Wider curriculums, longer classroom hours and reducing teacher workload were the key topics of discussion as Education Secretary Damian Hinds visited Bedford.
Mr Hinds, who has been in post since January, visited Bedford Free School to find out more - and admitted he was left impressed with some of the school’s ‘enterprising solutions’. It was his first visit to a free school since being named Secretary of State.
He said: “I am always grateful that one of the perks of my job is that I get to visit some incredibly inspiring schools and students.
“Bedford Free School is a great example of a school using the freedom it has to set its curriculum and tailor its working day to really meet the needs of staff, students and parents.”
The free school is a state school which was set up by teachers, families and other members of the community back in 2012.
The school’s longer opening hours, where it teaches students from 8.30am until 4pm, are geared towards ‘modern family life’.
It also offers its own curriculum, providing students with technology opportunities, programmes of sporting and enrichment activities, extended projects and community-based service.
The Education Secretary visited the school on Thursday (April 26), where he oversaw classes and chatted with both students and teachers.
Following a tour of the school led by the Head Boy and Head Girl, teachers described how ‘exceptional standards of behaviour’ attracted them to the school.
Mr Hinds added: “It was particularly interesting to hear about the school’s creative approach to reduce teacher workload and recruit and retain great teachers, by cutting out the unnecessary marking and planning that is keeping staff from doing what really matters.
“This is the kind of enterprising solution that helps us reduce the non-teaching burden on teachers, leaving them to do what they do best.”
School league tables show that the free school came second in the county for the progress students made between the end of key stage 2 and the end of key stage 4 in 2017 - bettered only by Sharnbrook Academy.
Stuart Lock, executive principal of Bedford Free School, said: “Leaders and teachers at Bedford Small School sweat the small stuff, meaning that teachers are free to teach and pupils are free to learn. Our unashamedly high expectations of conduct means that every minute of every lesson time is used productively.
“We are more confident than ever that the unique offer at BFS - our smaller size, longer day, high standards of discipline, and caring culture – make the difference.”
Nigel Syson, chair of Governors of Bedford Free School, added: “We were delighted to show Mr Hinds that high expectations, firm discipline, and a commitment to the local community pay dividends in pupil progress, and in retaining the best teachers.
“The Governors are very proud of the pupils and staff of the school.”