DER Documentary

Breaking The Cycle

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by John Dickinson and Mark Dickinson
color, 52 min, 2008

Non-profit, K-12, and Individual pricing also available
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In 1996, the state-funded Woodlands Country Primary School in Gillingham, Kent, UK was situated in one of the most socio-economically deprived areas outside the inner cities. Pupil places were under-subscribed: 160 out of a possible 240 capacity. Subjected to years of neglect through Council underinvestment, its underachieving students aged 4 - 11 years were destined to be filtered through into similarly poor secondary schools and a life of mediocrity.

There was no magic wand. It took open minds to see the vision of new head Nic Fiddaman "to get it": commitment from staff, governors and parents, and guts to put children's emotional well-being above government targets and league tables. It also took years of chasing grants, subsidies and outside sponsorship to expand the school and its facilities, for which there were many more disappointments than successes. Every negative response became a springboard to seek another way. Failure was not acceptable, not when the children come first.

Today Woodlands is unrecognisable - consistently listed as one of the best schools in the country and expanded to provide nursery care for pre-school children as well as after-school programs for students. As its renown has grown, so have student numbers, in an area where pupil numbers have been steadily decreasing due to a drop in the birth rate.

The school now supports its pupils and community through subsidised sports facilities and a programme of arts, drama, dance and music - also providing free music lessons, a fully functional theatre and professional football fields.

Breaking the Cycle is not a blueprint for change, nor a manual on how to turn around a failing primary school in Britain, but it can be a tool for inspiring those considering or implementing change in their own school communities.

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