Six reasons why this is Sheffield’s ‘most oversubscribed’ primary school
Headteachers could be forgiven for becoming obsessed with test results, given the importance attached to league tables these days.
But for Rachel Edwards, the soul of Meersbrook Bank Primary School lies not in those numbers but in the values which staff, pupils and parents hold dear.
It’s not that she has anything to hide when it comes to results, with the school rated ‘good’ by Ofsted inspectors, who praised the standard of teaching when they last visited in 2017.
Everything the school does, though, is driven by its six core values, which are respect, responsibility, resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness and relationships.
It is those six Rs – in conjunction with the more traditional three ‘Rs’ of reading, writing and arithmetic – which put this school at the heart of the community it serves, says Ms Edwards, and make it such a fun place to teach and learn.
They have also helped it become Sheffield’s most oversubscribed primary school for next September, she adds, with 24 pupils on the waiting list for a place in reception.
“Those values are the bedrock of this school, and they permeate through everything we do,” she says.
“There’s such a lovely community spirit, which is what our children and parents really like about our school.”
Each week in assembly, pupils are recognised for embodying those core values and get their faces added to a tree in the hall symbolising the six Rs.
They are not necessarily the highest achievers but those who have shown the dedication to improve their work or to help others.
There are lots of examples of those values in action, Ms Edwards explains, but one in particular springs to mind.
“I went to the cross country race at the weekend and it was great to see how the children were supporting one another. When a couple of them started struggling, the others ran alongside them and told them ‘you can do it’,” she said.
Another example of the school pulling together is its impressive library, which has just undergone a £10,000 revamp thanks largely to the PTA’s sterling fundraising efforts.
It is due to be officially opened on World Book Day tomorrow, Thursday, March 7, by children’s author Kathryn White, who has two grandchildren at the school.
Ms Edwards, who joined the school 13 years ago as a teacher and has been at the helm since 2012, says she and her staff pride themselves on turning out ‘responsible citizens’.
As well as raising money for the usual good causes like Comic Relief, staff and pupils have done a lot to support the Cathedral Archer Project which helps homeless people in the city.
Nursery children organised various events to raise money for the charity, under the banner ‘Bucket of Kindness’, and pupils of all ages were recently invited to make a donation and Wrap Up For CAP by wearing as many warm clothes as they could to raise awareness of homelessness.
Pupils are encouraged to take on responsibility. As well as the school council, there is a team of ‘peer mediators’ who are trained to settle minor playground disputes before they can escalate.
There are also ‘healthy minds champions’, who are tasked with promoting mental wellbeing. They use games to help pupils address their emotions and have come up with the idea of encouraging children to write down any problems they find it hard to talk about and drop them into a specially created box.
The curriculum revolves around themed weeks, with topics ranging from the Stone Age to space exploration, into which basic skills like maths, reading and writing are woven.
During maths week, for example, youngsters took on physical challenges before crunching the numbers to test hypotheses like whether being tall gives you an advantage in sport.
The corridor walls are a colourful record of everything the pupils have been up to, teeming as they are with models, artwork, stories and poetry inspired by lessons within the grounds and on visits to places like Manor Lodge, where Mary Queen of Scots was famously held captive.
Sport is a big part of pupils’ lives, so much so that the school recently won a citywide award for being the ‘most improved’ when it comes to the number of children participating in competitive sports. A couple of years ago, Ms Edwards recalls, just four pupils travelled to compete in a gymnastics tournament to which the school sent 30 players this year.
After-school clubs range from karate and football to drama and science, at which youngsters recently got messy making slime.
The school, which lies a stone’s throw from picturesque Meersbrook Park and has just over 240 pupils including those in its nursery, prides itself on how well-behaved and polite the children are – so much so that Ms Edwards says student teachers often tell her what a pleasure it is to work there.
The strength of community at Meersbrook Bank and the lifelong loyalty it evokes is perhaps best encapsulated in a recent letter from an ex-pupil who attended in the 1940s.
In it, she fondly recalls her days there, sharing a school magazine from that time which includes messages from the likes of David Attenborough and former land and water speed record holder Donald Campbell, before signing off: “Wishing you happiness. Keep up the good work.”
For Ms Edwards, who plans to get today's pupils to write back, the missive shows that while much may have changed at the school over the last 70 years, the values at its heart `have endured’.