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Old school tied to past success

Clare Dean reports on the Oxfordshire primary acclaimed by inspectors as the best they had seen in seven years.

A TINY Oxfordshire primary was this week basking in the praise of an inspection team who said it was the best school they had seen in seven years.

The inspectors judged 93 per cent of lessons to be at least good at Lewknor, a 163-year-old school housed in a grade II listed flint and brick building with a thatched roof.

One inspector even remarked: "It has been a great privilege to share the life of this school."

Delighted members of staff are still celebrating.

"It's just wonderful," said Claire Hague, the head, who teaches three days a week.

"It's lovely working here. You can sense the ethos of the school, there's lots happening and the children really enjoy coming here."

Lewknor, whose neighbour Sir John Paul Getty II last year gave pound;25,000 towards building a new classroom, opened in 1837.

While the quality of the needlework produced by pupils more than a century ago was considered barely passable, the standard of moral teaching then, as now, was high.

The pages of its log book (see right) are adorned with glowing reports. In 1892, moral conduct was deemed very good. Twenty-four years later, the "admirable tone of reverent interest in scripture work" was noted.

The latest offering, from the Office for Standards in Education, says: "The provision for spiritual development is very good and a strength of the school." These words will no doubt be added to the log book.

Inspectors were impressed by the behaviour of the 72 pupils, aged four to 11, citing very good attitudes towards school life and applauding the fact that there was no unauthorised absence.

But thy noted that the school had been through considerable change and uncertainty following the secondment of Jill Hudson, the former head, to a school in special measures.

Levels of attainment are now in line with national expectations and in some areas, such as

English, are clearly above that level.

The inspectors said Lewknor could improve in the way it keeps records of children's progress, which do not include all elements of all subjects and in standards of written work, particularly maths at key stage 2.

But they added: "The head-teacher, governors and staff work together well to improve the school and are striving for high standards. It provides good value for money."

Lewknor's log: a century of praise

1892: "Knowledge of the elementary subjects, and of geography, is fair. Needlework is barely passable. Recitation is very fair.

"Moral training and conduct very good. The infants have passed a very satisfactory examination in elementary subjects and acquit themselves very creditably in their object lessons and other occupations."

1894: "Arithmetic, spelling and handwriting have been successfully taught but reading is very monotonous and geography is barely passable. The master requires more efficient help.

Needlework is far from good. The infants were sadly neglected during the first part of the year but their condition has improved considerably."

1916: "I am glad to report a most admirable tone of reverent interest in the scripture work exists throughout the school, the repetition was well said and a private prayer was known individually in all groups.

Mr Hughes and his staff are to be congratulated on the general condition of the school in religious knowledge."

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