Shyam Bhatia in London
A UK school where the overwhelming majority of children are of Indian origin has been acclaimed as the country’s best.
Punjabi head teacher Rekha Bhakoo, whose parents migrated to Britain from Kenya, admitted that the Indian ethnic background of many of her students “has an advantage”, but adds “that is not the only thing.”
In an exclusive interview, she told The Tribune, “Many other schools have a high proportion of Asian (Indian) children, but they don’t achieve what our children do. I tell parents to go with the flow of the child, so they enjoy the learning process.”
“Parental support is really crucial and our parents want the best for their children. But Asian parents sometimes push them too quickly, too fast,” says Rekha.
The popular Rekha Bhakoo, who takes every problem in her stride, is in charge of Newton Farm School in Harrow, North West London, rated by UK Government agencies as outstanding in every category.
This is the junior school where more than 95 per cent of final-year students achieved a Level 5 in maths, English and science, one grade higher than the standard expected of their 11-year-average age group.
Amazingly, the success rate was achieved even though English is not the first language for the mostly Tamil and Gujarati-origin children in the 266-strong student body. They are taught by 15 full-time staff, supported by 17 full-time teaching assistants.
“For 69 per cent students, English is not the first language,” Rekha said. “It is amazing, but I never stop to think that it’s a barrier. Speaking another language is an enabler. The brain has to work much harder, much quicker.”
Explaining the grading system at her nursery, infant and junior school, she explained that all children by the age of 11 are expected to achieve Level 4, which is sub-divided into A, B and C grades.
“Level 5 is above the national average. If they achieve Level 5, they are functioning at the secondary school stage. Level 5 is also sub-divided into A, B and C categories.
“Ninety-seven per cent of our children achieved 5As and Bs. Only one child got 4A.”
Bhakoo, a graduate of Bath University, has been head teacher at Newton Farm for 20 years. Next year, she will take on additional responsibilities as executive head of the UK’s first Hindu school — the Krishna Avanti School — also located in Harrow.
Elaborating on Newton Farm’s success, she said that her current school’s foundations are “rock solid.” She also praised the daily behaviour of her pupils, saying, "Their behaviour is exemplary - we don't have detention or anything like that at our school. The children know their rights and their responsibilities. They know they have a right to an education, but they also have a responsibility to engage with their education.”
Bhakoo, who added that her school "oozes with learning", said "I believe our success is down to the rigour with which we look after our children.