I joined the Temporary Governing Body of the new school for West Hunslet eleven years ago. Over the next two years I was involved in choosing a design and overseeing the build; appointing the first headteacher and deputy; choosing a name for the school (New Bewerley Community School); and moving into the new building.
The most important thing we did, though, was to set the ethos of the school. We were tasked by Education Leeds (as was) with creating a pilot ‘full service extended school’ with before and after school care, integration with Broomfield SILC (Special Inclusive Learning Centre) for children with special educational needs and a Children’s Centre on site. By the time we opened government policy had changed and every school had to include extended provision.
Nevertheless we embraced the idea, based on the belief that every school should serve its local community and everybody in its local community. If children have issues or needs, the school should help resource and resolve those needs. The temptation is to pass the child on to someone else to protect the school’s performance ratings.
Whilst I was chair of governors there were many issues with children exhibiting difficult and disruptive behaviour, but we only excluded one pupil on a permanent basis and that was on the advice that it was the only way to secure the help he needed.
New Bewerley opened its doors in 2005 and welcomed everybody in. The first training day was a workshop for staff and members of the community where we discussed what the ethos might mean in practice. By the end of the morning we had a school motto: ‘Many bricks make a building, many hearts make a school’.
The name of the school was chosen carefully and after a long debate. The new school was being built just a few hundred yards from the site of the old Bewerley Street School. This was one of the first schools built by the Leeds School Board after the passing of the 1870 Education Act. This was the landmark legislation that introduced universal education (up to age 11) for the first time in Britain.
We called the school New Bewerley to mark the local historic link, but also to connect with the idea of a new offer of universal education. We chose to call it a Community rather than a Primary school to put down a marker that we wanted the school to be at the heart of the community. We wanted the community to have access to and feel ownership of it. That proved to be harder to do than anticipated, but there has been excellent work done with parents, if not the wider community.
I’ve been through three Ofsted inspections (the school is rated ‘Good’) and seen the Year 6 SATs results rise year on year. Of course this wasn’t down to me. There has been a huge team effort involving (in no particular order) governors, senior staff, teachers, support staff, parents and children.
The children, in particular, are brilliant. The governors and the school council have reciprocal visits and reports each year and the school council have pushed for various improvements in school over the years. They have also set up a peer mentoring scheme and run tours to introduce nursery children to the main school before they move up into Reception. Following the school’s participation in the Oxfam Global Dimensions scheme, it was the children who asked to carry on the social justice work by forming an after school club.
So I felt truly honoured when I was given my leaving present at an event organised by the club. It was tea party organised at the end of Rainbow Day, a non-uniform day that celebrates the diversity of the school and another idea put forward by the children.
There’s more to say about the role of school governors, but I’ll leave that for another week. I’ll finish by saying what a privilege it has been to part of New Bewerley’s journey and to wish everyone connected with the school all the best for the future.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.