School ‘thriving not surviving’ at 50!

Samuel Rhodes pupils and staff celebrate milestone with party

Friday, 1st July — By Anna Lamche

Samuel Rhodes IMG_6472

KS1 pupil Norr with Olivia Bell, who works with Years 5 & 6

PUPILS and staff at a renowned special educational needs school came together to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

Different year groups from Samuel Rhodes School, with buildings in Highbury New Park and Finsbury Park, held a party to mark the milestone on Friday.

Deputy mayor Councillor Gary Heather also joined the fun, along with the pearly king of Peckham and the pearly princess of King’s Cross.

KS3 teaching assistant ­Ria with KS3 student Zara

Headteacher Cerys Normanton said: “Our job is to make sure our children don’t fulfil some of the statistics of young adults with special needs, where they are at risk of isolation, at risk of low employment and mental health difficulties.

“Our purpose is to support them to avoid that: we’re about careers, life skills, and social competencies.”

Martin and Carley-Jane: ‘Staff are making such a great day!’

She added: “It’s thrilling to come together and celebrate – this is the first time we’ve come together since Covid.

“Our community had a really, really difficult time over Covid. It was very challenging to hold everybody together, but we did it.

Paul and Shanice who work with Year 3 & 4 pupils

“It’s just so lovely to be able to pull everybody together and celebrate. It’s a very nurturing and loving place to be. We’re thriving, not surviving.”

Geoff Howitt, who served as the school’s first headteacher between 1972 and 1993, also joined Friday’s celebrations, returning for the first time since he left.

Gary Heather and Cerys Normanton hook a duck

The school was once based at a much smaller building in Dowrey Street near Angel. Set up by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) in 1971, it was established to create a more “relaxed” learning environment for those with special educational needs.

Mr Howitt said: “It was a great and happy and friendly school right from the beginning.”

Ray-Ray

The school was highly valued by the parents who sent their children there, Mr Howitt said, and ran a successful “Save Our Special Schools” campaign when it seemed possible that special needs schools could be integrated into larger comprehensives in the early 1980s.

Former pupil Carol with her daughter Rebecca

“The kids loved the fact that they were not being compared to other children, they were much more relaxed. We had all sorts of schemes to measure their progress without having to measure them against other kids,” he said.

Geoff Howitt, the school’s first head, was among the guests

In the 20 years he was headteacher, Mr Howitt said he watched the area change an “enormous amount”. In the early 1970s “it was a fairly poor area, but by the time it was established it had changed so rapidly”.

“One of our neighbours was Tony Blair. Suddenly that part of Islington was very fashionable,” he said.

KS3 student Eddie with assistant headteacher Chelsea Day-Bourne at the school birthday bash

The school moved to a new site in Highbury New Park just under a decade ago. “The new Samuel Rhodes School is like going into a palace,” Mr Howitt said.

“But the building is not the be-all and end-all of a school: what matters is the teachers’ enthusiasm and respect for the kids.”

Mr Howitt, who got to know the new teachers at the celebration, said he was happy to see the ethos of the school lives on, adding: “The staff have just the same enthusiasm and respect that we had 50 years ago.”

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