How one Leeds school is proving that statistics don't always tell the story

It features in a list of the lowest performing schools in Leeds with just 30 per cent of pupils meeting expected standards.

By Emma Ryan
Thursday, 9th January 2020, 5:30 am

It has below average results for reading and maths and a recent Ofsted inspection deemed it as requiring improvement.

So, how does Sharp Lane Primary School have a waiting list for pupils wanting a place, an in-house written curriculum that is being rolled out to other schools and a personal letter from the chief of Ofsted praising the head-teacher and senior management team?

Emma Ryan spent a morning at the school in the heart of Middleton that is showing how statistics don't always tell the full story.

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The outside space at the school is being re-vamped as part of improvements.

Results for last year's performance among schools and colleges in Leeds have been published on the Government's official website, including figures which show the overall performance at end of key stage 2 (primary school).

School ratings

For Sharp Lane they revealed that just 30 per cent of pupils were meeting the expected standards, that the school performed below average in two of the three core subjects with 53 per cent meeting reading standards, 53 per cent meeting maths targets and 63 per cent meeting writing targets.

Headteacher Rebecca White explains that if a child does well in two subjects and not as well in just one, it brings the average score back.

Pupils Immanuel and Lucy in an igloo that forms part of the Arctic display at Sharp Lane Primary School.

However, Sharp Lane is entering a new era following a year of change and challenges.

Changes

Mrs White was drafted in to assist at the school in February 2019 after the previous head left after a period of sick leave. She was made permanent headteacher in September just short of two months before Ofsted inspectors visited in November last year.

In that time, 16 staff left and the school, which has 700 pupils (22 per cent of which have special needs), was 26 members of staff short.

Rebecca White, the headteacher at Sharp Lane Primary.

She said: "When there is a change or someone absent for a period of time there is uncertainty, people feel nervous about what will happen and there was uncertainty about where the school might go next. It was tough from the get go."

Since February, 42 members of staff from teaching to classroom support and dinner ladies have been drafted in, a new senior leadership team has been put in place, the assistant headteacher has completely re-written the curriculum which is being adopted by other schools, teachers have been re-trained and a whole raft of changes have been made to the layout of the school including the introduction of a library.

"We looked at reading and bought a whole new reading scheme, we spent a lot of money on the foundation stage, we looked at writing and a new way of doing things and feedback so children are really clear on what they need to do.

"It is really hard to see figures like that because people may not see the context. You can come and make changes but they take some time to have an impact. The results this year will be better because already those changes have had a massive impact."

Pupils enjoy lessons at the school.

Life skills

As well as traditional academics, Sharp Lane is keen to give pupils life skills and a broader view of the world, which has been noted by Ofsted inspectors.

There will be 26 school clubs operating this spring from sports, art and gardening to books. The school offers equine, pet and hen therapy, an educational psychologist visits for talks, nursery children had their own bonfire day in November and play and learning areas have been created outdoors.

The topics that have been chosen for classes to follow this term are based around global issues with years 1 and 2 studying The Arctic, 3 and 4 covering water and plastic pollution and 5 and 6 learning about space and a big screen plays throughout the day in the school hall. One day it might feature pictures of the pupils doing various activities, but on Tuesday it featured images of the devastation caused by Australian bushfires.

In its inspection notes from the November visit to the school, Ofsted said: "Children learn to be independent, for example by putting on their coats and shoes by themselves. The school gives health and fitness a high priority. They [pupils] have a good understanding about why exercise is important. Pupils learn about a wide range of faiths. They debate and discuss issues of equality and diversity with maturity. They recognise that it is 'okay' to be different."

It was this Oftsed inspection that prompted Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, to write to Mrs White and say that while the school was judged to 'require improvement', since her appointment she "wasted no time in making improvements". The passion of the staff and governors was also recognised by education chiefs.

The Foundation Stage area at Sharp Lane Primary.

Newly appointed deputy headteacher Tim Smith told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "The results are not the be all and end all. We want them to experience things, like a residential, have life skills, get people in to talk to them. We want to make them rounded and ready for the world. Despite those results and them being unjust, this is one of the most exciting times for the school."

"We have a bucket list so by the end of year 6 we want them to have skied, done rock climbing, been to a music festival. All the things that some families get to do and some don't, we want all our children to get that."

2020

Plans for 2020 include more work with the foundation stage and plans for an outside garden, developing the teaching of phonics and making sure that the changes made already are continued and embedded. Each Friday the week is reviewed with all staff, not just management, and a plan made for the week to come.

Mrs White added: "There have been a lot of long hours, we have been emailing at 10pm, midnight, and working at weekends to get things done. It has been hard but really rewarding. It has changed so much and you can see it. I have loved it, it is a lovely place to work."