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Copenhagen Primary School: From Ofsted disaster to thriving at heart of community

PUBLISHED: 15:32 19 May 2016 | UPDATED: 15:51 19 May 2016

Copenhagen Primary School pupils, parents and teachers celebrate their FAST graduation. Picture: Ken Mears

Copenhagen Primary School pupils, parents and teachers celebrate their FAST graduation. Picture: Ken Mears

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Three years ago, Islington’s Copenhagen Primary School received an Ofsted report that one councillor said was ‘one of the most distressing I have ever read’. Now, as James Morris finds, it is starting to flourish again – and parents are at the centre of its strategy for success.

Copenhagen Primary School's FAST pilot aimed at parental engagement in their child's education. Picture: Ken Mears Copenhagen Primary School's FAST pilot aimed at parental engagement in their child's education. Picture: Ken Mears

It takes some doing to get a child excited for school.

It takes even more for a child to be excited about staying in school for another two hours after the bell.

Copenhagen Primary, in Treaty Street, Islington, has achieved exactly this.

For the past two months, it has run a programme called FAST: Families and Schools Together.

It is an after-school club with a difference, as teachers sit back and watch parents take the lead in activity sessions.

Every one begins with each family creating their own flag. They then play charades, before parents go away for one-on-one group talks as their children play.

All the while, one nominated parent is tasked with cooking a meal for the whole group, with the school providing £25 for ingredients.

Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus was a surprise visitor at Copenhagen Primary School's FAST graduation on Thursday. Sinclair O'Donnell-Allen, four, Zain O'Donnell-Allen, three, and Kayley O'Donnell-Allen, six, enjoy his company. Picture: Ken Mears Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus was a surprise visitor at Copenhagen Primary School's FAST graduation on Thursday. Sinclair O'Donnell-Allen, four, Zain O'Donnell-Allen, three, and Kayley O'Donnell-Allen, six, enjoy his company. Picture: Ken Mears

The reason for all this? To create positivity.

The pilot ended on Thursday with a graduation ceremony after its eighth session on Thursday. It was more than enough time to have made an impact.

Deputy headteacher Eleanor Clarke, who led the scheme, explains: “One dad was badgered by his children to finish work early so he could join in the sessions – they enjoyed it that much.”

It’s a far cry from 2013 at Copenhagen.

An Ofsted report was so damning that the school was put into special measures and the entire board of governors stepped down.

The report told of “weak teaching” and “racist and homophopic” bullying among pupils.

The most recent report, published in March last year, pointed to huge improvements as the school was rated “good” in all but one category. In 2013, it had been “inadequate” in every category.

Copenhagen Primary School pupils play while their parents take part in a group discussion session. Picture: Ken Mears Copenhagen Primary School pupils play while their parents take part in a group discussion session. Picture: Ken Mears

The FAST scheme, funded by Save the Children, is symbolic of the school’s progress.

As excitable pupils play in a sandpit while parents sit in the group talk session, Ms Clarke, who joined the school in October, observes: “The biggest difference I have seen is people talking more to each other. There’s more positivity.

“I see better interaction by the parents with the children, and the children really appreciate it.

“I think these sessions have actually been quite special for a few of the families.

“Some might have four children and have to deal with them all at once. But this gives them some special one-on-one time with an individual child.”

After the graduation, which features a special visit by Arsenal’s Gunnersaurus mascot (pictured, left), Ms Clarke hopes to bring back FAST in the future.

“Every session, we have had an average of seven or eight families. That’s not a lot, but it’s a start.

Asia Tarout, 36,with her children Ishmael, Zara and Zeyna at Copenhagen Primary School's FAST project. Picture: Ken Mears Asia Tarout, 36,with her children Ishmael, Zara and Zeyna at Copenhagen Primary School's FAST project. Picture: Ken Mears

“In some parts, this is potentially a deprived area and we want to support families as much as possible. If we can offer a little bit of positive input, that’s a good thing.”

Asia Tarout, 36, who is at the event with children Ishmael, Zara and Zeyna, says she is amazed at how much they enjoyed FAST.

She also hopes it returns: “It would have been nice if more parents had come to these pilot sessions, but maybe next time the turnout will be better as everyone really enjoyed this.

“I think it’s really good for parents to learn about each other. I used to worry if my kids were behind in class, but speaking to the other mums and dads, I realised we are all in the same boat.

“Previously, we would just say hello and nothing more. Now we are talking.”

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