STEP into Great Bardfield Primary’s school hall, and you may be surprised to be greeted by a giant dragon.

That’s Blaze, lovingly created out of willow and paper by older pupils at the Braintree Road school and inspired by Cressida Cowell’s book, How To Train Your Dragon.

It is all part of headteacher Alison Kerrell’s attempts to inspire a love of reading, boosted by a new library and book corners in every classroom.

Since taking over in September 2014 after spells at Felsted and Great Leighs, Mrs Kerrell has strived to show that small village schools can offer an experience as good as larger town ones.

She was disappointed by figures published last month, which showed the school narrowly missing the Government’s Key Stage Two targets for reading, writing and maths.

Mrs Kerrell said: “The nature of our school is that it’s small and, because of that, data can be misleading.

“The biggest cohort we have had is 20 children in Year Six. If you compare that to Lyons Hall or other schools in Braintree, where there are 90-odd children in Year 6, it’s not a level playing field.

“If some have special needs or social and emotional needs, these have a massive impact on figures because of our size.

“But we work very hard with all of our children to help them make the most progress. That is the key.”

Introducing football, dance, netball and gymnastics sessions before school, along with sports, crafts, art and drama after class, has led to happier pupils with better focus.

The free sessions have even encouraged working parents from out of catchment to choose Great Bardfield, which is rated as good by Ofsted.

Mrs Kerrell said: “I asked the pupils what they wanted to see and without exception they said sport.

“Reading, writing and maths are key, but we find sports clubs and music make them want to work more and transfer their skills.”

She added: “The clubs have made a huge impact.

“Children are showing enthusiasm, they are ready to learn, behaviour has changed and children are feeling more fulfilled.”

Outside, Mrs Kerrell’s ideas for the school’s future are set to take shape in the form of a new wildlife garden, complete with a pond and plenty of plants and creatures to explore.

She said: “Science is the next step for us to develop.

“We’ve got a wildlife area outside and we are working hard with our PTA to do some fundraising for it.”

She said: “The most important thing we do is prepare them for the next step in their life. We want them to be happy and focused and have a good learning behaviour.

“We strive to be as good as, if not better than, big schools. Just because we are small, doesn’t mean we don’t want the best for the children.

“They come first.”