Marylebone primary school named best in the country

Headteacher’s delight at national award after turning around failing school

When Evelyn Chua took over as headteacher of Hampden Gurney Primary School in 1997 results were poor, attendance was low and the school was on the verge of failing.

“I thought I could make a difference,” she said. “There were obvious problems that could be resolved. Someone needed to take a bold step to change the poor quality of the teaching and the attitude of the parents.”

After more than a decade of hard work, during which the school has received two “outstanding” Ofsted reports, Ms Chua’s efforts have paid off with the Marylebone school named State Primary School of the Year by the Sunday Times newspaper.

The headteacher says she wants the award to inspire struggling schools.

“I was very surprised to hear that we had won,” she said. “The awards reward consistency and performance, so they are not just interested in schools having one year of good results.

“We want all our pupils to go on to the best secondary schools and we want to be the model school for others that are seeking inspiration.

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“It can’t be done overnight, but you have to be strong in your vision and don’t let that vision go.”

While there are now 200 applications for every 30 places, Ms Chua, who started teaching music at the school, remembers when numbers were so low reception class had seven pupils.

“The school was on the verge of failing and attendance was the worst in Westminster,” she said.

“The first year I had to set a vision for the staff and governors that we could achieve if we put our minds together.

“The next thing was to work with the teachers to drive the students forward.

“Then I had to tackle the parents and attendance. I wouldn’t stand down until they realised that they had to adhere to the school policy.

“My final problem was pupil behaviour which was so bad that learning could not take place.”

Cllr Nickie Aiken, Cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The school is a true example of what is possible when a strong central vision manages to break down social barriers and unlock the full potential of each child.”