward. This is about more than developing resilience – a bridge is resilient, it can take any amount of traffic and remain intact – but it also remains unchanged.


What we are interested in is an idea called ‘anti-fragility’ – where something becomes stronger through the challenges it faces. This is an idea that has been developed by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and expounded by Jonathan Haidt (


What prevents the school from becoming a hot house bootcamp (!) is that at all points we remember the key belief – Happy Children Learn.


Norfolk is blessed with so many excellent and happy schools and there is a great deal of choice available, and so we have taken this opportunity to develop our own approach; a choice among many others. 


This is just a brief description of how we teach and, more importantly, how our children learn. It is based on lots of reading and discussion, and there is a reading list at the end should anyone be interested!


We have found, again and again, that children are far more capable than people believe! This can be due to the children’s expectations of themselves, or the expectations of parents and of teachers. We have high standards because the children deserve to have that belief in what they can achieve.


We have taken the time to explain the beliefs underpinning our approach so that they can be understood, but by far the best way to evidence its effects are to come and see the school!


We look forward to seeing you! 


Recursive teaching - a guide for teachers and parents (hover on text for more info)



Recursive teaching - a guide for teachers and parents (hover on text for more info)


Recursive teaching


(same thing, again and again looking different in new contexts)


Memory is the residue of thinking – Daniel Willingham


Underpinning of key skills (phonics, spellings, operations in maths) frees working memory to do other tasks


Daily  low-stakes  high expectation  testing


Daily (39 once a week vs 192 days

Low stakes (if you fail, it doesn’t matter - make children happy + relax, look at what issue is) 

High expectation (no waiting, if a child is Yr 4 then they get yr 4 content - doctors not vets!) 

Testing (A-J mixed content, or booklets)


Daily  short  teaching  based on test gap analysis


Daily (if not immediate then loses value, + waiting to learn


Short (teachers have to know their stuff, can’t waste time trying to think of best way to do it, or digressing + need to use these underpinning skills)


Teaching (what’s the learning difficulty - not social stuff, but where is the understanding weak? What needs breaking down further?) 


Based on test analysis (instant feedback - don't waste time on stuff they know, or digressing but use your time well)


Reading list

As a school we have developed our approach partly through reading widely and using research. The research from the Sutton trust has been central to us developing our recursive approach, but many other books and authors and discussions have shaped us too.

Here are some of the relevant writings that may be of some interest!

Why don't students like school? by Daniel Willingham

Teach like a champion, by Doug Lemov

Thinking fast and slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Intuition pumps, Daniel C Dennett

The Importance of Being Little, by Erika Christakis

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers, edited by Katharine Birbalsingh

Black Box Thinking, by Matthew Syed

When Can You Trust The Experts? by Daniel Willingham

Reading Reconsidered, by Colleen Driggs, Doug Lemov, and Erica Woolway

So, you've been publicly shamed, by Jon Ronson

Coddling of the American mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Happiness hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

Scale, by Geoffrey West

Curriculum, by Mary Myatt

The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt