Oranges Lemons

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Oranges Lemons started life as an "extended" article , inspired by writing pieces on similar schools for The TES. I went into Edith Neville school - a small primary in inner-city London with 250 pupils, four-fifths of them with English as a second language - regularly over five terms, spending time in every class and getting to know adults and children. I learned a lot; although I had been writing about education for a decade, I had never been a teacher or had the opportunity to get to know a school intimately. At Edith Neville, I saw close up the impact of the budget and recruitment crises that were hitting many schools in 2003, the struggle to cope with ever-changing policy directives and an imminent Ofsted inspection.

Although ostensibly a "helper", I found it difficult to be helpful. In the nursery, my responses were those of a mother rather than a professional; I wanted to cuddle distressed children and had no idea how to move them on to the next stage of independence. Further up the school, I realised I did not know how to assist children with even simple maths, was uncertain how to approach books with bilingual children, and inept at PE. I always walked out of the gates of Edith Neville amazed by the skill, energy and sheer tenacity needed to work there.

Teachers and support staff were generous, speaking freely to me about themselves and their school. Parents and children responded well, too.

After a year or so, I realised my longer piece could be a book.

Since I finished writing it, at the beginning of this year, much has changed at the school and some things have not. Head Se n O'Regan has decided to take a couple of hours on Thursday mornings to drop off his son Samir at his new primary school. Amy Crowther, a talented and restless nursery teacher, has gone trekking in the Andes. Najreen has grown tall and confident.

The whole school was affected by the London bombings of July 7. Learning mentor Annabelle Ledford-Jobson had hurried a netball team through Tavistock Square minutes before the bus bomb exploded there; she and the children heard the blast from the court. In the course of the day, Se

told the children, gently, that something bad had happened, but left parents to take it further. Muslim parents at the school were particularly demoralised and upset; in the days afterwards, some were abused in the street. Numbers were slightly down on the annual trip to Broadstairs, as some felt afraid to come out.

As the new year gets underway, the school has been boosted by its very positive Ofsted report - the inspection finally out of the way after several years of anticipation - and by the long break. Their vital, mainly unsung, work continues, as it does in all schools. Adults, children and families at Edith Neville continue to feel their way through the sensitive and taxing issues that arise out of different religious, racial and class communities living and learning close together, the same but different, in the city.

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