Teaching at Pirate School

June 24, 2021
Cristy Burne
Leila Sugden


Case Study: Term 3

School: Wembley Primary School

Teacher: Leila Sugden

 Year Group: 3

Creative Practitioner: Cristy Burne

Creative Practice: Science Writer and Children’s Author

Main Curriculum Focus: HASS - Communicating and reflecting on present findings and conclusions in a range of communication forms. 

Cross-curricular Links: Questioning and research from identifying current understandings of a topic, and developing a range of focus questions to evaluate. Locating and collecting information from a variety of sources and recording selected information and/or data. Planning and delivering short presentations, providing some key details in logical sequence and using behaviours that show empathy and respect for others. Working independently, or collaboratively when required, to plan, safely create and communicate sequenced steps. 

“It’s learning combined with fun and learning to be friends with other people, to collaborate. You can learn anything in this way, like maths or English.” - Student


The key topic or learning intention for this term flowed from a school-wide inquiry-based learning topic, a response to this year’s National Science Week theme: Deep Blue.


Students were tasked with exploring the idea of a pirate school, set on a galleon. The groups brainstormed “I wonder” statements related to pirate schools (things like: I wonder what subjects we would need to teach? What would kids have in their school bag? Who would be in your class? What would the kids do at lunchtime? What specialty rooms would you have?  What school uniform, if any, would there be?) and then created a labelled diagram of their school. They then identified an area of pirate schooling they were most interested in, and in groups, they developed a lesson plan designed to teach other pirate students more about that area. For example, we had a group that began by researching ways to train monkeys and parrots, and ended up presenting an interactive lesson on parrot anatomy. Another group researched pirate treasure and presented a lesson on treasure maps and how to use them. A third group researched marine animals and presented a lesson on which layers of the ocean different species live.

“It is different to normal lessons because you get to apply ideas. It's kind of your choice, whatever you can, and you feel free and you are still learning.” - Student


Leila framed much of this term’s work, both during Creative Schools lessons and outside of these lessons, around the idea of pirates. For example, the kids did a persuasive writing exercise in which they attempted to convince other kids to embrace the pirate life. They also developed their own ‘wanted’ posters, built complicated galleons as a way to develop teamwork skills, experimented with green screen technology to create pirate portraits, and imagined future pirate school technologies (such as robotic teachers so the real teachers could watch TV), etc. When we wanted to create stakes for a task, we’d ask students to walk the plank or use a pirate-themed timer. All pirate-themed work went into a special Pirate Handbook. The books available at reading time, were all pirate or ocean themed. The students even began referring to their teacher as Captain Sugden.


We constantly referred to and referenced the Creative Habits poster, which hangs in the centre of the room. During reflection times, we asked the students to think about different habits and to identify specific ways in which they had demonstrated the habit, or otherwise. The students are consciously parroting these words, rather than unconsciously applying the habits. However, we are hoping that through conscious practise we can get to unconscious proficiency.

“It’s about being creative, bringing magic, like imagination.” - Student

“I can see them starting to take more initiative and be more engaged.” - Teacher


We encouraged student agency in a variety of ways across the term; from opportunities to select their own groups and research focus, to activities that saw them required to create their own questions, ideas and solutions. This student-led approach to their learning meant that not all students achieved what they wanted. Some wasted time, were unable to reach consensus, or spent too long on one task at the expense of another. However, these opportunities to try and fail were also opportunities to learn, and we're hoping that next term the students can show that they have adapted and developed.

“We are making lessons to become the teachers. It's a bit different, it's different to normal. That’s good. I like it.” - Student

“I learnt to not watch as many videos because I did not get much done.” - Student


Student Impact

The students thoroughly enjoyed the creative sessions and being able to direct their learning through the prism of pirates. It is hard to judge impact because I only see them once a week, and they were already quite able and academic kids. Certainly, some of the kids who are used to being able to cruise through academic lessons have been challenged by the need to work in groups and hear other voices. We have had tears and we have also had frustration when projects haven’t worked out the way kids have hoped. We have had disappointment when a group who had big plans for their lesson ended up with something they weren’t all that proud of. But we’ve also had success, pride, laughter and  satisfaction.

“I am trying to listen to, and understand, what my partner is saying, before I share my thoughts.” - Student

“It’s just doing fun. I'm just happy to have a go, okay, trying to have a go.” - Student

Teacher Impact

I have really enjoyed working alongside Cristy this term. As educators, I think we sometimes forget how highly structured and goal oriented we can become in our lesson delivery. Having a fresh perspective allowed myself, and the children, to engage with more flexibility and creativity. I found myself working alongside the children and facilitating the learning. It was wonderful to feel the buzz of excitement when Cristy arrived and it seemed to be the children’s ‘ticket’ to let free thoughts flow, as bizarre as some of them were, and we certainly all had many laughs along the way.

“It's letting you learn. Normally the teachers tell us exactly what to do. But with these lessons they are letting us do the learning. I think this is a better way of learning.” - Student

Cristy and I experienced our own learning journey whilst working to achieve our shared objective, providing the scaffolding required to enable the children to independently apply the creative habits across a range of experiences. We continuously experimented with effectively teaching and incorporating the habits of learning into the learning cycle. I look forward to continuing growing and learning as an educator in order to provide my students with the best opportunity to develop these creative habits, which are necessary for the 21st century.

“It has been wonderful for me today. I had the opportunity to sit and work with a child who's academically far below the rest of the class. He got so much out of the session. He came up with so many creative ideas. It was nice for me to be able to work with him. He was so proud of his ideas, they were all his ideas, and the class was proud of what he achieved. We don't have time for these things in normal lessons. Today was a wonderful step forward for him in his learning.” - Teacher

Creative Practitioner Impact

I’ve loved working with such a creative teacher, and with such bright and able kids. There are hardly any behavioural problems in this class, which means we are able to give students a lot of responsibility and flexibility, and we can try lots of different things. The students mostly have high standards for themselves and want to do well. It has been FABULOUS to have such a flexible classroom environment to work in – no rows of desks and chairs, a much more interactive and meldable space.

“It’s about ideas that you can just let them out and just do it, enjoy it, enjoy your feelings and then just do something to calm me down or something.” - Student 

“We are learning to be unanimous with other people, like collaborate. You may see someone and then you start working together and then you can make friends.” - Student