Sandhill’s leap from Special Measures to leading school

Something to cheer about!  Richard Chapman and his pupils celebrate the school's resurrection.
Something to cheer about! Richard Chapman and his pupils celebrate the school's resurrection.

TEN years ago, Richard Chapman was at the helm of a school placed in Special Measures by Ofsted, after being judged as under-achieving.

But roll the clock forward, and Sandhill Primary School at Rawmarsh has shifted dramatically from the bottom 25 per cent of national performers – to the top!

The transformation is down to hard work, commitment, and a real sense of purpose, says Mr Chapman, who had been at the school only nine months when the 2001 Ofsted indictment was made.

It hurt! At that early stage, the headteacher – along with staff, governors and pupils – had already launched new targets and foundations for the future, but needed time to develop them.

Said Mr Chapman: “To be seen as underachieving was tough. Staff were working extremely hard and were disappointed”.

But teamwork that included governors and parents saw the next 2003 inspection receive a “satisfactory, with good features” ruling, that by 2007 had risen to “good, with outstanding features”.

Maths was one area highlighted in 2001 as in need of improvement.Now Sandhill is a Champion school for maths within the local authority, helping others to reach the same high standards.

Mr Chapman and staff provide support to colleagues across the borough as leaders within the Rotherham Good Schools Project, and work with prospective head-teachers, as a national leadership development school.

Teaching was always where he wanted to be, said Mr Chapman, who remembers his own “Mr Chips”, teacher Chris Hydes, as an inspiration.

“I wasn’t that bright – but he took the time to help and explain, and got me involved in things like preparing the music for orchestra.

“I wanted to be like him... to encourage every child to try their hardest and, no matter what they do when they leave school, to be the best that they can be.”

Sandhill has its own school council, and mirrors local election procedures to choose its members. They even use redundant Rotherham Council ballot boxes!

Local MP John Healey and Rotherham’s Mayor, Coun Rose McNeely have visited the pupil councillors recently to discuss school issues.

Children need to be “happy, safe and well-fed and then they will learn”, claims Mr Chapman, who eats his lunches with the kids in the dining hall, and sometimes dons a dinner server hat to get behind the counter to serve them. There lies another success story.

He added: “We worked with the Schools’ Food Trust to deliver the best service we could and have increased the number of pupils taking up school meals each year.

“Meals are cooked fresh, on the premises, and there is always a choice... today it’s salmon or a burger as main option.”

This month the school has a science week and book fayre planned – in April there will be egg decorating and a fun day linked to Easter.

Mr Chapman went on: “We foster a have a go culture. Children know if they don’t succeed at anything they’ll get help and support so it doesn’t matter, it’s a win-win situation”.

Last week pupils cooked and tossed pancakes in assembly with a webcam set up so they could “see it and do it”. And a residential week for kids to try outdoor pursuits is a regular feature.

The fitting of solar panels to the school roof has sparked all kinds of interest in science and environmental issues, as explained to parents in the Sandhill Circular, a regular newsletter that includes annual questionnaires to discover how happy parents are with their children’s education.

“We work as a community and the partnership between all schools in Rawmarsh is really strong”, added the Head. “We want to keep on developing and for pupils, staff, governors and parents to be proud of their school. We’re building for everyone’s future here”.