One Size Does Not Fit All – A Head speaks out

Be A Head! The tag line from the NCSL and TDA to inspire senior leaders to move up the ladder. I did exactly this, having reached my first headship in 2008 in a lovely village primary in Cambridgeshire at the age of 31. After four years at the school after truly cutting my teeth, I was ready for the next challenge, back to my roots in the inner city – making a real difference. Having taken on the headship of Queensmead Community Primary School, in one of the most deprived inner city estates in Leicester in September 2010 it was with the great hope of making a difference and helping a school that was on the verge of coming out of special measures aspire to better things. A fresh start – a new beginning.
Since the school opened, in a blaze of glory as the first £6.5 Million building under the primary capital build in 2006 as an amalgamation of the former infant and junior schools in 2006 it has had an uncertain and turbulent time. The school was served a notice to improve shortly after opening and placed in special measures in 2008. HMI came and went through the next twelve months and the then head resigned in 2009. The school has received a wealth of life support – from associate heads and education consultancy, school improvement partners to curriculum advisors. The school had a year under an interim head and steered itself out of special measures during this time. I arrived in autumn last year, the third head in five years. Stability and growth were the watch words. TEAM is our ethos – Together, Everyone, Achieving, More.
Sitting in my new office back in August last year, little did I know what a rollercoaster of a year would be ahead. I relished the fact finding, getting to know the staff, the 430 pupils, the parents. I’ve come a long way from that first morning when I walked through the playground and parents ran away! They were not used to a head showing an interest, being visible. We built on this, establishing open events and a parent council through the year. I also thrived on starting the improvement drive – raising expectations, modelling good practice and accepting only the very best! I scared a few on my very first day – “we’re on a journey” I told them, “if you are on board, great, if not, get off at the next stop!”. Some have got off, others have flourished. Leadership at all levels is growing in strength and we have a number of new appointments for September this year. Children are now engaged, behaviour improved and staff smiling once again. Our school is well on course to shine.
What’s the fly in the ointment then? Well in taking on the school last year, I did so under a former administration. What a difference a year makes – welcome to the era of the con-dem-nation – in both literal senses. Queensmead has suffered five years of standards ‘below floor’ at the end of Key Stage 2 – but this single measure alone is not only picture of our school. In 2008 and 2009 our English outcomes were above floor with two levels progress just under the national benchmark, this was repeated in 2010 in Mathematics. Not enough had been done in the past to address poor teaching and learning, but swift and decisive challenge this year is bearing fruition. Our Key Stage 1 outcomes are the best we have ever had and our EYFS outcomes are now just short of national and ahead of the Leicester City local outcomes. Results have improved and I’m proud of what’s already been achieved. Progress.  HMI visited on 30th June to measure our progress, the cynic in me says this is DFE led ahead of an academy meeting, the logic in me says it demonstrated the good progress we are making in some priorities from our last OfSTED, especially leadership and management and the curriculum development.   We are making satisfactory improvement and have the capacity to improve.
So what of this so called stability? We have entered this period and I am here for the long haul – Being A Head in this school is not a short term offer. You fall in love with a school like Queensmead and enjoy every living breathing minute in it. We have the staff in place and the governors continue to support our improvement drive. Our rapid improvement is recognised not only at school level but also parents, staff and the LA. The best ever EYFS and KS1 results were achieved this year!  So why then, Mr Gove, should Queensmead become a Sponsored Academy from 2012? What we need is confidence and support for the work we are doing and the achievements we are making. Further tinkering and change at this time will only serve to cause more disruption and delay progress further.
There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to Academies and whilst there isn’t confirmation as yet that we are part of this list, we accept it’s highly likely we’re under close scrutiny. There are a range of measures which should be looked at when it comes to schools. Queensmead has had a period of turbulence over the past few years and there have been inherent issues to address. But we’ve made a fresh start and are making rapid improvements.  Our next steps are a formal partnership (a soft federation for want of a better word) with an outstanding school from our own locality in a similar context where models of good practice can be replicated and the right support and challenge for leadership at all levels put in place.  My first meeting to arrange this was 31st August…..start off on the right foot and get those wheels set in motion.
Be A Head? Too right – but let me and the team with me (our motto is Together Everyone Achieving More – TEAM) have the chance to take this school forward. I know I am not alone and this article is for all 200 Heads and thousands of children across the UK right now who feel just like me and know that the right leadership and direction for their school is what is needed.
Andy Clarke
Queensmead Community Primary School
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