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Focus on: Lowbrook Academy

This highly sought-after school ranks second in the country’s primary league tables, but Lowbrook Academy has had its work cut out. Grace Witherden reports.

Ranked second in the country in the primary school league tables, and with 332 pupils, Lowbrook Academy is one of the most oversubscribed schools in the Royal Borough.

But in 2004, when executive principal David Rooney (below, with head of school Bianca Iasi) joined, it was a very different story.

Back then the school in The Fairway, known as Lowbrook Primary School, had 97 pupils and an intake of just three into reception.

Mr Rooney, who is originally from New Zealand, said: “The school was close to closure and I was given a year to turn things around. The success paid off early on and we managed to avoid closure and after a few years we went back to a one-form entry.”

The school buildings were also in a state when Mr Rooney arrived, with cardboard being taped to ceiling tiles and holes in the floor of the school hall.

“I spent two years coming in with parents on the weekend to paint and decorate the place,” he added.

In the years that followed the school was rated good by Ofsted and then outstanding in 2008, with an interim inspection following in 2011 after the school converted to an academy trust.

When the school was built in 1978 all the classrooms were open plan and there were no walls separating them. Now there are 11, including a sports pavilion, a library and a staff room, which are all currently being used as classrooms to meet the increased demand.

In April last year, the Advertiser reported some parents in Cox Green were left disappointed when their children did not get into the school, after 28 of the 30 places went to children with siblings already attending.

Urgent discussions took place between the school and the council, and afterwards, to meet the need, the Royal Borough agreed to a £1.6m expansion project, which would allow the school to permanently become a two-form entry school – a decision which was welcomed by the Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mr Rooney said: “No one lost out and we avoided what would have been a disaster.

“It’s upsetting for parents if there isn’t enough space.

“We’ve since changed our admissions policy to be more in line with the borough’s, so it will be catchment and then siblings.”

The school is now at pre-application stage for a new two-storey building which would give it four new classrooms and a new hall.

A new classroom at the front of the school by the car park is set to be finished by Easter which will cover the school’s intake in September, and when the work is complete Lowbrook should hold 420 children.

When asked about academy schools receiving local authority funding, Mr Rooney said: “At the end of the day those are public buildings for children in the local authority.

“The local authority’s job is to provide school places, and with the expansion we will be able to meet the needs of the catchment.”

However being an academy does give the school more control and flexibility over what is taught there.

Lowbrook prides itself on being research-led, and there are no set lesson times or school bells.

“We don’t have set lesson time, if the children are really engaged it means the teacher can keep going, or they can stop the lesson. We’ve been doing it for the last 10 years,” Mr Rooney explained.

Children are also encouraged to run one mile a day around a track which was opened in

October last year, inspired by a primary school in Stirling, which encouraged its pupils to do a ‘Daily Mile’.

It appears the hard work has paid off. In December the school was ranked the second highest performing state primary school in the country and highest in the Royal Borough for maths.

Mr Rooney praised his hardworking staff and students for the success and for ‘10 years of high achieving’.

Bianca Iasi, head of school added: "Myself and all the team here at Lowbrook are extremely proud to be part of a school that has consistently remained within the tier of high performing schools nationally for over ten years and that is now recognised as the top performing academy in the country. "Nevertheless, we are always looking to improve our school environment to allow our pupils to thrive and achieve their best; we remain committed in continuing to develop our innovative curriculum and our encourage our pupils to have high expectations.”

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