School building reopens after three years

Headteacher Debbie Procter with a pupil at the new Holden School
Headteacher Debbie Procter with a pupil at the new Holden School

A school building which stood empty for three years is welcoming pupils once more.

Children at St Peter’s Infant School, on Firs Lane in Leigh, moved out of the building in 2016 and began lessons at the remodelled junior school on nearby Leigh Street.

Now, the site has become The Holden School, a small independent special school providing full-time education for pupils with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

Acorn Care and Education Ltd, which owns 23 schools around the country, bought the site from Wigan Council.

Headteacher Debbie Procter said: “We have taken the building on as it is. The layout is perfect for what we need. We have come in and renovated is so it’s exactly the same in design, but a very modern building right now.

“We have a real primary school feeling, with a large hall and really brightly-coloured classroom. There’s lots of space for the children.

“We have a capacity size of 48, so we will only need to have six in a classroom and for children with SEMH, that’s how it should be.”

The school opened its doors three weeks ago for children aged five to 11, all of whom have statements of special educational needs.

So far only one pupil has enrolled, but there is still plenty to do at the school.

Mrs Procter said: “As much as we only have one child, we are very, very busy. We follow a model I have had in previous schools where we have staff meetings, an agenda for the day and a curriculum plan for the child so he knows what he is doing. We will focus on literacy and numeracy and enrichment activities.”

There are seven members of staff at the school, including Mrs Procter.

There will also be a therapeutic team, with access to psychologists, school councillors, speech and language therapists and other professionals when needed.

Children are referred to the school via local authorities and while fees range from £38,313 to £71,057 per year, Mrs Procter says this is funded by the authority.

Pupils will have different needs, such as autism, Asperger’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder.

Mrs Procter said: “For us it’s having the right team and removing to barriers to learning, so we have devised a package where every single student can come in, we baseline them and can know which avenue we can take, whether they need a package for them or can follow a standard curriculum.”

The school is focused on supporting the pupils in many different ways.

Mrs Procter said: “Our main ethos is absolutely everyone has something about them and everybody can reach potential, regardless of their backgrounds and age and ability. It’s all-inclusive. We open up the doors and we can work together with individuals and families and agencies to get the best out of children.

“We want the children to be able to develop their literacy and numeracy skills and through their time with us, they become confident learners. We put on a broad and balanced curriculum so there’s a lot going on, but as well as classroom learning, we are big on opportunities for them to get out into the big wide world so there’s a focus of social, moral and cultural development.”

There is also a focus on children’s behaviour, including positive reinforcement and encouraging them to consider how their actions affect others.

The school is keen to build links with the local community, with staff already welcoming visitors and meeting members of St Peter’s Church.

There are plans for the school to grow, with the aim of having 20 pupils by next September and the option of using a nursery block for children with autistic spectrum disorder being considered.

Mrs Procter said: “I think the future is bright and as a team, we are really looking forward to getting more students in and establishing links with the community.”

Ofsted has carried out a pre-registration inspection of the school and concluded it was “likely to meet all the independent school standards when it opens”.

It found school leaders had prepared an appropriate curriculum policy and long-term planning showed it had taken into account the specific and very individual needs”of pupils.