The Good Schools Guide Review of Bolton School Boys' Division Junior School, Bolton, BL1 4RD
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Since September 2008, Mr Stephen Whittaker (fortyish), BEd from Chester College, part of Liverpool University, and an NPQH. Taught at St James' CE school in Lower Darwin for six years before becoming deputy head of St John's CE/Methodist Primary School in Brinscall, then head of St Peter's CE Primary, Chorley. Came to view job and school for a fresh challenge and something different - knew immediately from the welcome and life in the place that this was the school for him. Big fan of the 'tweak to transform' concept - taking something that's already good and making small changes to keep on improving it.
Married to an infant teacher, with two children settled in other schools. A vicar's son, he leads Leyland Methodist Church's music and drama group, co-writing and producing an annual musical involving over 80 youngsters in his spare time. Into music, he's a drummer in a band and has delighted boys, junior and senior, by enhancing school performances with his backing.
Assessment by English, maths, VR and non-VR exams and interviews with head and deputy, looking at academic ability and extracurricular passions. Only slightly over-subscribed so bright applicants should bag a place; feedback given. Children from infants have rite of passage into juniors - they've already entered after assessment.
Junior boys have to sit same entry for seniors as outsiders but almost all pass, and in fact they tend to sit in the top quarter of the overall intake's ability. One or two to MGS instead and a few to state secondary schools.
Busy, bright boys bound along at speed here in super setting with great atmosphere. Two classes of 25 boys in each year in a spacious, three-storey, whitewashed building known as Park Road, newly extended and refurbished in a £1.5m project. It's just down the road from the senior schools and next to the infants' division in its own new, state-of-the-art Beech House.
Lessons are pacey, with specialist teachers and bespoke classrooms from the off; in some areas their work's a year ahead of other schools. All pupils soon to be given an iPad. No shortage of fun, though - during our visit one class was knee deep in a muddy flower bed planting bulbs, having learnt about sowing and reaping during harvest festival. Beyond them a full-size games pitch lies beside an adventure playground with a climbing wall. Head meets every class for a weekly session in the library, 'I'm a great believer in sharing stories'. A reading award scheme encourages even the reluctant to get reading for bronze to platinum-plus awards. Stick insects galore in the science lab, 'and sometimes out of it - just look at this spider plant, or what was this spider plant,' laughs head from the corridor. ICT lab, an exciting DT room buzzing with busyness, fabulous landscape paintings adorn the entrance hall and outside the music department (three practice rooms as well as two classrooms) lots of violins stand to attention in home-made racks. Older boys also stand to attention when head enters room, in preparation for senior school manners. A SENCo helps with minor learning difficulties.
Four houses mean boys can earn house merits, and dreaded demerits, where you lose 10 points just like that - after three demerits it's a report card, 'for bad behaviour, for, you know, whacking someone with a recorder or something'. Not much time for that sort of thing, though, with lunchtime and after-school clubs from jujitsu to brain games and play reading. Two representatives from each class take boys' ideas from the listening boxes to school council - a cookery club is starting as a result of this. The refurbished dining room is furnished with the same traditional refectory tables and benches as in senior school - 'Ah, no, we couldn't lose the benches' - and a further main hall for assemblies, concerts and indoor PE. Juniors share some senior facilities, most notably the swimming pool.