"I LOVE this school," Carol Nevin, the admissions officer at St
Mary's C of E Primary School, Moss Side, Manchester, says. She is
describing the many features that led St Mary's, once bottom of the
primary league tables for north-west England, to its success this
summer, when it was named Primary School of the Year in the
national TES Schools Awards.
Moreover, the accolade followed achievement in the 2013
TES awards when it was top of the league for Enterprise
and Community. "This is an amazing school with an amazing record of
achievement in incredibly difficult circumstances," the judges'
verdict ran this year.
The "difficult circumstances" referred to by the judges include
the fact that, out of 450 pupils, 80 per cent of them receive free
school meals, and about the same percentage have a home language
other than English. The "amazing record of achievement" means that
St Mary's, now 18th highest-achieving school in Manchester, is in
the top two per cent nationally for progress in English, and in the
top seven per cent for maths.
Bob Palmer, a retired secondary-school teacher who has been
chair of governors for 29 years, says that success did not happen
overnight. The improvement began, he says, after the school was
placed in special measures, more than ten years ago. Under the "can
do" approach introduced by the former head teacher, Barrie
Chalmers, now retired, and his successor, Jenny McGarry, who had
already been a class teacher and deputy head at the school, St
Mary's began to flourish.
THE academic improvement takes place against a background of a
strong sense of caring for the whole school family - which includes
the wider community, Mr Palmer says. Apart from his regular duties
as a governor, he volunteers at the school one day a week. "The
children and their parents know me by name, and I know them."
The school day at St Mary's begins at 7 a.m., when parents are
sent a text to remind them that the "walking bus" - a team that
includes Mrs Nevin, classroom assistants, and volunteer parents -
will soon be on its way to call for them. Once at school, the
children sit down to a free breakfast of bagels, cereals, porridge,
and fruit juice, provided by a national charity, The Magic
What follows is not limited to the classroom, either: the school
has a community garden (an oasis, in crowded Moss Side); a
vegetable garden, tended daily by a knowledgeable parent; and its
own hens, which provide eggs for the children to collect. And, as
part of the enterprise programme that won last year's award, small
groups of children were given £10 on which they were expected to
make a profit. A car-cleaning scheme was popular locally,
especially with teachers, while another group set up a stall
selling home-made cakes and sweets.
THROUGH the day, the watchwords are encouragement - the "can do"
motif - and praise for achievements, great or small. "You hear it
on all sides, from teachers, classroom assistants, everyone
involved," Mr Palmer says. It has also been the means of
achievement for some parents, whose successful participation in
volunteering has helped them to find paid jobs outside the
St Mary's is also a UNICEF Rights Respecting School, and pupils
learn about the charter and how it affects them: the right of all
to education, food, water, and freedom of religion. "This is
particularly important to those children - including many of ours -
who have arrived in this country with little or no previous
education," Mr Palmer says.
St Mary's, Whalley Range, is in the parish of St Edmund's, whose
Rector, the Revd Tony Hardy, leads an assembly one day each week.
He says: "I'm delighted, but not surprised, that our school has won
this award. Everyone's attitude goes beyond 'can do' to 'will do'.
It's a real beacon of excellence in this very challenging
*The Magic Breakfast is a charity that seeks to ensure that
"no child's education is affected by the lack of a good breakfast".
The charity helps schools nationally, 22 of them C of E. For
information and donations visit www.magicbreakfast.com.