Rats in the roof, freezing classes. Welcome to Britain's most dilapidated school

Gillian Shephard will feel the heat when she visits a schoolhouse so cold that pupils wear coats indoors
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The Independent Online
The village school is crumbling, the roof is rat-infested and during the winter the 110 pupils sit wrapped up in anoraks and overcoats.

There is nowhere for PE in the Victorian school and while the children freeze in the winter, temperatures in some classrooms soar to more than 100F in the summer.

Today the visiting local MP at Weeting primary school, near Thetford, in Norfolk, will be given a hard time by the school staff. The fact that the MP is Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, will add a certain piquancy to the occasion.

Mrs Shephard will face protests from staff at the school which is just a few miles from her home, as she tours classrooms so cold that children as young as five are forced to study in coats and scarves.

The head teacher, Andrea Colley, plans to confront the secretary of state with a catalogue of structural horrors besetting the school, which she claims has been promised new buildings annually for the past five years. The thatched roof of the original schoolhouse, built in the 1860s by a local earl for the education of village children, attracts rats and mice, while two wooden mobile classrooms added a century later have no insulation. Temperatures plunge almost to freezing in winter, while in summer they can soar as high as 105F, sending the infants to sleep at their desks.

Mrs Shephard, visiting the school to open a new environmental area created with cash raised by staff, will be told how children must put on outdoor clothes to make the time- consuming trip between buildings for assembly, lunch and - for one class - to go to the toilet.

The lack of a hall makes indoor PE impossible, reducing games in freezing weather to 15 minutes' runaround on the field. Mrs Colley said the school had pleaded for over a decade with Norfolk County Council and directly to the Department for Education and Employment (DFEE) for refurbishment and renewal of its buildings, but without success.

Mrs Shephard, as constituency MP, had even lent her backing to the cause before becoming education secretary by supporting a council delegation to Westminster, describing one of the Sixties-built classrooms as a "warped and sagging building", the head said. She added: "The secretary of state says the LEA has the money for repairs and the authority is saying it doesn't, so hopefully they will thrash it out during the visit and finally resolve this."

Pupils and staff managed to put a brave face on the building problems, and inspectors had warmly praised education at Weeting in a recent report, Mrs Colley said. "I have seen the children come into assembly this morning and sit down among puddles of melting snow but they keep smiling and keep happy because that is what Weeting children are like."

Staff want the schoolhouse and two thatched classrooms, all Grade II listed, refurbished for continued use by the school, together with a new hall and permanent classrooms.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the authority had made an urgent application to the DFEE for permission to borrow money to rebuild Weeting this year but had been turned down. The council had a pounds 36m backlog of school building repairs, he said.

A DFEE spokesman said Norfolk County Council had missed two opportunities this financial year to bid for government funding to help Weeting school, including a schools renewal scheme and a cross- department challenge fund.

"We are doing all we can to assist local authorities in meeting their responsibilities for managing their building stock but it is for authorities to take full advantage of opportunities available," he added. "If you don't enter the race you can't expect to win."

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