Mercia School: The Sheffield school with family lunches, longer days and self study all designed to give pupils the best start
It is 12.15pm and lunchtime at one of Sheffield’s newest schools.
But instead of pupils pulling out their lunchboxes or queuing with a tray to be served a hot meal, children at Mercia School are preparing for a family lunch.
For the first 30 minutes of their hour-long lunchbreak they sit on tables with a teacher and discuss specific topics of the day, while enjoying a freshly cooked vegetarian meal.
Today while they tuck into a tasty hot meal, pupils are talking about different religions and how they impact on society.
Each child has a different job. Some collect the food, which has been prepared onsite by a chef, while others serve up or clean away.
Headteacher Dean Webster said children enjoy a nutritious meal – they can also have breakfast at the school and get morning and afternoon snacks – and have discussions so as they grow older they know how to hold conversations with people from a variety of backgrounds.
After lunch one pupil from each table stands up and thanks someone they are appreciative for, which links to the topic they have discussed.
For the last 30 minutes children enjoy free play or can take part in a number of lunchtime clubs.
The family lunch is one of several differences that makes the school, on Carterknowle Road, stand out from other schools in the city.
The school day is also longer than most, closing its doors at 5pm Monday to Thursday and at 3.45pm on Friday.
After school on Monday, pupils take part in creative and performing arts and on Wednesday they take part in sports electives, such as fencing or Gaelic football.
On Tuesday and Thursday pupils do self study where they can complete their homework.
The curriculum has been designed to ensure that children are challenged to the highest level.
It is hoped this will enable them not to continue to achieve and not plateau in their first few years of secondary school.
Mr Webster admits that the school is not for everyone, although it is over-subscribed and has 500 applications for just 120 places next year, but is offering families a real choice in the area.
It opened its doors in September to year seven students, but before then Mr Webster was visiting some of the best schools in the country to see why they are constantly judged outstanding by Ofsted and achieve well academically and has adapted some of their methods at Mercia School.
He openly admits that he isn’t sure why the school, part of the Mercia Learning Trust, has gained such a controversial reputation.
He said: “There is a real need or desire for a school like this.
“Our ethos is that children learn and teachers teach.
“What is so controversial about that?
“We sweat the small stuff so the big things don’t happen.”
The school is one of two built by Sheffield Council to cope with an increase in demand on school places and does not have a catchment area, with children travelling from across the city to attend.
“The opportunity we have here and at Astrea Academy Sheffield is about creating a culture from day one.
“What I have done is being open, honest and transparent about what we are about so parents make a very informed choice.
“The fact that some parents don’t want to send their children here shows that I have done my job.
“I feel that is the responsible thing to do.”
One parent who is more than happy with the decision to send daughter Laura to the school is Louise Seymour.
She lists numerous things she is delighted with the school about – including the leadership staff greeting each child with a handshake every morning and staff walking children down to the busy main roads to bus stops to ensure they get home safely.
“I am more than happy with my decision for Laura to come here. It’s an amazing school,” she said.
“Mr Webster came into her primary school to talk about the school and what it offers, and although when we visited it was still a building site I’m glad we decided to send her here.
“I like the fact they do maths and English everyday.
“Mr Webster set his stall out early and said he would manage discipline and because of that teachers are allowed to teach and that is why they can attract world class teachers. They can just focus on excellent teaching.”
She added: “I would recommend the school to any parents. The opportunities the children get not just academically but through the enrichment choices are excellent.
“If we were paying £12,000 to £15,000 a year then you would expect this, but the fact this is just a normal secondary school is just wonderful.”
Mrs Seymour said the longer school day ensures that she gets to spend quality time with her daughter.
She said: “Yes, it is a longer school day, but what we get is quality family time because when I collect her from 5pm she doesn’t have schoolwork to do.
“She is doing her homework overseen by experts and she knows that is the time to do it.
“It makes life as a parent absolutely perfect and Merica School very much allows that.”
Mr Webster added: “The self study and homework aspect really helps disadvantaged pupils.
“We are fully aware that some of our children come from disadvantaged backgrounds and don’t have that safe environment and parents checking that they have done their homework.
“We wanted equality and everyone treated the same so we give pupils time to do it in school.”
Cooper Oates, aged 12, said choosing to attend Mercia School was the best decision he had made.
“The teachers and staff are trying to achieve the best they can. They are making learning fun and exciting. It’s just an amazing place to be,” he said.
Ethan Galloway, 12, loves the self study sessions.
“The way they teach is different,” he said. “We have self study which means when school has finished we are still working.
“I like staying at school to finish my work because it means you don’t have any homework.”
Hannah Savage, 12, said: “I really like the family lunches.
“They build relationships with children who wouldn’t normally sit with each other and talk.
“When we are talking you find that different people are interested in different subjects.
“It also helps build relationships with different teachers because they sit and chat with you too.”
She added: “The teachers have really high standards so it encourages us to achieve these high standards so that we can go onto university or get a good job.”
Safa Rehman, 11, said being the only children at the school does have its advantages.
“One of the reasons my mum decided to send me here was because in a lot of other schools there is bullying and bad things happening and she wanted to send me here because we would be the only year group here during the first year,” she said.
“It doesn’t really feel like a secondary school. It feels like a primary school because there are no older children.”