We'll rise above ghetto slurs

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Head and a successful former pupil are boosting aspirations of pupils and parents on a troubled estate. Helen Ward reports

"You can't dispute the employment figures, you can't dispute the crime figures," said Alan Woodman, headteacher at Valley Park Primary, Sheffield. "But people are being labelled in a way they are not ready to accept."

The 408-pupil primary is in Gleadless Valley, an area of the city with serious problems - but now an unlikely coalition has formed to support the school's reputation.

A report by Sheffield Council in February said crime on the estate was double the city average of 87 incidents per 1,000 people, anti-social behaviour was twice the norm and there was widespread fly tipping, graffiti and criminal damage.

The report was headlined in the Sheffield Star as "Sad decline of happy valley", "Is this Sheffield's worst estate?" and "Gleadless Valley hits back at `ghetto' slur". Since then, police and council action has reduced anti-social behaviour.

Mr Woodman, 60, has worked in the area, which he describes as the "solid end of Sheffield" for 25 years.

"I've got to know three generations," he said. "You have the children coming in and you've taught their parents and grandparents, you build up an affinity with the area.

"This newspaper report placed great stress upon some negative aspects which do exist. But we are concerned with raising kids' expectations, so we felt it was necessary to give some uplift to children and take that out to parents."

One way to do this is through a languages and culture day on September 30 that will bring together people connected with the school. It is the brainchild of former pupil Gill Howland, 51, who grew up on the estate and went to the local primary, Herdings, which later merged with Hemsworth School to become Valley Park.

Gill went on to train as a secondary languages teacher before becoming a chief adviser and senior assistant director in Knowsley on Merseyside. She then became an executive director of the Learning and Skills Council in Birmingham and Solihull, responsible for a pound;300 million budget.

In January she was appointed executive pro-vice chancellor of Staffordshire University. But she is still in touch with her old school. She hopes to bring together other former pupils who have done well in life to provide role models, as well as support, for the headteacher.

"I remember the school as a place where we were expected to do well," she said. "There were teachers who were inspirational. I remember having a police week where the school joined up with the police force and we did all kinds of things for that week.

"Gleadless Valley was a model estate and families moved there with hopes of a new beginning - a nice place to bring up their children."

She is contacting other former pupils and bringing them together with today's parents in an evening event after the languages day.

The idea for that sprang from an inspectors' visit to the school in February to check its languages' provision, a non-statutory subject in primaries. They found there were some imaginative ideas and a good curriculum but recommended more training and support for teachers. "The inspectors' visit coincided with reports on our estate in Sheffield which were splashed across the front page about people being disaffected and the estate lacking in provision," said Mr Woodman. "We didn't feel very happy about that so we tried to get something positive done and show how creative our school is."

The plan for the day is still being worked out, but the pupils will be working on language projects, including Spanish bingo or PE in French. In the evening past pupils, parents and staff will meet to discuss working together in future.

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