10 years into her headship, Claire Simon of Bury & Whitefield Jewish Primary School (BWJPS), is proving that a small school can be just as mighty.
Claire Simon, who was born and bred in Whitefield, has been working in education for over 40 years. Joining Bury & Whitefield Jewish Primary School (BWJPS) as headteacher in 2010 after teaching mathematics to secondary school pupils of all ages, and assistant head, has been both a learning curve for Claire and a success for the school on Parr Lane.
In particular, 2019 has been a distinguished one with last year’s cohort of Year 6 pupils achieving 80% and above for reading, writing and maths, well above the national average, while the school itself hit the top spot out of 64 schools in the Bury schools primary league tables recently. It’s something that Claire (Mrs Simon to pupils) is especially proud of: “We’re hitting way above the national results and it’s been a steady incline since 2016. Our results were absolutely amazing.”
For the younger ones, a new head of early years has been appointed and Claire has nothing but praise for the new recruit: “We have the most amazing new head of early years. She’s joined us from an Outstanding school in Oldham and she has completely reorganised the whole early years unit.”
Extra-curricular activities are just as important, and Claire has made a concerted effort to make sure there is a wide range of after school clubs to choose from, even running two of them herself: “When I came to the school 10 years ago there were only about three after school clubs. Now we have 15 free ones! We rely on the goodwill of our wonderful teachers to give up their time to do them. We’re very lucky.”
From competing in spelling bees to getting in the recording studio to lay down a few tracks with the school choir, it all requires convenient transportation, and thanks to generous donations and highly successful fundraising efforts, the BWJPS’s new minibus debuted recently. ‘The Learning Journey’ school bus was named via a school competition, and the transportation will prove vital in the coming years – helping pupils engage with the local community. Until now, residents of Heathlands Village had always visited on a yearly basis to the school, but the new bus will mean that greater interactions between the generations of the Jewish community shall continue.
Back in the classroom, money raised from a highly popular yearbook scheme by a governor meant that all classrooms were fitted with interactive touchscreen smartboards, while new iPads were purchased, ensuring every child was guaranteed use of one in lesson time. Maintaining small class sizes is the BWJPS way too, Claire explains, drawing on her own childhood experiences of large classes and feeling “lost in the system”: “The benefit of smaller class sizes is if there’s a problem or a concern, we can sort it straight away. We also have an open-door policy for parents so they can just pop in and see us without having to wait two weeks for an appointment slot. Where else do you get that?”
A Jewish ethos is more than just about finishing early on Fridays too, Claire reveals: “The children learn about their heritage and all the different festivals during schooltime. They read Hebrew and from ages seven and upwards they learn to speak Ivrit, totalling up to five hours of Hebrew a week.”
All this and the pupils still find time for physical education and other vital subjects. Not forgetting The Daily Mile, a national initiative that gets the children out of the classroom and active for 15 minutes every day to run or jog at their own pace, making them fitter and healthier to concentrate better in the classroom.
“Our mantra is ‘reach for the stars’ and we encourage our children to aim for the best!” concludes Claire, so parents and guardians who are keen to find out what makes BWJPS such a special place can visit the school on the 23rd January at the open day to find out more.