Byline: KATIE DAVIES
DESPITE leaving Wellfield Comprehensive School nearly 10 years ago I still hold a huge amount of loyalty to the place.
Not only did I leave with a handful of good grades but also with the life experience and grounding I needed for my career. Five years at the school made me street-wise and helped me to prepare myself for some of life's challenges.
And so when I heard that Wellfield was one of the schools that Michael Gove had personally attacked - saying that in schools in East Durham you could "sense the smell of defeatism" - I felt a sense of hurt that went beyond political point-scoring.
Those comments, made during a speech in London at the launch of a book on GCSE under-performance, were met with fury in the North East.
Critics said the Education Secretary's words were part of his ideologically-led project which has also seen Mr Gove call for a back-to-basics approach to the school curriculum that are opposed by many teachers and academics.
Others pointed out that Mr Gove had not actually been to any of the schools he singled out for criticism and should have visited them before making such a specific attack.
To see whether or not he was right, The Journal decided to do what the Education Secretary had not, and as a former pupil of one of those schools singled out, I found myself back at Wellfield Community School - now a specialist maths and computing college - for the first time in a decade. On my return I immediately felt at home when I was greeted by staff and pupils in the reception area.
The school, in Wingate, County Durham, is based in a deprived area of the country where the behaviour is sometimes challenging. Government figures show that 40% of pupils at Wellfield are officially classed as "disadvantaged", a relatively high number. Over the years people's perceptions of Wellfield have been poor and in 2007 the school was placed by Ofsted in category 4, or unsatisfactory, for its behaviour and attendance. However during my visit I was quick to learn how things have changed dramatically in recent years.
The children show an awful lot of respect for the staff and are focused on doing well. Part of that change has come from headteacher Linda Rodham who was appointed in 2012, taking over the reins of the school from Jennifer Elliott. She was previously head at Moorside Community College, in Consett, County Durham, which has outstanding results and she is now keen to replicate its success at Wellfield. Since her appointment, staff, students and the wider community recognise the improvements she has made. Last year, 51% of pupils at the school got five or more good GCSEs including English and maths - the main yardstick all schools are judged by. While this is below the national average of 59%, it is a big improvement on 2009 (when only 36% got the grades), and Wellfield is closing the gap on the national average. Government figures also show that 62% make the expected progress in English and 54% in maths. She tells me she is keen to change people's misconceptions of the school and that Wellfield is on its way to becoming a very good school. Mrs Rodham has taken on the role of headteacher during exciting times for the school as it is undergoing a PS7.5m transformation under the Building Schools for the Future programme, with work expected to be finished by June next year. She said: "Wellfield is going to be very shortly a very good school and that's what all the staff and students are working towards at the minute. "We have some very ambitious staff and students here and we are going to make sure that Wellfield and that the community around Wellfield are very proud of the school. "What we want is Wellfield to be a good school for the community. I don't believe that children should have to travel out of the area to go to a good school and Wellfield is near to that at the minute. "We are determined that this school will be outstanding. …