Opening the doors on the first few weeks at south Manchester’s newest primary school.
Rewind two years and West Didsbury CE Primary was just an idea, potentially a way for the parish of St James & Emmanuel and Didsbury CE Primary to alleviate the huge demand for places at its “outstanding” school. Even 12 months ago, not a single brick had been laid. So walking along Central Road today to find a happy, thriving new school about to celebrate its first Christmas feels like something of a miracle.
In a recent survey, 100% of parents agreed that the school has a happy atmosphere.
West Didsbury CE Primary opened on time in September 2015, welcoming 45 Reception age children across two classes. Those are the facts, but they barely reflect the incredible hard work that has gone into making this new school the success story it already is. While Assistant Head Mrs Large and her staff were helping wide-eyed children (and parents) navigate their very first days in school, West Didsbury CE Primary was effectively a building site, the two classrooms in the only refurbished building remaining on the old Ewing School site dwarfed by construction work that is only now about to be completed.
“The builders have been absolutely amazing – they’ve even made us a Christmas crib,” smiles Mrs Large. “But in these early days what has really struck us is the overwhelming support from parents. They were the ones who had to make the biggest leap of faith. For the vast majority, it was their first child going to school for the first time. So it’s been amazing to see them invest so much into a school that, when they applied, only existed in the imaginations of the team.”
Mrs Large thinks most parents could feel the enthusiasm for a new school that embodies an ethos which Reverend Nick Bundock, Team Rector at St James & Emmanuel, describes as “open and inclusive, welcoming families of all faiths and none”.
“The fundamental values of both schools – Belonging, Believing, Becoming – are rooted in our Christian understanding of the world, but are easily shared among families of very different backgrounds,” he adds.
And Mrs Large has been incredibly encouraged to see that ethos in action at West Didsbury CE Primary School. What struck her immediately was how the amazing diversity of heritages and cultures there quickly came together to form a real sense of community.
“It’s not the new building that’s important, it’s the people,” she confirms. “We’ve felt ‘together’ and settled right from day one, and I feel incredibly fortunate that we seem to have all the right people, from staff and parents right down to the children themselves. They are a genuinely lovely couple of classes who are growing with the school, making valuable friendships – and have a wonderful appetite for learning.”
Some of this, of course, is down to some remarkable Reception teachers who were literally starting from scratch, with blank walls and eager children. “I came from a small village school in the countryside, and West Didsbury CE Primary feels much livelier – even though we only have two classes at the moment,” laughs Miss Rouge. “It’s been really exciting to work in a brand new school, and I have to say the children have settled in so well. It’s really noticeable how well they get along with each other, too. It’s lovely to see.”
It’s not just staff who are impressed with how quickly the school has found its feet. In a recent survey an encouraging 100 per cent of parents agreed that the school has a happy atmosphere and the children are made to feel welcome – and 100 per cent also agreed that the school is well led and managed.
They are a lovely couple of classes who are growing with the school and making valuable friendships.
All of which is music to the ears of Headteacher Mr Whitehead, who splits his time between the two schools. “It was always our intention for West Didsbury CE Primary to offer the same academic, creative and spiritual development as Didsbury CE Primary, and it’s been fantastic to see that in action from the start,” he says. “There’s a wonderfully happy, caring atmosphere at the school, which is a credit to everyone involved, and the close links between the two schools means they have a mutual beneficial relationship. We can’t wait for the rest of the building to be ready, so the school can grow again.”
So with building work complete by the end of December, plans are already in place for the new Reception classes in September 2016, a process that will continue until September 2022, when West Didsbury CE Primary will be a thriving 420-pupil school running from Reception to Year Six.
“And now I don’t have to sell a vision, I can show people it,” says Mrs Large, pointing at some beautiful paintings of the class groups. “Eight months ago, no-one in this building knew that they were going to be here, and now it’s like having a whole new family. West Didsbury CE Primary is truly a fabulous thing to be a part of.”