Pupils return to school that nobody wanted

A boy of six who has been in a class of his own since February is to get company. Ben Russell reports
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THE strange tale of the school with just one pupil will take a further twist today. Three sets of parents have decided to return their children to Potter Heigham School in Norfolk, quadrupling the size of the class at a stroke.

Six-year-old Richard Marlin has been the primary school's only pupil since February. Other parents withdrew their children after the school was declared as failing by Ofsted inspectors, but Richard's parents sent him back saying he had been bullied at his new school in the neighbouring village of Catfield.

Norfolk county councillors had decided to close the school, which is costing pounds 3,200 a month to keep open, but now villagers hope to persuade their local authority that it has a future.

Lynne Sheppard, chairman of the governors at Potter Heigham, last night praised the work of the school's acting head Stephen Bloore, and its new teacher Julie Hornal, who have been teaching Richard since February. "A group of parents got together and decided they were going to send their children back. They are going to keep Richard company.

"We have had a senior county head teacher who has been doing a brilliant job. The main criticism of Ofsted was that the school needed long term leadership. We have now got a good management there."

She said several children were already signed up to start at the school in September. "The confidence in the new head is very high"

The new arrivals, Ryan Salt, Ashley Durrant and Eve Sheppard, all aged six, are all friends of Richard.

Parent Dave Sheppard said: "We were told that the staff problems and other difficulties at the school were almost impossible to deal with. But when Richard Marlin came back, all the things we'd been told couldn't happen did. A wonderful acting head teacher appeared who has transformed the school in the space of a few months. This is the parents' first step in showing their strength of feeling and confidence in the school. It is now for central government to show its commitment to small village schools."

Another father, Graeme Salt, said: "We are putting our child into the school now to show them that there is a commitment amongst parents to keep it open."

Richard's mother, Angela, criticised the decision to close the school. She said: "It seemed to be a case of `go quietly and we'll transport your children wherever you want them to go', rather than solve the problems at the school."

Meanwhile, children as young as four are being given lessons in business under a new scheme imported from America which may prove a model for schools across Britain.

Hundreds of children in nursery and primary classes are being given an introduction to the world of work by businessmen and women under the pilot scheme pioneered by Young Enterprise.

The project, involving 47 schools in Northern Ireland , is being closely watched by educationalists on the mainland after Tony Blair threw his weight behind "tuckshop tycoons" by backing a report which recommended extending business education into primary schools and universities.

Thousands of secondary school pupils already gain experience of the world of work through the popular Young Enterprise scheme, setting up their own mini-businesses with shareholders and dividends.

The Northern Ireland experiment takes the concept further, bringing the idea of running your own business into the reception class, with sessions for four-year-olds.