Head with a 'driving vision'

Classroom report: Parents attribute a case of excellence to 'discipline '
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The Independent Online
JONATHAN FOSTER

Something remarkable struck Maureen Mather in the chief inspector's letter - the misplaced commas and sloppy syntax.

The 57-year-old head teacher has a hawkish eye for detail, which scans the classrooms of Bethune Park primary, in Hull, as critically as it did Ofsted's confirmation of her school's "excellent" status.

Few parents or teachers dispute that the school's achievement owes much to the head's personal dynamism. "Her driving vision is responsible," said the Rev Michael Hills, chairman of the governors.

"She can be a bit abrasive. Sometimes she drives the teachers up the wall because she can be autocratic. But she wants the best for the children even when, in an area like this, many parents don't have high expectations."

Bethune Park teaches 350 children from a blue-collar neighbourhood in west Hull. Its buildings, cheapskate 1960s single-storey blocks, are hardly an inspiration.

But inside, even the walls are startlingly lucid. Mrs Mather increased the budget for backing paper, ensuring the most vivid presentation possible for work, something the inspectors found very impressive during their visit in January last year.

"We spent a lot of money on the backing paper because displays are important, they show children that their work is valued, and that is of supreme importance," said Mrs Mather, the head since 1988.

The school's work mixes traditional rigour with contemporary emphasis on support staff and in-service training. Six classroom ancillaries support 14 teachers whose training has taken them on courses as far away as the National Gallery, in London.

The children sit informally, wearing casual claret and grey uniforms. The atmosphere is calm and quiet, but not cowed. The most promising children are given extra homework. Parents attribute many of Bethune Park's virtues to "discipline". For a group of volunteer parents helping yesterday, it meant clearly defined boundaries, children "knowing how far they can go" and teachers "kind in a determined way, ready to give extra help to children who need it".

"Mrs Mather can be an ogre," one mother said. "But she's good for the school and if there's any sort of problem she'll discuss it with you."

The school's immediate problem is space. The library and the technology room have been sacrificed to provide more classrooms. After Easter, Bethune Park will cross the threshold of overcrowding.

"Why is it that resources are poured into failing schools?" Mrs Mather said. "Why can't some of it make a little detour?"

And next time Ofsted comes to call, inspectors can look forward to lessons in grammar.

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