Morals, tables and technology: why this is the best junior school in Britain

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The Independent Online
Frank Haverty, the head teacher of St Thomas More primary school in Coventry, is happy to describe himself as someone who has worn the same style clothes for more than 20 years, until they came back into fashion.

St Thomas More has itself continued to use relatively traditional teaching methods despite the dominance of progressive education for much of the time since Mr Haverty became head teacher in 1971. Set in a suburb of the city, the Roman Catholic school is one of 159 schools which gained an excellent report from the education watchdog and which have been named in the Chief Inspector of Schools' annual report.

The school's Ofsted report, published last June, said that most of its 380 pupils achieved well above the standards expected nationally in core subjects, including English, maths and science. Progress in other subjects was also praised as was the behaviour of the children, and their attitudes to learning and moral development.

Forty-five per cent of teaching was described as very good or excellent and 95 per cent was said to be sound. Mr Haverty and his governors believe that religious ethos is the basis of the school's success, valuing the individual whilst making children aware of the importance of other people. This is supported by a teaching style which includes traditional techniques such as learning multiplication tables by heart and whole-class teaching, although the school also uses modern methods like group work. It has absorbed a number of up-to-date ideas and has invested around pounds 12,000 in a computer suite. The school's approach is backed by well-motivated staff, and a partnership with parents and the local community.

St Thomas More primary has a mixed catchment area that includes many middle-class children. Only about 8 per cent of pupils have free school meals, compared with a national average of 16 per cent.

The school has a nursery on site which was built by Coventry City Council. The council spends more on education than the government recommends and this extra funding has helped make budgeting easier, although Mr Haverty said the school could always use more resources.

''We are traditional and make no apologies for that but we are not too rigid," he said. "I always think if anything is too rigid it will snap, so we try to make school fun."

The chairman of the governors, Monsignor Tom Gavin, said: ''We have some dedicated staff and they have really got an acknowledgement for what they have achieved.''

Louise Daniels, whose seven-year-old son Stephen and five-year-old daughter Helen go to the school, said: ''Teachers just seem to take a really genuine interest in the children, the teachers have good standards and they stick to them.'' Mrs Daniels' son has mild autism and the school has been very supportive of his special needs.

Mick Kelly, a publican, was pleased with the way his daughters Emma-leigh, aged nine and Nataleigh, aged six, were being taught.

''St Thomas More runs very well, basically because of the strong moral beliefs and good teachers," he said.

James O'Brien, a 10-year-old pupil at the school, said he liked maths and comprehension. ''I think all our teachers are very good, she is there if you need help," he said.

Sarah Taberner, also aged 10, said: ''My favourite subjects are history and art, my teacher is very good, she explains things to you and she interested me in those subjects.''