We recently published a survey which indicated that 35% of school leaders felt their school buildings were not fit for purpose and over half want to make repairs or improvements. It is clear that many headteachers have to struggle with inadequate school facilities. However, difficult circumstances can sometimes give rise to miraculous recoveries.
I heard one extreme school building story when I visited St Paul’s Church of England Primary School in Brentford and met with headteacher John Wright. In August 2013, St Paul’s suffered a devastating fire and 80% of its beautiful Victorian building was completed destroyed.
Mr Wright explained that he had just joined the school as headteacher that summer and was preparing for the beginning of his first year when the fire struck. He and his leadership team worked around the clock to get temporary classrooms built and make arrangements for parents to pick up and drop off children in the local park across the road.
A ‘school club’ was set up to provide trips and activities for some children while the temporary facilities were prepared. Incredibly the school reopened less than a month from the fire. Since then, it has been fully restored, with the remains of the Victorian structure still visible, and it was rededicated on 25 September 2014.
Mr Wright attributed the remarkable endurance and recovery of the school to his strong and united staff team and to support from governors, parents and the local community.
I was struck by the incredibly upbeat atmosphere at the school and the positive relationships between headteacher, staff and pupils. This is facilitated by excellent communication, evidenced by the school’s innovative website which is updated every few days with details of the activities and events the children are involved in.
Perhaps challenging circumstances can bring a school closer together.
Members of The Key for School Leaders can read more about school buildings in the premises and facilities section of our website.