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Timber, Thatch and Pots - Tendring Primary School, Essex

Initiated by

Suffolk CC Archaeological Service: Tendring Primary School; Acorn Village – Centre for adults with learning difficulties

Funded by

Awards for All Lottery Funding


  • To raise the identity of the school as a focal point within the community.
  • Explore and develop ‘outdoor learning’ as part of the school curriculum.
  • Encourage and involve parents, children and staff in working together towards a common goal.
  • Leave an outdoor learning resource for the future.
  • Develop children’s awareness of their heritage through practical activities.

Work done and results

Tendring Primary School is within in a rural location in Essex and caters for pupils aged 4 – 11.

The school was keen to explore different approaches to learning, in particular utilising the skills of the local community.

The project involved the school in developing a neglected area of woodland within the school grounds to establish a permanent learning resource. A major criteria for this was that every child should be involved in the work and that they would take a major responsibility in its construction, guided by staff and parents. They were not to be viewed as cheap labour or passive onlookers.

The project would build a 4 metre diameter Iron Age roundhouse and Roman pottery kiln, using traditional skills and materials and designed by the children from archaeological records. There would also be a garden area of raised beds where the children would grow vegetables. A late addition included the building of a clay bread oven. A visiting artist would add willow sculptures to the site.

Over a period of six weeks the project leader from Suffolk CC Archaeological Service worked with groups of 15 children to complete the building work. Parents played a central role because of the assessed risk involved in the work. 8-11 year olds working in groups of 4-5 and supervised by parents, learned how to work with the edged tools necessary to build the frame of the roundhouse. All the school were involved with wattling, daubing and digging and those who could reach the lower levels helped thatch the roundhouse in reed straw. Parents working in very determined and focussed groups finished the thatching within three days, a notable achievement considering none had thatched before.

Pupils also produced hand built pots to fire in the Roman kiln that they built under the guidance of a specialist in kiln technology. The kiln was fired overnight by some enthusiastic staff and parents.

At the end of the project the school held an open day to share and celebrate the achievement with the local community. The bread oven was fired up and Roman recipes cooked to add authenticity to the event.

The whole project developed a real sense of community within the school. Children could not quite believe what they had achieved – a roundhouse you could live in and an area where you could grow and cook your food. The emphasis here is on ‘real’. This is what captured the imagination; these were not just sketches or models. They were actual buildings and the sense of achievement from the 150 children and 35 staff and parents involved was tangible.

The site now provides a beautiful setting for outdoor work and a marvellous venue for storytelling and theatre.

Lessons learned

  • Good communications and a close and committed relationship are needed between all parties.
  • A central figure within the parent community is essential to organise rotas and timetables for parent helpers.
  • The focussing of a project outdoors encourages sections of the parent community to take part. Many of the parents involved had not been ‘seen’ in the school before. The outdoors provided a less threatening environment compared with the classrooms and corridors of the school.
  • Primary aged pupils can become fully involved with ambitious project.

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