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