What did primary school look like when you were growing up?
For many, it was stuffy classrooms with lines of identical desks and a teacher pointing at a blackboard.
However, if you were to step into a classroom at a school like Dens Road Primary, you’ll find learning is now very different.
There’s relaxed music playing on TV as children mill around, playing with pens, play dough and Lego.
Teachers sit with pupils helping them to practise writing numbers.
But most children aren’t sitting down – they’re playing.
Welcome to the world of play-based learning – a venture based upon research on schools at home and abroad, which aims to help younger kids who struggle in a traditional classroom to thrive.
Studies have linked play with the development of life skills and overall better health.
Members of Dundee City Council were able to see this first-hand on a visit to the school.
Head teacher Ann-Marie McDonald said: “Children are coming out of nursery having been given a lot of attention – often one-to-one – and the usual classroom isn’t set up for them.
“These are the kids that are traditionally getting into bother but it’s actually unfair on them.
“So we did a lot of research – and this is our approach.”
In a traditional classroom, teachers have a class of up to 25 pupils, which means kids don’t always get the attention they need. But in these more open, free-form classes, there are up to five teachers for 50 pupils.
Small groups are taken aside for a short time each day to focus on traditional learning, such as numeracy and literacy – but outside of that they’re free to play as they see fit.
And while it can all look messy from the outside, each of the play areas – from a model kitchen to a sandpit – is designed to complement pupils’ learning.
For those wanting me-time, there are “quiet zones” with books to read and cosy chairs.
There’s something for everyone – and kids can do whatever they want to do – which seems to work.
Early indications from teachers suggest kids are more attentive, better engaged with their work and happier.
However, it won’t fit everywhere and schools have a degree of autonomy when it comes to choosing how to teach.
Dens Road is one of several Dundee schools receiving Pupil Equity Funding from the Scottish Government, with an extra £5 million allocated to the council for the 2018-19 year.
This is set to be discussed at committee next week, alongside an Education Scotland report outlining the city’s “good progress” in closing the gap.
Audrey May, chief education officer with Dundee City Council, said: “It’s a really positive report on the good progress we’ve been making. It’s a statement of confidence – but we are not complacent and know there’s a long way to go.”
Education convener Stewart Hunter said: “The Attainment Challenge is good for us but it’s good for the schools and the kids as well.
“The schools put a lot of hard work in – and based on our visit today the proof is in the pudding.”