School receives a glowing report just weeks before it is scheduled to close

8th May 2009 at 01:00
Village primary about to merge with two others wins praise from inspectors for being at the heart of its community

Primary teachers are celebrating a glowing inspection report, even though their school will close in the summer.

Blaencaerau Junior in Maesteg, Bridgend, will merge with two local primaries at the end of this academic year, but was unable to avoid its six-yearly visit from Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, last term.

As pupils excitedly prepared to move to Caerau Primary, in a newly built school, teachers at Blaencaerau were double-checking forms and updating lesson plans ready for the inspectors' visit.

Estyn's report warmly praised the school, which it said was at the heart of the community. However, inspectors felt attendance and "incidental Welsh" usage could be better.

But with just a term to go before closure, teachers know the recommendations are impossible to fulfil. Sharon Bevan, Blaencaerau's head, believes the inspection was something of a farce, but said she was pleased with the report nonetheless. "I received it at the end of March and I have nine weeks to write an action plan in response," she said. "It will only be effective for two or three weeks before the school closes.

"Personally, I welcomed the inspection because I felt it drew a line under the school. I'm retiring, so it drew a line for me as well, and I wanted confirmation that we were doing things well."

At its conference last month, UCAC, the Welsh-medium union, urged Estyn and the Assembly government not to inspect closing schools. Elaine Edwards, the union's general secretary, said it made no sense in the current economic climate, with the average inspection costing Pounds 7,000. "It is completely unproductive to inflict the cost and strain of inspection on staff facing the likelihood of school closure and job losses," she said.

But Mrs Bevan at Blaencaerau said, despite its lack of practical purpose, staff had learnt a lot from the inspection. "Staff had built up a frightening picture of what the inspection would be like," she said. "I knew we had everything in place, so we didn't have to have that frenzy of getting everything ready."

Inspectors awarded the school grade 2s - the second highest - for all seven key questions. They said the teachers' "infectious enthusiasm" made learning fun.

Mrs Bevan said the school, where 53 per cent of pupils are entitled to free school meals, had made huge strides. "We used to have a huge problem with vandalism," she said. "But we haven't had a problem now for about eight years."

But she fears for the future of the village after the 174-pupil school closes. "My concern is that there will only be one headteacher, whereas now we have three looking after their own patch."

Pupils have planned a farewell concert, reflecting the importance of music and art at Blaencaerau. Both subjects were given a grade 1 in the inspection.

Mrs Bevan described artistic subjects as "good for the soul".

"As I'm retiring, I can say what I think," she said. "The world doesn't revolve around maths, English and science."

A spokeswoman for Estyn said inspections had to be undertaken even when closure was imminent, except when it was due the same term.

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