A class act?
HALIFAX primary school went into 'special measures' in November. But how will the school's new acting headteacher tackle the challenges ahead, and find the determination to shape a brighter future for its pupils?
HALIFAX primary school went into 'special measures' in November. Today education reporter JAMES MARSTON asks the school's new acting headteacher Anna Hennel James how she will tackle the challenges ahead, and finds her determination to shape a brighter future for its pupils.
ANNA Hennell James has pledged to get Halifax Primary School out of special measures by autumn 2007.
Today a community waits and watches, for the school which used to be a shining example of forward thinking education, to sparkle once again.
But it's not going to be an easy job and she knows it. The school in Stoke Park, Ipswich has a lot of problems and will need lots of hard work and determination to turn it round.
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In May Ms Hennell James, headteacher at Whitehouse Junior School, was approached by Suffolk County Council to take over the school after the resignation of former headteacher Kevin Tomlin.
The 43-year-old mum of three said: “I am on secondment from Whitehouse. Initially it was to be for two terms but after discussions with the LEA (local education authority) I am going to be here for a full academic year.
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“We want to get the school out of special measures by autumn 2007.”
Halifax Primary School, in Prince of Wales Drive, was designated a failing school by Office of Standards in Education (OfSTED) inspectors in November last year.
She said: “It is very sad to see a school in such a negative position, when that sort of judgement has been made. But whatever has happened it is not the fault of the children and they deserve better.”
With the new leadership team in place, Halifax has begun to make progress.
An interim visit by inspectors in July praised the school for improvements in pupil behaviour, and the school's more balanced timetable.
Ms Hennell James said: “I'm pleased the school has made some progress and started to address the key issues raised by OfSTED. Our action plan is currently being finalised with the LEA at the moment. There is a lot of work to do though.”
Despite the existing problems at Halifax, Ms Hennell James is proud of what is happening at the school, and delighted at what is being achieved.
She said: “It is a very positive time for the school. The children are delighted with their new classrooms and looking forward to working in them.
“Staff morale has improved and the latest report by inspectors in July was very positive. They said we had turned a corner.”
OfSTED inspectors are due to visit the school again before the end of term.
Ms Hennell James added: “There is no quick fix, and nothing will happen overnight so there is still a way to go. I'm very confident we will be out of special measures by autumn 2007.”
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In the OfSTED report, inspectors said a “significant minority of pupils continue to have an impact on the whole school.”
Ms Hennell James said: “There were a lot of children disappearing in lessons and their behaviour was impacting on the learning of other children. It is an open plan building and if one child was being disruptive everyone else knew it. There was no clear behaviour policy in place.
“There was a very inclusive approach but the school wasn't necessarily able to meet the needs of all pupils.”
She added: “I have excluded some children at the school, and made a number of fixed-term exclusions. We are working very closely with agencies such as the pupil referral units and behaviour support service.”
As well as exclusions, the school has adopted new rules. She said: “We have new rules and we've got a new policy. There are lots of rewards and a clear system of consequences.”
Children know they must:
Keep hands and feet and objects to themselves
Listen to others.
Work when in school.
Rewards now include:
Stickers and treasure box.
Ms Hennel James added: “Most pupils behave extremely well as in most schools. You reward them for making the right decisions and for those children that doing that more difficult they will be motivated by the reward system.”
Rewards also build self esteem. She added: “Using rewards is a very effective way of brining other children into the lesson and getting them to concentrate.”
Throughout the OfSTED report, reference is made to the layout of the school and the problems it causes.
Ms Hennell James said: “The school had an open plan design. It's not something I would have done but in the early 1970s it was thought to be the way forward.”
At the time the school was held up as a shining example of the future of primary education but 30 years later, teaching, children and the curriculum have changed.
Ms Hennell James said: “There were major issues with noise and movement. It was hugely distracting. Instead of discreet classrooms there was just lots of noise as everyone battled to get heard.”
Creating proper classrooms was high on the list of priorities, if the school was to have a chance of making improvements. Ms Hennell James said five classrooms and a specialist support room were crafted during the summer holidays at a cost of £210,000.
She said: “It has made a huge difference. Children were wandering off - there is less significance for a child in wandering out of an 'area' than in leaving a room.”
The heavily criticised curriculum at Halifax Primary School was described as unbalanced, poorly planned, and inadequate.
Ms Hennell James said poor pupil behaviour meant teachers were unable to introduce less structured activities. She added: “It was dull. The curriculum didn't excite or engage the children. There was a vicious circle, that behaviour limited the curriculum and the curriculum became boring, so low-level disruption increased.”
A wide-ranging review of the school's curriculum is under way, and Ms Hennell James knows she has work to do in this area.
She said: “I want to make it more fun and have more of a purpose. It needs to be much more relevant and in context.”
She has already organised a trip to London, a Victorian day and is setting up a recycling scheme in the school.
Quality of teaching
Inspectors said: “Some tasks lacked imagination, pace or challenge with the result that opportunities to make children think hard and engage in discussion were missed. Where teaching was inadequate there were common weaknesses in planning lessons which lacked challenge because the work was too easy.
“Time was not used effectively and the pupils were not organised in ways that encouraged their full participation. In these lessons the management of pupil behavior was ineffective. Time wasting and poor behaviour were not dealt with promptly.”
Ms Hennell James said the quality of teaching was under review at the moment: “It was judged to be inadequate but much of the time teachers were dealing with bad behavior. Teaching goes hand in hand with the curriculum.”
An upgraded computer suite is also making a difference. She added: “We now have internet access in every classroom and interactive whiteboards. We also have to build up confidence.”
Ms Hennell James said: “Part of responsibility is to give value for money and the school wasn't doing this. The finances are also under review.”