TWO milestones lie ahead in the life of St Benedict’s Catholic Primary School at Ampleforth – the retirement of long-serving headteacher Shan Gallagher and its golden jubilee next May.

The happy, friendly atmosphere of St Benedict’s has led to an increase in numbers to 108, with children often travelling from as far as Easingwold, Kirkbymoorside and Hawnby to take advantage of its reputation as a school where high educational standards run alongside its caring and family ethos.

And now Ofsted has confirmed what they already knew. Inspectors were so impressed at the last visit three years ago that the school and governors have been told Ofsted will inspect every five years instead of the usual three.

“We are delighted by the news,” said Mr Gallagher.

St Benedict’s enjoys its close links with parents and added: “We help children to be independent – it’s a school full of personalities.”

Mr Gallagher and his staff, backed by enthusiastic governors, have carried out major schemes, especially using the school’s considerable grounds as outdoor learning areas, overlooking the spectacular Howardian Hills.

In addition, imaginative planning by architects has led to the development of a multi-functional area which acts as an amphitheatre where children give performances.

Elsewhere in the grounds, allotment and boxed gardens have been created and wildlife areas set up.

While there is a fun element among many of the school’s activities, the pupils develop knowledge and hands-on skills in geography, the environment and science. They even recently – and successfully – successfully tried their hands at cooking a curry when they were invited to spend a day at the Indian restaurant in Nawton.

They also work closely with the staff of the North York Moors National Park, enabling the youngsters to gain a wide range of historical and geographical knowledge.

It all contributes to what Mr Gallagher describes as “a broader base of learning”.

Debbie Andrew, a Key Stage 1 teacher who has been at the school for eight years, recently helped the children create a sculpture using natural materials.

She said: “St Benedict’s is a very happy school. It’s vibrant and a place where learning is fun and exciting. But it’s a school where everyone looks after each other and that means a great deal.

“We allow the children to flourish and be themselves while at the same time having a sound and broad education.”

But while it enjoys a setting in some of Yorkshire’s most spectacular countryside, St Benedict’s also looks much further afield, to Nigeria where the children have studied a project aimed at preserving rain forests and halting the killing of monkeys.

Nearer to home they are developing an exchange programme with a primary school in inner-city Hull, learning about life there and how it compares with Ampleforth.

“We have a very broad outlook from which we hope society will benefit as a whole when our pupils go out into the world,” said Mr Gallagher.

Now, after a long career in teaching, he is planning his retirement in Beverley where he plans to pursue his hobbies of golfing and walking when he leaves St Benedict’s at the end of the summer term.

“What do you like best about St Benedict’s,” I asked one little boy.

“My G,” he said without hesitation.

Mr Gallagher, smiled embarrassingly. But I couldn’t help but think the lad was speaking for all his 100-plus friends who attend what must be one of the happiest schools in Ryedale.