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Barbara Panvel visits a Solhull school that was once threatened with closure - but which is now attracting pupils who might have gone private.

St James is a well-maintained, splendidly equipped school just off the Stratford Road, Shirley, which welcomes and includes children from all faiths.

Formerly a schoolwith over 200 pupils, Solihull Council's decision to close it just before Christmas 2006 discouraged people from entering their children for the autumn term.

However, due to strong local backing, the good standard of the school and the very high numbers who wrote in its support, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator decided that it should remain open for the foreseeable future.

Public schools get good results because the small classes enable teachers to give close attention to each student and some parents from the independent sector are now enquiring about places at St James School, because they realise that they can get as good or even higher quality of education there,with classes of 15, without paying fees.

The last Ofsted report noted that the school offered particularly good pastoral care and support andpraised the quality of relationships with teachers, the lack of bullying and the concern for the individual, noting the benefit from close personal attention and ready access to a wide range of resources.

As a former teacher and supporter of small schools and class-sizes I wantedtosee the schoolfor myself and found a colourful environment with calm, orderly but interested pupils.

There is a special educational needs room with a visiting teacher, rooms for art, music, drama and a library. Each classroom has its own laptop with broadband access and a marvellous interactive whiteboard. The children play an active part in addressing behaviour problems in a School Council.

In addition to following the national curriculum, award-winning writers visit or are visited, a seven-a side football team plays in a local league, there is cycling proficiency training, the school takes part in the Borough Sports events - its own sports fête being designed well with rotating events which means that children no longer have to sit still for hours as spectators.

Community activities include regular fund-raising for charity, their latest contribution being to the Acorns Hospice. A link with Belarus has been formed and arrangements are made for children from that area to visit Shirley each year.

Parents and children who need a junior school place should see St James for themselves - words don't do it justice.

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