'It has been building' - Cromer headteachers celebrate positive time for town's schools
Angela Sharpe Photography
In a week of stories putting the spotlight on Cromer, education correspondent Lauren Cope talks to headteachers about the ongoing work at its schools.
It is, by all accounts, a good time to be a pupil in Cromer.
The town’s three schools - infant, junior and high - have gained the ‘good’ seal of approval from Ofsted inspectors, and exam results are climbing.
Schooling can be a challenge in coastal areas - around the country, seaside towns are identified as having some of the worst levels of economic and social deprivation in the UK, with wages, qualifications and aspirations comparatively poor.
It is an issue the three headteachers in Cromer are well aware of - and one which each has prioritised.
Whil de Neve, headteacher at Cromer Junior School, said the school’s ‘broadening horizons’ encapsulated a focus to ensure all children, whatever their background, had the same opportunities.
Though he started at the school in 2004, Mr de Neve took over the headship in 2013, having served as deputy.
In the last 13 years, he said, behaviour and parental engagement had improved significantly, and that, on the whole, it was a positive time for education in Cromer.
“It’s something that has been building,” he said. “There’s always a degree of ebb and flow, but in terms of results things have been getting better and are all now strong.
“We have a much greater emphasis now on making sure that disadvantaged children have the best possible opportunities. It’s a massive issue - just over a third of my children have some form of deprivation if you look at how many receive pupil premium funding.”
He said careers events held for year six pupils featured aspirational roles such as architect and doctor, to show pupils as many options as possible.
With transport in rural areas often a difficulty, the school has just leased its first minibus, enabling students to get to sports tournaments and events, and is midway through a project to install a book mural in its library.
Meanwhile, little more than a minute down the road, Cromer Academy, the high school, is marking four years since it joined the Inspiration Trust family of academies.
For the last three years it has celebrated record exam results, ranking it second of all schools in Norfolk based on the progress its pupils make.
Much of the praise has been laid at the feet of principal Dr Geoff Baker, who Ofsted inspectors described as “inspirational”.
But he is quick to deflect the praise, instead pointing to a team of teachers and staff he described as “incredible”.
“Our staff are absolutely amazing,” he said. “They are the most dedicated individuals I’ve worked with in my career.
“There’s a really positive focus, and we have really clear values around high aspirations. It’s been a transformational few years.”
He said attendance was the highest it had been, and said, through both their curriculum and events out of school, a focus had been on raising aspirations.
“It’s about encouraging pupils to think outside their own environment,” he said.
Dr Baker said they often held trips to universities and that every child saw a careers advisor once a year.
For Nichola Stewart, acting headteacher at Suffield Park Infant and Nursery School, a priority was bringing parents into school.
Forging strong links with families has, in national studies, showed links to increased attendance and attainment.
Mrs Stewart, who has worked at the school for 13 years, said it was a “very exciting” time to be at the school.
She said: “We are always working to get parents engaged with education, and particularly to invite them in a nonthreatening way.
“So while we do still hold phonics mornings, we also hold a learning and reading café and craft activities, which we’ve found really works.
“Our area means we have a real range of children and issues - sometimes it’s safeguarding concerns, or children not being ready for school or nursery with speech and language skills, for example. Having those relationships helps.”
Extension during ‘period of positive change’
Early next year, Suffield will unveil the results of a major £2.8m school extension.
The Norfolk County Council work will take lessons out of the “mobile city” they have spent the last few years in, Mrs Stewart said.
The work will include six new classrooms, two support rooms and new furniture, technology and offices, with the current school building also set to undergo a revamp.
Mrs Stewart said it came during “such a period of positive change” for the school, both in terms of education and accommodation.
“We’re currently in a mobile city, with the majority of classes outside,” she said. “So this will be really welcomed. The nursery is also having a new outdoor playground, so it’s a really exciting time.”
She said - if everything goes to plan - it should be open by Easter, and will ease strain on space, with the school having previously been “full to bursting”.