Street investigation

An Engaging Places network 2008/09 case study | 12 August 2009

Key stage 2
Citizenship, geography, history, English, music, design and technology, art

We travel the road to school over 2,500 times during our primary years. However, in the rush to get to and from the school gates, the sights and sounds of the streets tend to pass us by.

Photo of female child holding up work

Ospringe CE Primary School student holds up model © Alys Tomlinson

Not so at Ospringe CE Primary School in Faversham, Kent, where a recent project has opened students’ eyes to what’s on their doorstep and made them feel they can change it for the better.

Platform for discovery
Lucy Hardy, the year 4 teacher at Ospringe, leapt at the opportunity to take part in the Engaging Places network. ‘I believe that the outdoor environment is a wonderful platform for creativity and discovery’, she explains. ‘Working with Canterbury Christchurch University, we designed a project to harness children’s natural curiosity about the world and open their eyes, ears and minds to the community.’

What did the teacher want to achieve? The teacher wanted to increase students’: awareness of where they live; participation in the local community; control over their own learning.

Before venturing out of the classroom, Lucy spent time talking with her class about the meaning of community. Why do we all have a responsibility to look after our community and environment? How is the school’s street a community? And what could the students do to make it a better place?

Up and down Water Lane
The street in question, Water Lane, has the busy A2 road at one end and a peaceful village at the other. Working in small groups, the year 4 students walked up and down the road exploring these contrasts and looking at the familiar surroundings in new ways. Adult experts, including music and geography lecturers, a town planner and a biochemist, brought their own perspectives to the work of each group.

How was the learning organised? Small groups of year 4 students: learnt about the meaning of ‘community’; spent time looking at the school’s street from different perspectives; developed a project they thought would improve the local environment.


Using viewfinders, the students photographed sights they felt illustrated words such as sad, lonely and awesome. Many homed in on traffic as a concern, choosing cars parked along the road to frame ‘sad’. In another activity they made a sound map, recording the changes from one end of the street to the other.

‘I really enjoyed going out,’ commented Alice. ‘It’s like a big adventure and a real treat getting to think about what our streets are really like.’

What was the impact? The students are now: more aware of their place in the community; believe they can change things for the better; able to work more independently.

Buses, bumps and bins
Back in school, the students talked about what they had discovered and what they would most like to change about Water Lane. What ideas could they come up with to make the street a better place?

Several groups focused on the problems caused by traffic and congestion. One highlighted the hazard created by cars mounting the pavement and built scale models showing solutions such as one-way traffic and speed bumps. Another chose to reduce congestion by designing and modelling an environmentally-friendly bus powered by hydrogen and solar panels.

Noise pollution inspired some students to compose a piece of music reflecting the way the sounds of the street change from the village at one end to the major road at the other.

Concern about litter prompted another group to create a company, ‘Bonkers Bins’, to market bins that people would actually enjoy using. The students created a logo, came up with ideas for products and drew a storyboard for an advertisement.

Photo of male student investigating a hole in the wall

Student investigates a hole in the wall © Jonathan Barnes

Engagement and independence
At the start of this project, the students had little understanding of their place in the community of Water Lane. By the end, they showed great awareness of the street, its problems and how they could make an impact as individuals. In Jack’s words, ‘I learnt that small things can make a really big difference’.

Teacher Lucy Hardy was delighted by the students’ response to this project. ‘If we could, I’d do this sort of work every day, 24/7,’ she says. ‘The children got so much out of it in terms of both learning and enjoyment. All were engaged and showed immense independence.’

Want to do something similar with your class?
We have collated a list of activities, organisations and resources for you to use with your students in exploring your local community.

The Engaging Places network
This case study comes from Ospringe CE Primary School in Faversham, Kent, who worked with Canterbury Christchurch University through the Engaging Places network for 2008/9.

The Engaging Places programme is run by CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and English Heritage. It supports teaching and learning through buildings and places.

Engaging Places realises that young people identify deeply with where they go to school and live but they are not always able to adequately communicate their sense of place to others. The physical face of many neighbourhoods is changing fast and schools are being transformed at an incredible pace, despite the recession. These dramatic changes will either involve or exclude a whole generation of young people.

Engaging Places is responding to this situation through the Engaging Places network. This is made up of schools and learning providers across England that work together on projects which seek to equip students with the tools to articulate and critically analyse the places where they live and learn.

The schools involved in 2008/09 followed a process of disciplined innovation using the QCA co-development framework – a rigorous approach to curriculum change.

Read more about the and view the Engaging Places videos.

All Engaging Places 2008/09 network case studies

A new view on design - Graveney School, key stage 3

Grounds for improvement - Barmby on the Marsh Primary School, key stage 1, 2

A 360-degree journey - Dover Grammar School for Girls, key stage 4, AS level

Tales from the Palace - St John’s CE Primary School, key stage 2

Libraries by design - Thamesview Vocational Centre and Riverview Junior School, key stage 2, C&BE diploma

A window on the past – Cardinal Newman Catholic School, key stage 3

Resurrecting the past – St Pius X Catholic High School, key stage 3

Groundbreaking geography - The Royal Grammar School, key stage 5

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