Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Turning around a Failing School

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Turning around a Failing School

Article excerpt

Being parachuted into a school that's in trouble is never an easy task, but it is a role where, if you get it right, you can help bring about substantive change.

My own experience of this was in 2011, when I was appointed as headteacher at Severn View Primary. It was initially on a short-term basis after working for the National Strategies school improvement and change management programme. The school was in special measures at the time and was suffering difficulties that will be familiar to many principals up and down the country: challenging SATs results, high staff turnover and disappointing Ofsted reports. The school converted to sponsored academy status with Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) in September 2012, when I took over as the full-time headteacher.

Many of the challenges faced at the school were cultural. Dedicated teachers had lost touch with the passion and enthusiasm that drew them into the profession in the first place and, as a result, they were failing to challenge themselves and their pupils.

In circumstances like this, merely reorganising the curriculum and asking teachers to improve their teaching is not enough; it was clear that the problems went much deeper and needed a more wholescale answer.

Together, we developed a programme built upon John Hattie's research on visible learning and Carol Dweck's work on mindsets, and drew on evidence from schools around the world using an "enquiry-based" approach to teaching. We were keen to draw upon children's natural imagination and position them as the directors of their own learning.

First, we had to re-evaluate the teachers' relationship with education: what made them want to be primary school teachers? Why were they still teaching? These were difficult questions. But posing them was essential if we wanted to develop a positive direction of travel for Severn View.

Before you can improve outcomes, you need to improve the input; in this case the input was the teachers themselves. I saw myself as somewhat of a provocateur at this stage, posing questions that challenged the teachers and their attitudes towards education as a whole.

This process occurred alongside our laying of foundations for our own national curriculum-aligned, enquiry-based approach. We presented children with broad topics and asked them to identify what they already knew about it, what it was that intrigued them and what they particularly wanted to learn more about.

As an example, older students learning about the human body wanted to find out how many internal organs you could remove before you died. …

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