1. ITV Report

Crays Hill Primary gets top marks from Ofsted.

Children are split into smaller groups to accelerate learning.

Visiting Crays Hill Primary School, I notice that children are getting intensive tuition in small groups.

"You will explain," the head teacher Hayley Dyer asks me anxiously, "that this is not because we don't have enough pupils?"

It's a question that reveals just how burned the school has been by previous media coverage.

The majority of children here are from the travelling community at Dale Farm. Following the high profile eviction of many families living at the site without planning permission two years ago, newspaper reports speculated that the nearby school might have to close, due to a drop in pupil numbers.

Essex County Council assure me this was never the case.

Children at Crays Hill learn to read by phonics

On my visit, the Headteacher explains that the small groups have been devised to cope with varying ability between pupils. Given that some children may miss chunks of schooling due to travelling, while others will attend all year, the school has chosen to split classes up and teach literacy by ability, not age.

It's a method praised by Ofsted who have today rated the school 'Good' in every category, with much of the teaching 'outstanding.'

Staff believe teaching by ability has accelerated students' progress over the past year.

"If you've got a child who only knows the letters S-A-T and you've got a child who can read words like magnificent you cannot teach a lesson effectively.

A child who only reads S-A-T needs to read words like sat. A child who can read the word magnificent needs to be reading a text at their level, for comprehension purposes."

– Kerry Hannaway, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator
The demolition of a section of Dale Farm in October 2011 Credit: PA wire

Crays Hill Primary School remains sensitive about discussing the controversial eviction of families from Dale Farm in 2011. The event attracted worldwide media attention and focused unwanted curiosity on the children and the school.

Hayley Dyer was not working at Crays Hill at the time, and tells me firmly that although the land clearance was 'unsettling' for children, it's now in the past and is no longer a discussion point among staff.

The headteacher seems equally exasperated by reports this December that Crays Hill Primary School was the worst in the country for achievement levels in English and Maths. She directs my attention to the Ofsted report's verdict on the subject.

"National test results at the end of 2012 cannot be compared to the government's floor standards.

This is because fewer than 11 pupils required to make such comparisons took the tests."

– Ofsted, 'School Report: Crays Hill Primary School' 2013
Hayler Dyer is praised by Ofsted for her 'excellent leadership [which] has inspired staff."

While staff are understandably wary of the press, there is no mistaking their enormous commitment to the children, or the positive atmosphere at the school.

The walls are covered in colourful artwork, the children are friendly and even in playtime, there's regard for the rules. The boys take turns on two tricycles without fights, by using an egg timer to negotiate a fair length of time.

One parent I met on the visit, Josephine McCarthy, told me her son Thomas has made more progress here in the past six months than in all his previous years of schooling. Josephine is immensely proud of his achievements, telling me that while they drive along in the car, he now reads the signs out loud to her.

"The days of travelling children not going to school and not being able to read, that's not the future for them. And I'm very pleased with what they've done here."

– Josephine McCarthy, Parent
Children in an advanced literacy 'comprehension' class.

There are signs that attitudes in the wider community may be changing too.

The Primary School is still under-subscribed by about 20 places, but Hayley tells me that more non-traveller children have started applying. It's a change also noticed by eight year old Joseph.

When I started here it was all Irish travellers but now the school is starting to bring in more non travellers into the school. It's a chance for people to make new friends from other cultures.

– Joseph, Pupil at Crays Hill Primary Schol

Our visit draws to an end. Hayley has been unfailingly welcoming to ITV cameraman Richard Knights and me during our visit, even though it's evidently not without some trepidation that she has allowed a film crew into the school for the first time.

Some of the comments made about the school in the past have been hurtful, and although Hayley is very tactful on the subject, it's clear that prejudice against the travelling community upsets her. But she tells me the best way to dispel misconceptions is through openness - with everyone.

"Visitors are warmly welcomed here. You can see for yourself when you come in that children are learning, it's a happy, vibrant place to be and we warmly welcome anybody who's interested in finding out more about us to come and visit."

– Hayley Dyer, Headteacher

There's no denying that Ofsted have just given Crays Hill Primary School a huge vote of confidence. Will the wider community now do the same?