Top marks scored against all the odds

Dishforth Airfield County Primary is unmarked by any signpost, its low-slung 1960s-built classrooms tucked away on Ministry of Defence land in rural North Yorkshire.

It mainly serves Army Air Corps families, their homes are laid out in ranks among the surrounding fields. Pippa Noyes, the school's head, does not know how many children she will have in school each week because of the highly-mobile population. This week she has 90, next week there might be 85, once there were 40.

Few children stay for more than two years due to the demands of army life - Bosnia drew some away last year. Many come with the emotional and behavioural problems associated more with inner-city schools.

All these factors make it remarkable that Dishforth should be among the top 15 primary schools, all of them rural and many of them voluntary-aided,to score 100 per cent in last summer's maths, English and science tests. A number of the 11 pupils who took the national tests began life at Dishforth on the pupil support register. Pippa Noyes is glad that the school has done well and says her long-serving, hard-working staff deserve full praise, but she is vehemently against league tables for the primary sector.

As journalist after journalist calls to set up an interview the strain shows and she issues a press release, The TES being the only newspaper she allows onto the premises though she insists on the presence of David Roberts, head of neighbouring Boroughbridge County Primary. She believes it would be highly damaging locally for Dishforth to be perceived as behaving competitively.

She said: "We don't want to set up in competition with each other because that just makes a nonsense of our funding, especially if parents move children from one school to another based on SATs results. It is very unfair to put my sort of school up against a much larger school. The schools in this area work in cooperation. We share training days and equipment and if we set up in competition with each other all that will end.

"Moreover schools with small numbers might be top of the league one year and bottom of it the next depending on their intake. It would be entirely wrong for schools to turn away special needs children because they depress their SATs results but that might be a consequence of this."

Dishforth's classrooms are organised formally with desks in rows and teachers teaching from the front. "We have a very formal day, we concentrate on the three Rs," said Pippa Noyes. "We have a lot of children with behavioural problems and a formal day suits them best. That does not mean it would be best for every school."

This term she is working every afternoon with the reception children, to give their teacher a break with the juniors. All the staff at Dishforth have a chance to teach all age groups. Because pupils stay for so little time Pippa Noyes also gives priority to working with parents. She said: "We spend a long time interviewing parents and children together, that's sacrosanct." Dishforth, which was one of the first schools to be inspected by Office for Standards in Education inspectors, was praised for its good teaching and management.

There is a rewards system for good behaviour, a daily assembly (teaching about morals, right and wrong, is also a priority) and Pippa Noyes also makes sure her pupils have fun.

She said: "We work hard and play hard. Every child has ballet once a week and we also walk on stilts at this school. These immeasurable things are what primary education is all about, but it doesn't show up in the tests."

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