Before its closure, pupils at Howard Middle School spent a day planting trees.
They are the children’s lasting legacy but the root of the school’s success has been in its mission to provide the best education for those on the Howard and Mildenhall Road estates.
It is apt that the community minded school’s motto - chosen by the children - is ‘learning today, learning tomorrow’.
Indeed, it has broadened their opportunities and experiences to leave them well prepared for the future.
From music and theatre presentations to trips to historic sites, outdoor activity days as well as a wide range of lunchtime and after-school clubs - the school has sown a rich tapestry of learning.
Pupils made above national target progress every year and the school was proud of its ‘consistently improving’ SATs results and of the ‘huge improvement’ in writing skills across all age groups.
Head Greg Sadler said: “The dramatic shift in academic standards has been testament to the hard work of the staff, who have worked tirelessly with the pupils, in ensuring that progress has been at the centre of everything we do.
“Our intervention programme, KS2 faculty and subject specialists across the school have enabled our pupils to experience real success in the classroom. We are extremely proud this.”
When it opened in 1972, as education in Bury moved to the three-tier system, the school was a welcome addition to the Howard and Mildenhall Road communities - many of whom had moved from London.
Residents, staff and pupils were left distraught though in November 1984 when the school was almost totally destroyed by fire.
With no firebreaks in the roof space, just the reception area, music room and hall survived and the school’s lectern still bears a scorch mark on the side.
The pupils and staff were temporarily split between other Bury schools and the local community had to fight long and hard to get the school rebuilt. It finally reopened in 1986.
Since that time, Howard Middle remained a lynchpin of the community, working with many local groups over the years.
The Over-60s club visited for bingo, afternoon tea, dances and Art of Play (comparing past childhood games with those of today).
Most significantly, the school hosted the St Edmundsbury Male Voice Choir for the best part of the last 30 years.
A successful gardening club, run by David Morris and Jane Harding, had seen the school win a Bury in Bloom gold medal for the last two years.
Howard Middle’s first headteacher was Norman Henley, who was followed by Brian Raistrick, head at the time of the fire, Julie Bautel, Fiona Bromley and Colin Sinclair.
Mr Sadler joined in 2012 with a view to seeing the school through to closure.
He said: “The experience of having already closed a middle school in Newmarket made me well aware of the challenges that lay ahead in closing Howard.
“Many staff have left over the past four years, in order to secure permanent employment elsewhere, but the team that has remained in place has been committed to the very end.
“They have gone about their business quietly and professionally, and I admire their dedication. As a school we have preferred to stay out of the headlines and focus on our core business of ensuring that we give the pupils in our care the best opportunities that we can.”
Of the 39 staff, of which 23 are teachers, three have already found posts in education for September, five are taking retirement and 31 have decided to take redundancy - either to move on to something entirely different, or to look for a teaching job later on.
As the move to two tier education loomed, Howard Middle fought hard to stay open, supported by many in the local community.
However, the attitude of staff was that this was not a time for regrets but for celebrating past achievements and looking forward.
Howard Middle decided to treat all the children in the school as ‘leavers’, so activities that were normally only open to year 8s or year 7s were opened up to all.
Leavers’ hoodies, the school trip to the Ardeche in France, and the all night camp-out have all been enlarged to encompass the whole school, and a whole school yearbook was prepared so that every child leaves with a souvenir.
But the greatest souvenir is the school’s impact on children.
As one pupil says: “Things will change, but I will always have the memories this school has given me. I will never forget this school, or the people in it.”
Praise from pupils:
Ethan: Howard Middle school has made me blossom into a better person
Liam: Things will change, but I will always have the memories this school has given me. I will never forget this school, or the people in it.
Tegan: Over the years I have learnt so many skills that will help me throughout the future.
Wiktoria: Throughout my time here at this school - the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met - it’s been truly wonderful.
Ivy: Howard Middle School has made a big impact on my life and I am glad and proud that I came to this school.
Kieron: I want to say a thank you to all the teachers and all my friends throughout Howard Middle School.
Matt: This school has changed me, for the better.
Hannah: With the help of all the teachers, I’ve become more confident than I ever used to be.
Katelyn: I will miss the teachers who have helped me overcome my fear of speaking in class.
Josh: Good lessons and really nice teachers.
Longest serving staff:
The school’s longest serving member was actually not a teacher, but a governor.
Joan d’Albertanson started as a supply teacher at Howard Middle in 1978 and joined the staff a year later. When she started, the school had 600 pupils - it closed with 217 pupils.
She has vivid memories of the fire and its aftermath.
Joan retired in 1994 but then became a school governor and she is still actively involved in school life at the age of 87.
Joan said: “This has always been a very happy school.
“The kids love coming to school and I have always felt at home here.
“It has a lovely atmosphere and it is such a shame that it is closing.”
Thanks from the chair of governors:
Sue George, Chair of Governors, said that the governors would like to thank all of the staff (including the cleaners, midday supervisors, kitchen staff and groundsman) for their hard work over the years in making Howard Middle a happy and safe place for the pupils.
She said: “I will miss the school dreadfully, as I have been involved as a parent and governor for the best part of 20 years. I have enjoyed wonderful concerts, trips and lunches, and I am sad that such a lovely community is to be disbanded.”