Turning it around: One school's journey

Written by: HTU | Published:

Applegarth Junior School has made the journey from special measures to an Ofsted grading of good in just six months. Paul Glover explains how and offers his advice to other schools.

It is no surprise that when a school has been in special measures for a significant length of time it can be a challenge to turn it around.

Applegarth Junior School in Croydon, London, had been in special measures for 15 months. However, by being consistent and following through on every measure put in place, the school demonstrated that anything is possible and has now achieved Ofsted “good” status in just six months.

With a “no nonsense” approach, I believe that there is no excuse for a failing school. My experience at Applegarth has led me to believe that dramatic change can take place in any school, with rapid improvement being achieved in a remarkably short time-frame.

The challenge

Applegarth Junior was one of the most challenging schools in Croydon, which has the second largest number of “failing” primary schools in London. When I joined, in 2012, the attendance of some pupils sat below 90 per cent, exclusions were high and I believe that there was a culture of low expectation. Pupils’ SATs results were in no way a true reflection of what they were capable of.

A minority of pupils demonstrated extreme behaviours in school, which resulted in windows being smashed and graffiti. It wasn’t a welcoming environment that encouraged pupils to achieve.

Eye-opening

Initially, we had to complete a full review of teaching and learning at Applegarth and we spent considerable time working with and listening to what staff, pupils and parents had to say in order to get the improvement we needed started straight away.

Our eyes were really opened to the seriousness of the situation and we identified some key areas that needed immediate attention to help turn the school around – behaviour, attendance, teaching and learning, and the general school environment.

Accurate picture

One underlying issue we uncovered was a lack of performance measurement. The recording of pupil data in the school was very poor so it was impossible to get an accurate picture of how children were progressing.  The number of exclusions was high and with poor monitoring procedures in place it was difficult to track whether there was any link back to particular lessons or behaviours.

To achieve the rapid turnaround we needed, it was imperative that we could record performance, set targets and track progress centrally. This meant that teaching staff had to become much more proactive in using the data on our information management system.

By recording and analysing data more effectively across the school, we are all aiming towards the same targets and can track our path against these along the way.

Ambitious targets

Attendance at Applegarth was a real issue, sitting below 90 per cent. We needed a tough approach, an ambitious target, which we set at 95 per cent in year one – and then the hard work started to meet it.

We took a very hard line. We worked closely with parents to ensure that every single absence was followed-up. I made it clear to families that my job, before anything else, was to ensure that their child leaves school with an education and if they were not in school, they could not be taught.

Improving attendance became a whole-school mission. We held assemblies to highlight the issue and placed attendance targets in huge letters all around the school. This helped us to hit our target – we had a great celebration and now the school is aiming at an even higher 97 per cent attendance figure.

Zero-tolerance

With behaviour, the target was no less ambitious. We wanted to have 100 per cent good behaviour. This was one of the most important aspects of improving the school and so we operated a zero-tolerance approach to any issues and we focused on following up on all reported incidents.

The additional support we provided was key, so if we saw a particular child always played up during literacy time, for example, we offered reading help as it could be that they were struggling to keep up. As a result, behaviour was transformed and what once was a high exclusion rate went down to zero.

The right environment

Pupils needed the right environment to feel valued and proud of the school, only then would they thrive – as such we started immediately on improving the learning environment.

With builders working around the clock to tidy up the school after years of neglect, it became once again a lovely place to be and we encouraged pupils to take ownership by lending a hand during our School Grounds Days.

The end goal

The end goal for all these changes was that we had the right environment for learning, which would totally transform achievement at the school. Once target-setting for both teachers and pupils was in place, we all moved along the same continuum, making sure that targets were personal and easy to understand.

The target for a pupil might be to learn their timestables by the end of the year or to have no negative behaviour points that week.  Teachers were given targets too – to help move a pupil forward by one level in reading that term, perhaps. The key thing was that the targets for both pupils and staff were clearly communicated, achievable and could be broken down into smaller goals which were easier to achieve.

Getting parents back into the school was another goal. We regarded this as essential to helping raise achievement. Numerous parent events took place, including coffee mornings and educational evenings so that they could help their child with homework.  

Our culture of “no excuse for failure” meant that once behaviour and attendance were heading in the right direction, achievement followed suit.  In our key stage 2 SATs, we saw increases in maths (17 per cent at Level 4 and 24 per cent at Level 5). We also saw great improvements in writing with increases of 14 per cent in Level 4 and 13 per cent in Level 5 from 2012 to 2013. Attendance continues to rise and the school is at last giving children the level of education they need and deserve. 

Next steps

Our journey continues with us building on our rapid success, with smaller, more targeted steps, re-setting targets and tracking progress. As we move forward as Applegarth Academy, we will continue to work hard to ensure that every pupil achieves their maximum potential. 

  • Paul Glover was headteacher at Applegarth Academy in Croydon during its transformation and has now become executive head of the STEP Academy Trust, a small group of London schools including Applegarth.


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