South of the River – at New Bewerley

I’ve been very lucky to be involved with New Bewerley Community School since its inception in 2005. Do you know New Bewerley? It’s the weird spiral shaped building at the bottom of Dewsbury Road just past the One Stop Centre.

I’ve been the Chair of Governors since New Bewerley was formed when Hillside and Greenwood primaries were closed. We set out to create an inclusive school that would serve the whole community and provide an excellent education. The school has a children’s centre on site which takes children from 6 months as well as undertaking a lot of outreach work. We also have provision for a dozen children with physical and medical needs.

If you’ve been reading South of the River you’ll know that I have an interest in local history. You won’t be surprised that I brought this into the discussion when we chose the name for the new school. Bewerley Street School was one of the first to be built in Leeds after the 1870 Education Act which provided schooling for all children up to the age of 14 for the first time. The original school was demolished and lies somewhere beneath the current Northcotes, to the north of Hunslet Hall Road. The school extension still exists and when I first moved to Beeston it was still trading as Bewerley Street Primary, it is now a social services office. Bewerley Street merged with Greenwood Middle to form Greenwood Primary and New Bewerley was later built on the Greenwood site.

New Bewerley serves a neighbourhood with many challenging issues. You won’t be surprised to hear that children entering our Reception class have a lower level of development than the national average. But even I was taken aback that last year none of our Reception children met the national average. We currently have nine “looked after” children (that is, in the care of the local authority), nearly half of our children have special educational needs and about third speak English as a second language.

I’m pleased to say that New Bewerley is doing well, from a fairly low level in 2005 our children are achieving better results year on year. Children across the school are making good progress and our Year 6  “SATS” results were above the so-called “floor standard” this year. Apologies for the jargon, Year 6 are 11 year olds if you still think in old money. This “floor standard” this is the minimum level the government expects schools to reach. We would have reached this level the a year earlier, but Mr Gove raised the bar just as we approached it.

It was fitting that we reached this milestone in 2012. This group of children were in New Bewerley’s first Reception class, so they were the first to sit these tests having been been taught only at New Bewerley. For me, this was the first genuine test of the school’s performance.

I say they were taught only at New Bewerley, but that’s not quite accurate. Whatever other issues there are, the biggest issue we have is migration – that is families moving in and out of the area. So out of 34 children in Year 6 that took the SATS tests, only 19 had entered New Bewerley in Reception. 15 out of 34 had joined the school at some point between Year 1 and Year 6. This is normal for our school – during the last year 27 pupils joined the school and 39 left (excluding the Reception intake and Year 6 leavers).

We looked again at the children who had been with New Bewerley all the way through. Their attainment, particularly in English, was much higher than those that joined later. 84% achieved level 4, compared with 47%. It is not surprising – moving school, for whatever reason, is hugely disruptive for children.

I sat in a meeting this week looking at how our children are doing in detail. Every child who is not doing well has a story – bereavement, neglect, abuse. Don’t get me wrong, most of our children live in happy, loving homes, but we have more than our fair share of children with very difficult lives.

Schools are judged on performance measured in percentages. When you are looking at those percentages please remember to look at the lives being led behind the figures. What is a good school? I think that rather than judging on which school produces the most high attaining children, we should look for the schools that educates their children, all their children, well.

That’s all for this week. Come back next Friday for more views from South of the River. If you can’t wait until then (you must be a glutton for punishment) you can follow Jeremy Morton on Twitter @BeestonJeremy

4 Replies to “South of the River – at New Bewerley”

  1. Jeremy, you make a very good point about schools being judged on the pupils achievements. I’m disappointed (but not surprised) at the standards being achieved at this school but like you say the school has its fair share of pupils with problems at home which obviously has a knock on effect. it is positive that results are improving but equally important is the additional work that staff are doing to ensure that the children and families are educated. maybe at this stage this work cannot be measured is hopefully being recognised!

    My daughter (now 3) has attended the nursery at the children’s centre since she she was 7 months old and I can honestly say that I have nothing but praise for the centre. the staff and facilities are excellent.

    My daughter is not due to start primary school until September 2014 and living in Beeston Hill I would be lying if I said i wasn’t concerned about which school she is going to attend – or rather get into!

    I wonder if other chair of governors from surrounding schools will be willing to provide such an honest insight of life in their schools. maybe they will follow suit and provide such useful information!

    1. Dawn, thanks for your comments. I think it’s important to remember that school provides only part of a child’s education. Their family life and the community they live in are just as influential in how they progress. Staff at New Bewerley are doing an excellent job in terms of the formal education school can provide. They also take other aspects our children’s lives very seriously and work closely with parents and support agencies.

  2. The original Bewerley Street school was on, would you believe, Bewerley Street, which as you quite rightly say was on the north side of Hunslet Hall Road and, I believe, stretched from Beeston Road across to Dewsbury Road around where the Sports Centre currently stands. The school on Hunslet Hall Road was, I think, originally called Hunslet Hall Road primary school before being later renamed Bewerly Street Primary. Can any of our readers shed any more light on the historical facts?

    1. Steve,
      You are right about both schools as I attended them, and Bewerley Street did stretch from Beeston Road to Dewsbury Road. I started Hunslet Hall Road school in 1947 aged 5, and was part of the maypole dancing team which went to Roundhay park on Childrens Day in 1949. The school had an air raid shelter joined onto it and the school clinic was a separate building at the back. There was also a building in the back playground where the senior boys came to do woodwork. This school had mixed classes then, but when I moved on to Bewerley Street school boys and girls were taught separately. The headmaster was Mr Edgar Meeks and Deputy Head Mr Hudson. Mr Meeks retired in 1954 and Cyril Blakeborough became head, but he was not like Mr Meeks whom I remember with respect and affection. It was a great school and some of the teachers I remember at that time were Mr Latham, Mr Dobson, Mr Nixon, Mr Jepson, Mr Ingle and Mr Addlestone. The school houses were Verity, Bowes, Walkington and Edwards and the school was a Rugby school and produced good players like Sid Hynes and Billy Langton. Peter O’Toole went there just before my time and I believe lived in the next street to Bewerley Street. I have very fond memories and still remember many of my schoolmates from that period.

      Hope you like this bit of history

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