A class act

THIS term has marked the beginning of a fresh start for Halifax Primary School. After two difficult years, the once-failing school is no longer operating under the shadow of special measures, after ditching the 1970s-style open plan classrooms and making other improvements.

THIS term has marked the beginning of a fresh start for Halifax Primary School.

After two difficult years, the once-failing school is no longer operating under the shadow of special measures, after ditching the 1970s-style open plan classrooms and making other improvements. Education reporter JOSH WARWICK catches up to ask what the future holds.

ANNA Hennell James is a woman with a passion for her vocation.

Buzzing about her school with a contagious enthusiasm, the popular headteacher hardly stops for breath as she proudly shows off improvements to the building, and outlines her ambitious plans for the future.

As the sort of headteacher who knows the name of every pupil, Ms Hennell James has led Halifax's transformation, which has seen it evolve from a failing school into one which is showing rapid improvement.

It was in October 2005 that inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) delivered their damning verdict on the state of the school. In a crushing report which plunged Halifax into special measures, a catalogue of serious failings were uncovered, including weaknesses in pupil behaviour, teaching quality, standards, open plan classrooms and the curriculum.

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It was a baptism of fire for Ms Hennell James, who had not long been in charge after taking a secondment from Whitehouse Junior School. Aided by the school's governors and with strong support from the local education authority, she set about developing a strategy to drive up standards.

Back in July, an inspection found the school to be providing a satisfactory education, thus allowing the sanctions to be lifted.

Now permanently in charge, Ms Hennell James is proud of the turnaround - but adamant that the hard work is not over. “The staff are very upbeat and relaxed, although they know there's still a lot of work to do,” she said.

“Not having that pressure of knowing the inspectors will be back makes a big difference, but we are not letting up in the work we are doing here. We are still determined to raise standards but we are able to do it without that external pressure. Getting out of special measures has helped to get us off the ground.

“Our aim is to ensure our children achieve the best they are capable of.”

The unusual 1970s-style open plan classrooms, heavily criticised by Ofsted, have been scrapped, with major works bringing the dated facilities into the 21st century. Parts of the school have resembled something of a building site in recent months, with major works bringing dated facilities into the 21st century.

Around half-a-million pounds has been spent on a raft of improvements. Three new classrooms, group rooms for meetings, a refurbished music and drama studio, a resources room, new lifts and a remodelled front office have breathed fresh life into Halifax.

A new spacious library is also nearing completion, while staff facilities have been improved.

“The school is much quieter now,” said Ms Hennell James.

“The children are very positive about the changes and they have been extremely sensible around school while the building work was going on. We're especially looking forward to the library being finished. Before the work, it wasn't a nice place to be, but the new one has been purpose designed and the kids love it. It's big enough to fit a whole class in.”

The bold yet pragmatic decision to use cash earmarked for capital projects up to 2009 ensured the works were possible.

“It was something that had to be done,” said Ms Hennell James. “We face budgetary constraints, like any school. It would have been nice to have had new furniture in the new classrooms but we don't have the money. But the important thing is that we actually have the new classrooms.”

Pleased with the school's progress but determined to continue the recovery, Ms Hennell James said: “We are thrilled with our results in English and science, but like many other schools, the main focus of improvement this year will be on maths, looking at how we raise attainment. We are also developing the curriculum to make it more exciting and relevant to the children.

“The school's staff is more stable and everyone is back with a very positive view. For the staff who had been here for a while, coming out off special measures was like an affirmation that they actually are good teachers. It's not nice to be labelled as a failing school.”

Halifax has received the backing of the community during a difficult period.

“We have had incredibly good support from the parents, we couldn't have asked for more,” said Ms Hennell James.

“The fact they kept their children at the school during a rocky time is a testament to them. The Friends of Halifax recently donated £3,000 to the school for new books and that shows the level of support we have had.”

Head of the school governors, Roger Fern paid tribute to the school's staff.

“They have worked their socks off,” he said.

“Their confidence was hit by going into special measures but they have been brilliant and deserve a lot of credit. There is a clear sense of direction at the school now, and a determination to achieve good things.

“The results the children are achieving are more or less back to where they should be and the building is an enormous improvement. The governors are right behind what's going on.”

Is your child a student at Halifax? What do you think of the school's improvement? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

IN the school's latest report published in July, Halifax Primary School was found to be “improving quickly”, providing its pupils with a satisfactory education.

Inspectors wrote: “Several significant changes have been introduced since the last inspection and the school is well placed to make and sustain further improvements.

“It now offers satisfactory value for money. The school no longer requires special measures.

“Achievement is much better than at the time of the last inspection and is now satisfactory.

“There is a much calmer and more purposeful learning atmosphere in the school which contributes to pupils' satisfactory personal development and well-being.

“Their behaviour is good and supported well by the approaches teachers use in lessons and by the good guidance provided by the behaviour support assistant.

“The headteacher provides strong and purposeful leadership and has a good understanding of the school's effectiveness.”

Further improvements required in maths, inspectors said.

Ipswich Town's director of communications, Terry Baxter, is a governor at Halifax Primary School.

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