A Visit to The Coombes CE Primary School

8 July 2010 · 4 comments

in Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces

Last week I visited The Coombes CE Primary School along with 11 other educators from Stirling Council.  Ever since reading a book, The Creative School, I yearned to see the place and discover first hand what makes this school a unique centre of excellence.

This is the unassuming entrance to the infant part of the school


The Coombes School is renowned for its innovative approach, particularly the way in which it uses its school grounds to provide experiential learning experiences for the 600 children who attend. It is a state-funded school. The founding head teacher, Sue Humphries, had a vision of a kindergarten – a school in the woods. It is hard to believe when you walk around the grounds that when the school opened in 1971, there was just a tarmac playground and a large playing field.

To the left is the nursery area. Ahead is the playing field
Our visit deliberately coincided with the Learning Through Landscapes “World Outside the Classroom” conference that celebrates 20th birthday of this school grounds charity. The Coombes School community  very kindly put together a special day of events for the 60 visitors who descended upon their school. I plan to blog more about this soon.

The adventure playground has been in situ for many years
A new-found friend I met recently, Stuart Cummings, an Australian head teacher visited The Coombes School as part of his current Churchill Travelling Fellowship. His blog makes interesting reading, especially the Coombes post.

The boat is a popular place to hang out at break time.
The grounds are not in pristine condition and are continuously evolving. They are used daily by all classes for learning outside all year round. On the day we left I found four different classes outside before 9.30am doing a variety of different activities. This school walks its talk.

Throughout the grounds are nooks, crannies and gathering places for children
The school relies heavily on parents and volunteers to assist with the ongoing maintenance tasks. The nearby army barracks also provides labour and resources when needed too. The overall ethos strongly reminded me of the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child”.

This pond (the 6th on site) is the most recent addition and provides performance space too. Here is a one-man show given by a parent who’s a professional actor.
The staff and children are also involved. When our group arrived the previous day, there was a teacher painting strategy games in the car park for the next day’s activity.

This is Nine-men’s Morris. The counters are tin cans! Painted by a teacher.
If you want to get a flavour of the curriculum and how The Coombes School approaches this, then have a look at this YouTube video clip:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

jenny July 9, 2010 at 01:05

It is my absolute wish that there were more schools around like this one. What a wonderful place to grow and learn.

I just got back from a progressive education conference in Victoria at the Hurstbridge Learning Co-op and was similarly inspired by their outdoor learning environment and the amount of time they spent in it. I’ll post soon about it too.

Thanks for sharing this Juliet 🙂

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Teacher Tom July 9, 2010 at 15:19

What an amazing place, Juliet! Thanks for sharing it.

I especially like that it’s “not pristine,” and that they rely on parents — that’s my kind of school.

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Juliet Robertson July 11, 2010 at 07:05

Yes – it’s an interesting place because most schools which are doing this sort of thing are very small. Whereas over the 35 years this school has existed, the ethos has evolved and remained strongly rooted in authentic learning experiences. Furthermore, SATS results and other standardised forms of assessing schools demonstrate that this school can meet these standards too. It gets “outstanding” OFSTED school inspections.

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