The `titan' primary with one eye on the fine details

19th June 2015 at 01:00
Staff share challenges of working where roll is set to rise to 1,800

Luke Graham teaches in England's biggest primary school. Official statistics published last week show that Claycots in Slough is one of only 10 primaries in the country to have more than 1,000 pupils, and the first to have more than 1,200.

The seven-form entry primary has become what is colloquially known as a "titan" school, and it has happened very quickly.

Mr Graham is still adjusting, he tells TES. "It is only when you have a whole-school meeting that you realise how many members of staff are at the school," he says.

When Mr Graham joined Claycots as a newly qualified teacher seven years ago, it had just three forms of entry. And he thought that was big.

"I come from Swindon," the school's phase leader for Years 2 and 3 explains. "When I was growing up, schools there were one-form entry; a lot still are. But the opportunities here and the diversity of children was very appealing. Since I started here it has grown."

And the 1,218-pupil school will continue to do so. Claycots is set to expand to eight-form entry next year, when it will have 1,400 pupils. By the time it is full, 1,800 children will be on roll.

It has already overtaken Roding Primary (1,186 pupils) and Gascoigne Primary (1,160 pupils), both in Barking and Dagenham in East London. The latter was the subject of a Channel 5 documentary entitled Britain's Biggest Primary School earlier this year, but is now only the third largest.

`They all know me'

Remembering all the children's names at Claycots is an impossible task, executive headteacher Gareth Morris admits.

"Do I know every pupil's name? No," he says. "Do the senior leaders know every pupil's name? Yes."

But Mr Morris has found ways to counteract the "real danger that you can become distant from the children and lose what it's about".

"I meet our pupil parliament on a termly basis," he says. "I make sure my PA blocks out some time in my diary so I can be actively involved in the outdoor education programme. I'm regularly around school. I don't know every pupil's name, but they all know me."

Mr Morris joined Claycots 18 months ago from a two-form entry primary school in Staffordshire.

"The big difference from leading a small school is that something that would have been done very quickly - by popping round and asking all three or four people involved - now means talking to 14 people," he says. "The key is setting up communication systems and it takes a lot more communication.

"As headteacher of a small school, you might do assemblies. Now that I'm running a very large organisation with a pound;6 million budget and 200 staff, I don't do assemblies. We have an annual conference, we did it at Windsor racecourse; that's where you notice the difference. In my last school, we'd fit in the staffroom. Now we hire a conference venue - and it's still full."

But there are benefits to being in such a large school, Mr Morris notes, citing better career development as an example.

"At my last school, there was someone who ran key stage 1, which was four classes," he says. "Now we have four classes in one year group, so we have year leader positions, phase leaders and curriculum leaders as well as assistant heads, deputy heads and heads of schools. Retention is better in the long term, which is good."

And Mr Graham appreciates the support that is available with so many members of staff. "My experience of the mentoring here has been brilliant," he says.

Mr Morris admits that he has found managing the expansion of the school - which now has two sites - to be "a challenge".

"For the first two years, it was like standing in quicksand. You would put a structure in place and then the school would expand again," he says.

But when it comes to teaching, Mr Graham insists that size doesn't matter. "When you are in class you still have those individual relationships with children," he says. "It still has a small-school feel."

What do Claycots pupils think?

Josh Mugo, age 11, says: "The school has changed a lot - we have many different teachers coming in and the year groups are getting bigger.

"The best thing is seeing different faces every time you are at school. You get to know so many different people. I think it's cool."

He adds: "I love having a big school because we're all friends. We're all nice to each other."

Anoushka Torr, also 11, thinks the experience will help her to get ready for secondary school in September.

"I really like being part of a big school. You socialise with different children," she says.

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