Drake Primary School in Thetford more than doubles in size to tackle town’s shortage of primary places

The Battle of Britain flypast at the official opening of Drake Primary School's £4.8m expansion. Pic

The Battle of Britain flypast at the official opening of Drake Primary School's £4.8m expansion. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

A £4.8m expansion which will more than double the size of a Thetford school to help tackle a chronic shortage of primary places in the area has been unveiled.

The Battle of Britain flypast at the official opening of Drake Primary School's £4.8m expansion. Pic

The Battle of Britain flypast at the official opening of Drake Primary School's £4.8m expansion. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

Like many schools in the Norfolk town, Drake Infant School was previously forced to turn away families once it had reached its 180-pupil capacity for reception and year-one and year-two classes.

With a growing population in Thetford, parents were being forced to look elsewhere in the town and even go further afield.

'We've been working nearly at capacity but we couldn't take any more children,' said headteacher Mary Bartrop.

'We had a waiting list and we couldn't accommodate them all.'

But the 10 new classrooms, new main hall, two group rooms, changing rooms and toilet facilities will enable the school to expand to provide primary places for up to the age of 11.

Within a few years it will cater for 420 young people – more than double its current intake.

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'It means Thetford families being educated at a Thetford school,' Mrs Bartrop said as the official opening of the new site was commemorated with a Battle of Britain flypast by the RAF.

'It is good for the town and good for the children. Parents are very happy their children can start here and stay here until the age of 11.'

As guests were given tours of the new facilities on Thursday, July 20, Mrs Bartrop said she believes a combined infant and primary school will be better for the education of the children.

'The change at seven to go to a new school would've been very hard for some children to do, because of their age,' she said.

'Staying means they can grow and we can get to know the children all the way through – you haven't got to get to know them again.

'This project has marked an important step in the development of Drake Primary. We're really proud of our new-look school which is now able to provide fantastic quality learning facilities for our local children who rightly deserve great educational facilities - and local school places.

'I'm sure the community will enjoy watching them benefit from the improvements which have been made at the school.'

Expanded school's vision

The goal of the newly-expanded Drake Primary and Infant School is 'making pupils confident and independent learners and 'children being happy and safe and making the right progress,' headteacher Mary Bartrop said.

She and deputy headteacher Debbie Ridgeon said they have very high expectations of the children and don't allow them to think their goals and ambitions aren't possible.

One of the school's main challenges is that 25pc of its pupils do not speak English as their first language – meaning they often have to learn while in the classroom.

The school will provide extra support for those children but, for the most part, finds it can educate them in the same classes as native English speakers.

'Children are able to acquire languages – it's the best time,' Mrs Bartrop said.

'They go through a period of absorbing the language. You think they're being quite quiet but they're actually absorbing it – it's amazing.

'Our second language children become bilingual and, by the end of year-two, they're reaching expected levels in English.

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