The headteacher of a Ponteland school is delighted with how the first month of its new era has gone.
When the 2017/18 academic year started in September, Richard Coates Church of England School welcomed pupils aged between three and eight for the first time in many years.
As part of the change to a two-tier system for six schools in the Ponteland area, it has taken on children from nursery age up to Year 4.
It will become Richard Coates C of E Primary School, where the oldest children in Year 6 will be 11, in September 2019. Years 7 and 8 will no longer be taught there as they will be taught at the new secondary school in Ponteland.
So over the next two years, it is accommodating both the new arrivals and Years 5 to 8 – the age range when it was a middle school.
This required a great deal of planning from July 2016, when the two-tier change was confirmed.
Staff decided to create a distinct area for the new classes, ranging from nursery to Year 4. These pupils access the school via their own yard and cloakrooms.
Year 5 are being taught in both primary classes and specialist classrooms, giving them the best of both worlds.
Years 6, 7 and 8 are having lessons in the same areas of the school as in previous years.
Richard Coates headteacher Heather Cape said: “A great deal of hard work and preparation has taken place to get the school ready for the extra numbers.
“We re-modelled part of the school in order to provide a nurturing environment for the younger pupils who joined us in September.
“They are loving things here and are benefiting from the new classrooms being kitted out with new equipment for the younger age groups.
“As well as the new experienced primary teachers who have joined us, including a new early years leader, our staff who are primary trained and qualified are teaching the younger age groups.
“As for our pupils in Years 6, 7 and 8, life has been the same for them and there has been no disruption to their learning.
“Our staff have responded very positively to the change, which has brought a new lease of life to the school.
“Parents were understandably anxious when the proposal to become a primary was first discussed, but they have been reassured since then and many of them with a child at the middle school have moved their younger siblings into the new Richard Coates school.
“We are rightfully proud of our long and established reputation of providing academic excellence for all pupils.
“The school first came into being nearly 300 years ago, making it one of the oldest established schools in Northumberland.
“I see myself as a steward of the school and we decided as a school that being part of the new two-tier system was an important step to secure our long-term future.
“We have received excellent support from the joint education team for the Dioceses of Newcastle and Durham throughout the process.”
She added that Richard Coates is proud of being a church school at the heart of the local community and despite the changes, it will retain its school motto – Let Your Light Shine.
It is taken from the Gospel of St Matthew and encapsulates the aim of the school; to ensure each child achieves their full potential academically, socially and personally, making the most of the gifts and talents they have been given.
A new activity-based Shine Club, which provides wraparound care, has been established on site. It runs between 7.30am and 6pm each school day for reception ages upwards.
Mrs Cape also thinks the multi-academy trust proposal, Richard Coates would join forces with five other schools in the local area to form a single trust company with a single board of directors that would be funded directly by the Government, would be good for children and parents.
She added: “There would be clear accountability at all stages of pupils’ development to help ensure that they achieve the best outcomes.”
Richard Coates school history
In 1719, Richard Coates – a Newcastle shipbuilder – bequeathed a sum of money to set up a school in Ponteland for 12 boys and 12 girls to provide them with an education that otherwise would not be available to them.
After being located in a building that is now an estate agents by the roundabout junction of Main Street and North Road and then immediately outside the church, a new middle school was built on Thornhill Road in the 1950s.
The school has grown considerably since then and there were 446 pupils on the roll at the time of its last Ofsted report (May 2013).