The school that ignored bombs and stayed open

The 530-pupil school, which is 90 per cent Muslim, is close to the site of the Edgware blast and the only one in Westminster to open yesterday after defying a call from council leaders to close because of fears of disruption to services.

Headteacher Keith Duggan and his staff decided it was essential to send a strong signal in the aftermath of Thursday's attack. He said: "It was important to show the children - and the parents - normality."

In opening its doors, the school was also showing the bombers they could not bring it to a standstill. Forty per cent of Gateway's pupils are of Bengali origin, 40 per cent Arabic and 8 per cent Albanian.

It has won national acclaim from Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, for its efforts to respect individual cultures and different religions. It is the largest primary school in the Westminster area and is being asked to expand by 200 pupils, again to cope with an influx of refugees, asylum-seekers and new arrivals in the neighbourhood.

The Ofsted report describes it as "a very good school which is popular and oversubscribed". It particularly praises its efforts to promote the moral development of its pupils.

All the other 53 schools in the Westminster area closed for the day, as did schools in Camden - scene of the bus attack and the King's Cross Tube blast - and many in Islington.

But, Mr Duggan said: "I had discussions with senior staff and governors the previous evening and we decided to take a gamble - which turned out to be correct - that the transport situation would improve.

"We said a prayer for those who are suffering and prayers for comfort for those who are left bereft in one way or another. We emphasised that it's ordinary people who suffered, people like them, their mums and dads. We did it for the children and for the parents as well," said Mr Duggan. He said some parents had shown great concern when they had picked up their children the previous day.

"By emphasising that the school would be open and it would be business as usual, that has reassured the community that life goes on," he added.

He stressed that the fact that the school served a largely Muslim community had had no impact on the decision to open. "They are a very strong, supportive community who support the school and they are very proud of it," he said.

After the special prayers, the school went straight into a normal assembly, praising children who had good attendance records and had done well in their maths tests. Most children made it in, although some straggled in late. Both Westminster and Camden councils took their decisions to close all schools early on Thursday afternoon, before it became clear that many public services would be back to normal yesterday.

Councillors believed it was essential to give parents early warning of the decision so they could make childcare arrangements.

In all, more than 100 schools in Camden and Westminster were closed for the day. The figures meant every state school except Gateway was closed. They are all expected to open for normal classes on Monday morning.

Tower Hamlets announced that one of its secondary schools, Bishop Challenors - which had acted as an emergency centre for both victims of the blast and the rescue services on Thursday - had closed for the day.

A further 20 in Islington also closed for the day. The closures came after most headteachers had kept all their pupils in on Thursday until their parents could collect them. This was done on the advice of the police.

In some areas, after-school clubs stayed open late until working parents could pick up their children from school.

Many headteachers obeyed the closure call from council leaders because they feared their staff - who live further away from the schools than the pupils - would not be able to get in yesterday.

In the event, Gateway Primary School's decision proved it would have been possible for more schools to open up yesterday.

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