Story: Douglas Johnson
Following very poor exam results last year, Pye Bank School has decided to reorganise its Governing Body and is seeking new community Governors.
After a difficult merger of the infant and junior schools in 2002, results had improved steadily from 2003 to 2005.
However, in December 2006, results from the national SATs were the worst in the city and almost the worst in the country. It has been conceded that the monitoring of children’s progress had been poor and that the Governing Body does not reflect the community that the school serves.
5th Worst School in Country?
No-one can get away from the fact that Pye Bank was listed as the 5th worst school in the country based on the “aggregate score”, one of the many ways of scoring schools performance.
However, many people believe the scoring systems aren’t very good and they point out that it’s still the schools in the poorest areas at the bottom of the tables. It’s worth looking behind the figures.
Although Pye Bank is in the bottom set of 197 schools, so are 8 other Sheffield primaries: Byron Wood, Prince Edward (on the Manor), Hartley Brook, Netherthorpe, Mansel (Parson Cross), Fox Hill, Springfield (Broomhall), and Bankwood (in Gleadless). No other city in the country has so many schools so low in the list. Should the education authority be answering questions? Is it simply that all these schools are in the poorest areas? Curiously, the only education authority to have more schools in the lowest 197 is Kent, normally a very affluent county. Again, one question is whether the results are affected by new arrivals in the country with limited English.
Whatever the criticism of league tables, though, it is not surprising parents will worry. In response to parents’ demands, the school held an open meeting in January where headteacher Rita Storr was able to outline the action plan the Governors have adopted in conjunction with the City Council.
The plan has been delayed and has yet to be made public but will cover a wide range of issues around improving leadership of the school and better monitoring. It aims to take definite action on improving standards of Maths and English, requiring Governors to plan better and increasing communication between Governors, the local authority and the Diocese. This will no doubt please parents, but there’s still more work to be done to bring the skills of parents into the school and improve communication between them.
Another challenge is that the council has decided to build new classrooms on site to admit an extra 30 pupils in each year group, doubling the size of the entire school. St Catherine’s is also due to have a similar expansion to make way for the serious demand for school places in the area but both schools risk further disruption to teaching.
Now the school has decided to reorganise its Governing body and recruit additional Governors from the community. Local Christchurch Vicar, parent of children at the school and member of the Governing Body, Martyn Snow, said,
“Pye Bank is truly a unique school. Sadly the school had very bad SATs results last year. These came on the back of two years when the results had been improving. Staff and governors have worked hard to put together an action plan to ensure improvement. For example we now have a much better system for tracking the progress children are making.
“We are also keen to recruit one or two new governors who not only represent different parts of the community but also bring particular expertise. Being a governor can be very rewarding but it is also hard work – at least four meetings a term, with regular school visits – and all of it unpaid! We recognise too that we need more parents to be involved in the school – working together we can improve things still further.”
Ultimately, Pye Bank School remains in a deprived part of Sheffield, itself a very divided city. As Rita Storr says, it can take a long time to see significant changes in a school, but where’s there’s the will of parents, there’s a way.