Al Constantine examines the achievements of an award-winning school in the West Midlands.
ACCOLADE fatigue must be setting in at Moat Farm junior school in Sandwell, West Midlands. The school has been held up as an exemplar by inspectors. It has been proved statistically to be adding top value for its pupils. Two weeks ago, it received its Investors in People award for staff training and now it has won the Educational Establishment of the Year title at the Education Research Awards 2000 in
Success has become something of a habit and recognition something of a routine for headteacher Malcolm Chesney.
Moat Farm is the largest junior school in Sandwell, where the local authority has recently been criticised by inspectors for under-performance. The school is working against some of the longest socio-economic odds in the country and is situated amid what the last census confirmed to be some of the country's worst housing.
Inspectors have been drawn to the school to try to find the secret of its success in raising standards among boys and African-Caribbean pupils. Both groups appear to have achieved above-average results in contrast with achievement patterns elsewhere.
Last year, Moat Farm was included in a list of the 100 highest-achieving schools in the country that was compiled by the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead. Invited by the staff to call in, Mr Woodhead did precisely that, remarking that the school offered one of the most educationally stimulating environments he had seen.
One special feature has been Moat Farm's summer literacyschool. "It has given borderline pupils in Year 5 an extra push and helped us to keep our success rate in national tests above 95 per cent," says Mr Chesney.
More innovative still has been the school's Sunday "university". Run by a staff teacher and a "freelance" secondary maths teacher, the so-called university has taken on 45 children - 10 from Moat Farm itself - nominated from surrounding junior schools. Put forward on the basis of their precocious maths skills, these children have been offered special coaching in maths at GSCE level, which many - some as young as seven - have passed.
The school has also been recognised as a centre of excellence in its use of information and communications technology (ICT) and has been a pilot school in the development of the Government's National Grid for Learning. The ICT co-ordinator, Diana Sperry, carried off a regional prize last year in the Guardian's Teacher of the Year awards.
Mr Chesney is at a loss to put his finger on any particular secrets behind the school's achievements. He points out that his staff includes more male teachers than most primary schools, but he is not sure whether this has any significance.
He says he has forged good relationships with initial teacher-training providers, which have enabled him to keep track of talented new teachers and led to some shrewd appointments.
Mr Chesney admits to marking, personally, every one of his 500 pupils' exercise books during each half-term recess and to giving written feedback on his findings to teaching staff - a telling performance indicator.