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90 KIDS, TWO TEACHERS, NO PLAYING FIELD... WELCOME TO THE BEST SCHOOL IN BRITAIN.

A Victorian village school with 90 pupils and just two full-time teachers will next week be named as the most successful in Britain for primary children.

When the Government publishes controversial tables showing how well the 11-year-olds in 14,500 primary schools have done in English, maths and science tests, Shenington Primary in Oxfordshire will be top of the form - with performances that put some secondary schools to shame.

Its pupils excelled to such an extent that most were three years ahead of their age-group.

Yet the 126-year-old buildings need replacing, there are only two full-time teachers for the 90 pupils, and the school has no playing field of its own.

But headteacher Shirley Hartlett, who has been in charge for 24 years, has developed a special formula for success: A mixture of old-fashioned classroom discipline, dedication from staff and help from parents.

As a result the children are encouraged to view homework as a pleasant habit rather than a chore. Even four-year-olds take books home, to read with their parents.

Mrs Hartlett yesterday told the Sunday Mirror the secrets of success at Shenington: "The first lesson we teach from Day One is learning right from wrong.

"Good behaviour and discipline are instilled from the start. It's no good waiting until they are seven years old, hoping they will change. Some need a carrot and others a firm hand.

"Secondly, we have regular staff meetings where we discuss children's individual needs and problems. If teachers need help, we give them immediate input and support. We don't let problems drag on.

"Every child is different with specific abilities and needs which we aim to fulfil. We try to get the best out of them all.

"They are encouraged to play a musical instrument, with a wide-ranging choice from guitar to flute."

Mrs Hartlett - who teaches four days a week, leaving just one day for administration - added: "I am not a chalk-free teacher.

"I take a class of 38 children and mark their work every night. Homework is not a ugly word. From the age of seven they are given about half-an- hour's homework based on class projects.

"Four-year-olds take books home to read with their parents each evening. Because we set only a small amount of homework it becomes a habit and they do it. The secret is to motivate the children and parents by encouraging them."

The school, which also has four part-time teachers, serves the villages of Shenington and Alkerton whose population totals only 300. Parents from further afield also try to get their children a place there. It has a long waiting list. But parents of children already there are keen to preserve the flavour of the school, which opened in 1871.

So four years ago the school became grant-maintained - opting out of the financial control of the local council. Now it receives its budget directly from the Exchequer.

"We have an independent philosophy and like to function without any interference," said Mrs Hartlett.

"Having 100 per cent control of the money means we actually put it up at the chalk-face," said Roger Hancock, chairman of the governors. "We could get three newly-trained teachers for what Mrs Hartlett and her deputy cost. But we believe that experience counts and we have obviously got it right.

"Half of the children who took the test were three years ahead in English and three- quarters were equal to the average 14-year-old in maths and science.

"But not everything is based on the academic side. The school also emphasises music and sport. We use a playing field down the other end of the village, and the village hall for physical education."

And even though parents have raised pounds 750,000 for new buildings, they want to spend it carefully. Mr Hancock said: "We don't want to get too big. At the moment we have four classrooms so it would be quite nice to have five."

Pupils often see their parents and neighbours helping out in class. Governor Alison Pollard, whose ten-year-old daughter Rosemary attends the school, said: "Some parents help with reading.

"We also have highly-qualified, retired people in the village who go in and help out with a range of subjects from science to computer studies.

"There is a strong bond between governors, parents, teachers and children. We all pull together."
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Author:Tracey, Patricia
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 9, 1997
Words:720
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