A school in Gateshead, Thomas Hepburn Community Academy (THCA), which was judged by Ofsted to have serious weaknesses in November 2016, has implemented a series of changes which already appear to have set it on course for recovery.
Sponsored by Northern Education Trust (NET), one of the largest multi academy trusts in the North of England, THCA had suffered from endemic failure over the years when NET took it over, but with the appointment of Jo Nolan as executive principal in September last year, it is improving steadily.
After a recent monitoring inspection in May, Ofsted recognised the contribution made by Ms Nolan, remarking upon her ‘skilful and determined leadership’, as she managed a major programme of reorganisation.
Immediately after her appointment Ms Nolan undertook a detailed review which highlighted many shortcomings in the school’s performance so she and the interim executive board were not surprised by the inspection findings in November. Since then, they have jointly developed an action plan to tackle the weaknesses and address the areas requiring improvement. Ofsted noted that ‘leaders and managers are taking effective actions towards the removal of the serious weaknesses designation’ in its recent inspection.
Additionally, since January, significant investment has been made in attracting new teaching talent to the school with the appointment of a team of six senior leaders who are rapidly overhauling strategies and implementing much improved systems to improve quality across all areas of the school. As one of 20 NET-sponsored academies, THCA further benefits from the opportunity to augment its leadership capacity via secondments from other schools within the NET portfolio as well as access to specialist subject teachers.
In noting the general improvements to leadership and management, Ofsted reports that teaching staff are being managed ‘robustly’ and ‘staff believe the school is well led and managed’. Pupils, who say they feel safe at the school, comment that the whole school has changed completely since September 2016 because leaders are stricter and have higher expectations of them and for them. Importantly, Ofsted reports that behaviour has improved across the academy, pupils are now calm and more purposeful, they consistently wear the school uniform and punctuality and attendance is improving too.
Commenting on the report, Ms Nolan, said: “I believe that outstanding teaching fosters outstanding learning. We now have some outstanding teachers in post who are helpful, approachable and always positive about their students. The outstanding learning will follow.
“We are committed to embedding a passion for learning in all our students and have high expectations for them. I believe that within three years this academy will have improved across every measure and will be judged a ‘good’ school.
“I am totally dedicated to turning this school around. The support and guidance we continue to get from our sponsor, Northern Education Trust, is absolutely paramount and I could not have made such rapid progress without this level and quality of support.”
A revised curriculum and timetable has been introduced providing a broader and more balanced range of subjects at Key Stage 3 including a dedicated 30 minutes each day to personal, social and health education. The lessons are shorter too which has sharpened the pace of teaching and is improving pupils’concentration.
NET’s chief executive, Ian Kershaw, added: “It is now possible to see a bright future ahead for both students and teaching staff at the academy. The Trust continues to provide considerable financial support and resource to assist the school’s work and will continue to do so until we feel confident that past difficulties are left far behind.
“The journey to outstanding is long and often complex but that journey is now underway. We are on track to make some modest improvements to GCSE outcomes this year and are realistic about the challenges we face, but we are also adamant that the structural changes that have been made, together with the passionate leadership of Jo and her team, will address the legacy of past underachievement.”