Former 'bog' transformed in programme of change at Doncaster primary school
It was a school field built on the edge of a peat bog.
And for generations of youngsters, that position was pretty clear.
The playing field at West Road Primary School in Moorends had been notorious for decades for flooding at the first sign of rain.
But now for the first time in anyone’s memory, that has finally been changed.
A major programme of improvements at the school in the former Doncaster mining village has transformed its grounds, so youngsters can play on them for most of the year.
It is one of a number of big changes at the school, with another on the way in September.
Headteacher Karen Thompson said: “Our school field is on the edge of a peat bog, and drainage has been a big issue.
“But two years ago we got a £25,000 grant from an energy company and that paid to get a specialist drainage company to solve the problem.
“Certainly we know from long serving staff the playing field had not been usuable from October to April in years gone by because they would have been like a bog – but now they are finally sorted.
“Now the children are able to play out more frequently, and PE doesn’t have to be indoors all the time.”
And the outdoor play situation was boosted further – when the Archbishop of York John Sentamu visited the school to open a new multi-use games area, an all weather pitch for children to play all sorts of games on using a synthetic surface. It will be used by both the school and a local youth club.
It represented another £53,000 investment, with the money raised from a number of grants from organisations including the Wooden Spoon rugby charity, and the Yorkshire Cricket Club Children’s Trust and the Johnson and Mukherjee Charitable Trust.
For the 428-pupil school, rated as good by Ofsted, both the projects are about more than just the grounds – they are about broadening the horizons of the pupils.
Moorends is one of the most socially deprived areas in England. Mrs Thompson understands that around 33 per cent of the pupils are from the most deprived 10 per cent most of households in the country. And 97 per cent are from the most deprived 30 per cent of households in the country.
It can mean that some pupils do not get the chance to try out many of the experiences which children from wealthier backgrounds get.
Sport is an example, and Mrs Thompson wants children to be able to try out as many sports as possible at school.
“We could have the next Geoff Boycott or Jonny Wilkinson at out school, but if they don’t get the chance to try out sports, they would never know,” she said.
But sport is just one of a number of ways that the school is trying to raise aspirations.
It is one of a number of schools in the borough which is taking advantage of Government funding which has been put in place since Doncaster was designated an ‘opportunity area’, an educational project to help youngsters from deprived communities.
Through the scheme, pupils are getting access to a range of projects being run through organisations including Expect Youth and Flying Futures, both organisations which provide youth activities for the local council.
“There are children who can’t afford kit or subscriptions. We want sport to be an excellence at the school,” she said.
It is just one of many schemes that the school has got involved with. Mrs Thompson said the school had signed up for everything that was available under the Opportunity Area scheme, including forest schools, teaching outdoor skills, trips on the Adams’ Ark narrowboat run by a local trust, residential trips to Austerfield Study Centre, and outings to Hatfield Water Park.
There is even a school debating club.
The school even signed up for things that were not available. It has taken pupils to do projects at the High Rhythm community recording studio in Doncaster town centre, to take part in sessions orginally offered only to pupils of secondary school age.
The idea is to make the pupils more resilient.
Teachers say they seeing the effects in the classroom, with projects giving pupils more self belief and self esteem, in term making them more interested in learning in the classroom, and helping them obtain essential life skill which will give them better job prospects.
They are also looking to the future. West Road has signed up for a scheme run by Sheffield University called the Brilliant Club, which sees youngsters writing a thesis. They meet experts and learn more about jobs which are available in the wider world beyond Moorends.
“For some in the village, there have been generations which have been unemployed. Children talk about wanting to work in cafes or shops. At the beginning of their involvement in Brilliant Club, we had a pupil who wanted to work in a pet shop. At the end, they wanted to be a marine biologist. It is about opening their eyes and ears to what they could achieve.”
Trust set to take over
This year is set to see a big change at West Road – with a newly set up educational trust taking over its running.
The school will be one of the founder members of the Bright Futures education trust, which will come into operation from September.
Headed by Hungerhill School headteacher Helen Redford-Hernandez, it will also be running the planned Doncaster University Technology College, which is due to open in Doncaster town centre to offer practical engineering skills required by local businesses.
“It is about linking with different capabilities,” said Mrs Thompson. “We have areas of expertive that we can show other schools.
“The link with the UTC is also a factor. Potentially, some of our young people will go there, and we have already taken part in events that have been run through the UTC.”
Parents have joined forces to set up a West Road Parent Teacher and Friend Association group this year – and they have already raised over £6,000 for the school.
The money raised went toward buying the schools new all weather multi-sports area, and was generated through events including discos, bingo, and a sponsored bike ride, which saw parents ride hundreds of miles on an exercise bike in the school.
It is one of a number of schemes the school has run to get parents more involved with the schools.
Other measures have seen it set up a toddler group for parents of young children, coffee mornings for parents, and a parental consultation group.
Proposals from the parental consultation group have included the placing of bollards to stop people parking on pavements near the school.