There’s a hug and a handshake from virtually every student as the head teacher takes us on a tour of the school.
The Gazette is being shown around The Collett School, which caters for children with specialist needs, by Stephen Hoult-Allen, who’s been in charge since 2012.
Naturally there’s a strong affinity with his school, so he’s keen to invite the Gazette down when the school is mentioned in our front page article last month about school league tables.
The school is one of three in Hemel Hempstead that has seen the progress of pupils labelled as ‘well below average’. according to new guidelines.
But Mr Hoult-Allen is quick to stress that for a school such as his, results are sometimes not as clear cut as they seem.
It caters for 128 pupils aged from four to 17, with 60 staff – 50 of whom are full-time – looking after kids with a wide range of complex needs.
“Ofsted and the government wants to ensure that all kids have at least a good if not outstanding education,” Mr Hoult-Allen tells us. “They have a way which is measuring schools’ attainment.
“But I think it always presents schools as losers and I think that’s a heavy brush to be tarred with when the needs of your kids are so significantly less able than perhaps children of selective schools. You’re not going to get the same outcomes.
“Progress is important, and unfortunately the national curriculums have gone ‘we’re not measuring apples and pears any more, we’re measuring apples and skyscrapers.
“It’s a completely different ballpark. I think such a system of ranking schools on the outcomes of their children is quite archaic.”
Having said all this, it is three years to the day during our visit that the school was last measured by that most traditional of mediums – an Ofsted inspection.
In 2014, the school was rated good, a significant improvement on its 2011 grading. The hope is that it gets ‘Outstanding’ in the next imminent inspection.
Yet what Mr Hoult-Allen hopes more than any measurement of official success, is for his pupils to be happy.
“Happiness is underrated,” he says. “It encompasses so many things such as respectful relationships, a purpose, value and worth in life, and making the best of what you have. I would much rather the kids talked about their school being a happy school than being somewhere where they just have to do work.”
It’s clear walking around it appears to be just that. One pupil shows off his Scooby-Doo slippers, others demonstrate their pancake making prowess. All enthusiastically embrace the staff members.
One of Mr Hoult-Allen’s first tasks upon being name head teacher was to ‘de-institutionalise’ the building. Now it is a place of colour, and there’s sofas to accustom the children to more relaxing circumstances.
And for Mr Hoult-Allen, it’s less about results, and more about preparing his students for the real world outside.
He said: “Our kids won’t make masses of money through academics, but they can have value to the community. It’s very much about giving them life skills and developing a self-belief that you have worth and value.
“Our pupils need that more than anything.”