How we did it

6th December 2002 at 00:00
A year-long battle to save a tiny primary from closure left staff shell-shocked. Sarah O'Donnell is helping to nurse the school back to health

When I became head in April last year, the staff and governors of this school were tired and battle-weary. Wiltshire county council had tried to close it, claiming it was too small to be viable. At one stage it had just 13 pupils.

The campaign to save Grafton village school had lasted a year. It went all the way to the secretary of state, David Blunkett, who took into account the quality of education here - the school had had a very good Ofsted report in 1997.

And in June 2000, on the very day redundancy notices were to be issued, we learned that the school would be spared. My first job was to bring stability, and to lift spirits. I started by addressing a problem which was relevant to us all: behaviour. The threat to the school had affected everybody. We introduced a new behaviour policy and "golden time" - where children have a short period each week to choose what they would like to do - as a reward for good behaviour. I also introduced circle time.

When I arrived, the number of children on roll was 27, but this has dropped to 20 - eight in the infants and 12 in the juniors - because we lost a large number of Year 6 children. But by next year it should be 26 and, the year after that, 30.

The school roll is low because property prices are high in this area; only older and retired people can afford to buy houses. Another task, therefore, is to try to broaden the school's catchment.

For small schools, promotion is very important. Our governors have a promotions committee; we use the local media a lot and we have a professionally produced school leaflet, and extra open afternoons for prospective parents. We have just sent mailshots to all parents with children under five in the area and invited them in.

We're working on a website and we're also thinking of creating a short video that we can send to people.

We were inspected again in January this year, and were pleased with the report. It said we were looking forward positively to the future, and we had a positive ethos; pupils' behaviour was excellent and they had a good attitude towards school.

We're planning a building project for the infant classroom; we need more open space for creative play, and large toys. We also want to use it for pre-school.

Sarah O'Donnell is headteacher at Grafton C of E primary school in Marlborough, Wiltshire.

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