Alfred Salter Primary School and Me - A Journey

Alfred Salter Primary School is located in Rotherhithe, Southwark in South-East London. OSFTED sum us up as follows:

'Alfred Salter is a large school with a broad mix of pupils. About half the pupils are White British. The school serves a socially and economically diverse community in Rotherhithe. The proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals is above average. The percentages of pupils from minority ethnic communities and with English as an additional language are also higher than average. Although there are fewer pupils with learning difficulties and/or disabilities than found in most schools, the proportion with a statement of special educational needs is very high. These pupils have a wide range of often severe difficulties, including physical disabilities. Many have speech and communication difficulties.'

I regard myself as very privileged to be the Deputy and sometimes Acting Headteacher of such an inspirational school. Having worked in many primary schools, in both rural and inner city locales I can still recall my first day at Alfred Salter Primary School with great clarity. I had not long moved to London, I was working as a professional actor and presenter and as a supply teacher in between acting jobs.

One bright sunny morning in July 2000, my phone rang and I was offered a full day supply cover at Alfred Salter Primary School (at Canada Water on the newly opened Jubilee Underground Line). Leaving my home in Cricklewood I made my way down to the brave new world of Canada Water. Upon leaving Canada Water Tube Station, my dreadful orientation skills meant that I actually walked past the school several times before realising that the beautiful and shiny building that I had assumed to be a modern office building or ICT centre was in fact, Alfred Salter Primary School.

On entering the gates I was immediately struck by the school setting, open spaces, well maintained gardens and a sympathetic build working with, rather than against the environment.

On entering the main foyer my breath was well and truly taken, here was the brightest, airiest and most aesthetically pleasing school entrance I had ever seen. I signed in and took myself to the Year 3 class I was to be covering, the building revealing new surprises all the time, such as a striking \'wavy wall\' acting as the spine of the school, designed to reflect the Thames river bed; the roof of the school was high and airy and from the ceiling were suspended colourful banners.

Throughout the school there was a wonderful sense of warmth and calm, seemingly partly generated by the very fabric of the building itself, but also generated by the sea of smiling and welcoming faces dressed in a smart red uniform who greeted me by my first name (strange to start with but had no bearing on my ability to run a classroom and teach-and completely negated that annoying fascination school kids have with your first name) and made me feel like I belonged immediately.

On entering the Year 3 class I checked through the planning for the day and then waited for the class to assemble for the register. It was then that a feature of Alfred Salter Primary School was first brought home to me, for within the class there were three children in wheelchairs and one child who was hearing impaired. The children were accompanied by a variety of adults, all expectantly waiting for me to start teaching. As I explored the school at playtime I was struck by the number of pupils helping other pupils with, in some cases, severe and complex special needs. Never before had I seen so many children with special needs (SEND) in a mainstream school setting.

What I now know is that Alfred Salter Primary School was opened in 1995 as a mainstream school to serve the newly developing Dockland Community; the school also featured a hearing impaired unit. The school had served the hearing impaired pupils so well that it had begun to serve as a magnet for other pupils with a range of SEND, resulting in a school that was highly inclusive and accepting of difference. As a teacher who had (shamefully) no training around SEND at University I felt frightened, guilty for being ignorant about SEND and inadequate at times, but seeing how the pupils flourished in a nurturing, inclusive environment and the positive effect this had on the other pupils soon convinced me of the huge benefits of a fully inclusive school.

I soon found myself working at Alfred Salter on a more regular basis and in 2002 I was offered a full time job. I was hesitant at first, acting had been my dream for so long and I was finally getting somewhere, but I had bills to pay and I loved the school and its ethos, and so I agreed to sign on as a full time Year 6 class-teacher. Time passed, I became Head of Key Stage 2 (Juniors), Literacy Co-ordinator and then in 2005 Assistant Headteacher, which in turn became Deputy Headteacher. For the past four years I have also worked as Acting Headteacher and passed my Headteacher Qualiifcation the NPQH. I also did a two day a week secondment as a literacy consultant in Southwark, meeting and supporting many other teachers in their own schools.

Over the years Alfred Salter Primary School\'s reputation as a centre for excellence for inclusive practice has spread far and wide. We now have more pupils with complex special and physical needs than ever, all of them I am proud to say included within mainstream classrooms. We have around 441 pupils and have the largest number of statements for complex SEND in the Borough of Southwark. At times it can be challenging and when dealing with children who are suffering or terminally ill emotionally exhausting- but giving these pupils the best chance in life they can is vital to us all.

Not a day goes by when I don\'t see an able child supporting a less able child, not a day goes by when I don\'t see a child with complex needs beaming as they are included in an activity or game that some people might say they are not supposed to be able to do. Not a day goes by when I don\'t see one of our many committed staff thinking out of the box to find ways of ensuring all pupils are included and celebrated.

It is this ethos of inclusivity and celebration of difference, fostered by my Headteacher Stuart Hayter and our Inclusion Manger Anna Taylor and a team of very caring and talented people, that for me makes Alfred Salter Primary School the most amazing and rewarding place that I have ever worked. At Alfred Salter I have encountered acceptance, high aspiration, kindness and celebration of difference on a community wide level and I feel that this has been recognised by many of the staff, pupils, inspectors, local authority representatives, governors, trainee teachers, students and parents that it has been my privilege to meet and work with over the years. The ethos of the school and the culture of respect also gave me the best possible grounding for tackling issues of homophobic bullying and gender stereotyping.

At Alfred Salter we foster respect and celebrate the individual; I regard myself as privileged to work in such a unique school and as you can probably tell, I am very proud of our staff, pupils, governors and parents.

If you would like to know more about Alfred Salter Primary School please visit our school website

If you would like to know who Alfred Salter was please visit The Spartacus Educational website.