About a mile from Birmingham's city centre lies Bordesley, Britain's first "urban village". Officially completed last year, construction began a decade ago with a refurbished Victorian primary school, St Andrew's, at its heart.
Alayne Knight was in at the beginning, running St Andrew's nursery and establishing its reputation as a model of good practice. Then, two years ago, new headteacher Alan Bamber promoted her to lead the early years department.
"You just wouldn't believe how much energy and enthusiasm she has," says Alan Bamber. "Her department is an oasis for children and a very exciting place for them to be."
Alayne's team includes two other teachers and four classroom assistants. "The organisation is very strong," says Alan Bamber. "The children learn quickly what is expected of them and are highly motivated."
This is a school which is "improving on a daily basis," according to Ofsted inspectors who also commended three of its staff, including Alayne, for their excellent teaching.
Alayne, who takes a reception class, reckons she's a "fairly organised sort of person" who doesn't panic in the face of change. "I firmly believe that you get out what you put in and if there are opportunities out there you should take them for the children's sake."
Recently she applied for, and got, a laptop computer as part of the National Grid for Learning programme. Now she is looking forward to involvement in the Investors in People scheme. "I wouldn't say I lived and breathed the job (she has a six-year-old son, too) but there is a lot happening here in Birmingham. "
St Andrew's copes with a demanding intake; many families have been rehoused and there is a high turnover of pupils. "They're challenging but very rewarding," says Alayne.
I heard about Alayne's work from Dr Suraj Masson, the school's adviser. He listed eight reasons why she deserves our attention. These include an induction programme for parents, the use of the local environment (a farm and park), "being a good listener" and having immaculate planning. But above all he emphasised her confidence in children, inspiring them to learn and to do things for themselves.
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