End of an era at Doncaster school after 33 years

It’s going to be a new era for youngsters at Our Lady of Sorrows school in Armthorpe next term.

By David Kessen
Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 9:13 am

For one thing, the school is expanding which will end mixed year group classes for the first time since it was first set up.

But also, for the first time since 1986, there will be a new face in charge of the school office, as long-serving school secretary Carolyn Browne retires from her job after 33 years at the site on Mere Lane.

Mrs Browne was aged 32 when she started at the school just a year after Armthorpe, then still a pit village, had come out of the miners’ strike. Her husband, Eric, was a miner himself.

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Carolyn Browne, with pupils, is retiring after 33 years as office manager. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-16-07-19-OurLadySorrows-3

Writing was done on old-style manual typewriters. School letters were done on banda machines as photocopiers were not widely available in schools. And files were kept in cabinets, not on computers.

Mrs Browne said: “I got the job at the school here because it worked well in fitting in with looking after my children. I had the school holidays off, and my children were pupils here.

“There were no computers. I was really excited when I discovered there was an electric typewriter hidden away in a store cupboard that my predecessor had not liked using.

“The technology is the biggest change I’ve seen. Now we’ve got tablets, and interactive whiteboards in classrooms. But I’ve seen thousands of pupils go through the doors here over the years, even though we’re only quite a small school.

Year six leavers pictured in the outdoor classrom. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-16-07-19-OurLadySorrows-6

“Some of them have done really well and gone on to be doctors or solicitors. I’ve got some lovely memories, although we once had a bomb scare.

“I will miss the staff and children. But I think I will keep links here and I hope I’ll still come in to read with pupil and go on trips with them.”

The school said farewell to Mrs Browne with an Oscars themed party before the end of term.

When the staff and pupils return in September, they will also find a bigger school.

Shyla McNulty, eight, pictured, had her hair chopped to donate to the Little Princess Trust. (pictured before) Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-16-07-19-OurLadySorrows-5

It is expanding to single form entry, where in the past it had groups of mixed aged pupils, with younger pupils entering classes which also had older youngsters in there already.

It will take school numbers to 178 pupils, although it will have room for 210. It means the school will be looking to take in more children, and headteacher Lucy Saxton is keen to make people aware that the school does not only take Catholic pupils, despite its links to the church next door.

"We're here to serve the local community regardless of their faith background,” she said.

Mrs Saxton said the school had done a lot of work this year to promote the idea that the school was not only for the Catholic community, including its choir performing at community events in the village.

Ava Powell and Evie Bow, both six, pictured by the display of artwork based on artist Kerry Darlington produced by year one. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-16-07-19-OurLadySorrows-4

The choir is seen as a big asset by the school, and it recently received a lottery grant to help it perform at venues such as nursing homes and groups run to help address social isolation.

Although the school will get bigger, Mrs Saxton wants it to retain the small school feel that it has.

“Being a small school means you know every single child’s name,” she said. “I want us to be able to hold on to that. But these are exciting times and we will have a full reception year in September. Getting older pupils here is more of an issue because they are already elsewhere.”

The school had an extension built two years ago, which is now being used to help allow the current expansion, which is happening at a time when the population of Armthorpe is growing because of the number of new homes being built in the village.

An outdoor lending library on the school site will also open in September.

The local community has built a structure to house the facility, which will be run as a book exchange and is intended to encourage more reading by the pupils.

Our Lady of Sorrows catholic voluntary academy school choir pictured by the Trim Trail. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-16-07-19-OurLadySorrows-1

It will be open during playtimes and lunchtimes, and will be called Mrs B’s Book Hut – as a tribute to long serving secretary Mrs Browne.

Mrs Saxton said the school would stock it with 150 books initially, and it would be open for the first time when the schools go back in September.

It was inspired by teacher Emma McGarry who had seen similar book exchanges on a beach while on holiday.

“We thought it was a great way to encourage a love of books for children and parents,” said Mrs Saxton. “There will also be a small section for adult fiction for parents.”

Other recent developments at the school have seen a trim trail put in place on the site, at Easter, to encourage fitness among pupils, made up of items like monkey bars and stepping stones. It was funded by a school fair run by parents at Christmas, through Parentvoice, a parents’ group which works closely with the school.

The school is currently working towards leaving special measures, and the current leadership was brought in two years ago to turn things around.

The school was converted to an academy at that point, and is now part of the Hallam School Partnership Trust.

Work has already been done to turn things around, with new systems and procedures put in place such as making sure marking is consistent across the school.

Mrs Saxton, who has just completed her first full year as the school headteacher, says a big job has been raising staff morale again.

But she said the staff were keen to improve the school for the community, and described them as a ‘remarkable team of people.’

Last year she worked alongside an executive head, Fiona Rigby, who still remains supportive of the school.

“We are now in a much stronger place in terms of Ofsted,” she said.

“We think we have held on to what really matters. It is not just about the grades – it is about making the child prepared for life, and looking at the child as a whole human being.

“We are all unique and it is our job to make sure that that the children become the best that they can be.”

There changes planned in the timetable next year which will bring in a wellbeing afternoon every Friday. It will see youngsters taking part in schemes ranging from den building to yoga, aiming to help make them more resilient and able to deal with challenges.

It will be run as a trial until Christmas.

Charity boost

Caring Year 3 pupil Shyla McNulty recently handed a charity a boost – by donating her hair.

The whole school gathered to watch when Shyla, well known at the school for her long locks, had 12 inches cut from her hair to donate to the Princess Trust.

The organisation makes wigs using human hair, to give to children who lose their hair during treatment for cancer.

One of the parents at the school, a hairdresser, came in specially to perform the haircut.

“The children gave a round of applause at the end,” said Mrs Saxton.

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