Soham struggles back to normality

20th December 2002 at 00:00
THE caretaker's house is still screened behind metal barriers and watched by police. But children play football in the adjoining playground, as weary teachers look forward to the Christmas holidays.

Bar a visit from Education Secretary Charles Clarke, it has been a surprisingly normal term at St Andrew's primary, in Soham, where Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were pupils, and the neighbouring Soham village college where Ian Huntley - the man accused of their murders - was caretaker.

Geoff Fisher, head of St Andrew's, said: "It has gone far better than we could have possibly hoped. The staff are very tired because they have put so much into this term. We have focused on keeping school as normal as possible. The children have been very good."

Jessica's mother, Sharon, has gone back to work as a teaching assistant at St Andrew's.

Mr Fisher said: "She has been with us all the time. The parents in general have been very supportive all the way through this term, which has helped us. Everybody is looking forward to the holiday."

Plans are in hand for a memorial stained-glass window in St Andrew's entrance hall. The work has been commissioned, in consultation with staff and the girls' families, and will be unveiled in the new year.

Soham college head Howard Gilbert said there had been more sickness than usual and everyone was tired. The local authority had provided a supply teacher to cover. But he praised the way his students had coped. "We have two buildings surrounded by metal barriers. In between is a playground and kids are playing football. You think, 'well done, they are getting on with it'."

But the school is aware that reactions to the summer's terrible events could be delayed.

"We are putting out feelers through youth workers to make sure there are places for children to talk," said Mr Gilbert. "I am really proud of how the pupils and staff have managed a very difficult and unusual term."

When the schools returned after the summer's events, Cambridgeshire LEA ensured plenty of counsellors were on hand. But at the time, only a couple of primary pupils were referred for outside help.

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