Amid sex shops a school blooms

21st September 2001 at 01:00
It looks like a dolls' house but Soho school is a haven of good behaviour and racial harmony in a seedy area

IT'S a teaching job where some of your biggest challenges are outside the school - right on the doorstep.

Soho Parish Church of England primary sits amid sex shops, just minutes from Piccadilly Circus, and it needs a new head capable of leading children through this very adult world.

Current head Derek Holbird said: "Our two neighbours are sex shops and there is a 20ft-high obscene picture outside."

Last year, parents marched on Downing Street in protest at crack-dealers in the area. Since then, police have been posted at the school to shield children as they arrive and leave the building.

This year, pressure from school staff and parents led Westminster Council to shut down two unlicensed sex shops nearby.

"We just keep on campaigning to keep this neck of the woods reasonable," said Mr Holbird, 51, who has a new job as director of education for the Diocese of Guildford. But he says: "It's more than just a job for me, it has been a wonderful experience. The community of Soho is incomparable, it's a microcosm of our tomorrow."

The school has earned an excellent reputation for its education and its commitment to the community.

Mr Holbird said: "The problems are all eclipsed by the wonderful children and community we serve, which really is exceptional.

"Inside the school is a very different world from the rather seedy streets and huge crowds outside."

Its 135 children represent 23 nationalities, with Bengali and Cantonese being the main languages after English.

The school's racial harmony was praised by school inspectors in its 1998 report. It added that children's behaviour was consistently excellent and test results for 11-year-olds were above average.

The school building is also unlike any other. Built in 1871, its small rooms mean the maximum class size is 21 children. Mr Holbird said: "It is a cross between a dolls' house and a rabbit warren with shades of the Tardis. It looks tiny from the outside but inside there is a huge amount of room. It's a beautiful building and we love it."

* Already, 13 people have applied for the post, salary pound;39,864 to pound;45,768. The closing date is September 24. Ring 020 7437 2736 or email for details.

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