Letter: Struggling school needs our support

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I WRITE with concern over your recent article on Hillcrest Community Primary School in Chapeltown.

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Having now taken the time to read Ofsted Inspector John Young’s letter to the headteacher, I now feel able to comment on this situation, and moreover to assign responsibility for the disgraceful state this school currently finds itself in.

Your front-page article headlined the anger management tactics adopted at the school for children as young as five years old and focussed on the behaviour support offered to the school.

Turning to Mr Young’s letter, I find that pupil’s behaviour was not a priority issue, and indeed, as your article points out with the comment from head Mrs Teena Thompson, improvement in this area was praised by the Ofsted team.

Far more alarming was the grave matters in which Hillcrest has failed to improve since its last Ofsted report, such as “inadequate progress in making improvements [...] and demonstrating a better capacity for sustained improvement”. In other words, Hillcrest Primary has got worse since its last inspection in June 2010 in the following areas: pupils’ attainment; failure to meet government minimum standards in English and maths; a significantly lower level of pupils’ achievements than the national average.

According to Mr Young, Year Six children “are unlikely to achieve their targets as they have a tremendous amount of lost ground to recover due to their previous underachievement and their current slow progress”. Children will therefore leave Hillcrest with few academic skills and are not equipped to do well at secondary school, never mind any further or higher education.

Mr Young’s letter emphasised the high level of staff absenteeism. This is surely our guide to how to solve this terrible problem. Rather than point the finger at ‘angry five-year-olds’ or teachers who don’t turn up to work, how can we find a way forward where both the children and the staff benefit, as well as our neighbourhood and the city of Leeds? How can we build and sustain a sense of pride in our children’s achievements and their future?

Surely, we have a duty to do this as citizens. After all, children are the same, wherever they come from. It is where they are going that we adults are all responsible for.

I have lived in Chapeltown for 30 years and, through work, regularly engage with local children, as well as in my personal life. All my encounters are with children who come from stable families, mostly regular attenders of church and who are bright, intelligent, interested in the world and have good manners. So how can they suddenly become the focus of bad behaviour strategies and ‘anger management’? And why do staff at Hillcrest not like going to work? Whose fault is this, or rather, who has the power to change this situation?

Research on children who have been designated ‘gifted’ demonstrates a clear link between high intelligence and poor behaviour, and sometimes attainment at school for this group is poor. For instance, bad handwriting can be associated with the brain thinking faster than the hand can work. Academics dispute this labelling of gifted as it implies that other children are not gifted. However, what is at stake here is the waste of so many young lives and the future of our country when it continues to trash the intelligence and potential of our young people, their families, and communities.

No solution was evident in the YEP article or Mr Young’s letter. Why not? Why are the staff, parents and governors not being given the support they need to turn Hillcrest around?

Dr Miranda Mason, Reginald Terrace, Leeds

YEP Letters: March 20