Education & Family

The head teacher who turned round England's second worst school

Sports day boys Image copyright Havant Academy
Image caption Havant academy is rising to the challenge, with exam results up 40% in five years

The BBC talks to the head teacher who transformed the school that was five years ago rated second worst in England.

Five years ago Havant Academy was, quite literally, a different school.

Then called Staunton Community Sports College, only one school in England had worse exam results.

In 2010 just 10% of pupils achieved the target measure of five GCSEs including English and Maths at grade A* to C.

The threat of closure loomed large, but a successful campaign by parents in Leigh Park, Hampshire, saved the struggling school, and in September 2010 it became an academy.

It was renamed and refreshed with a multi-million pound refurbishment, and the transformation has been more than just cosmetic.

Last summer 50% of students got five good GCSEs - an increase of 40% in just four years.

Image copyright Havant Academy
Image caption One of the main aims of the new leadership has been to raise pupils aspirations

The principal admits it has not been easy, and the challenge is far from over.

Helen Cassady joined Havant Academy in July 2013 after what Ofsted called a "turbulent" period of leadership.

A new academy sponsor, the Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), had taken over the year before.

Daunting task

Three days into what was her first headship, inspectors arrived and put the school into special measures.

Ofsted said teaching and pupil achievement were inadequate, the curriculum did not offer enough variety and pupils' behaviour was poor.

Faced with a daunting task, Miss Cassady says she started with "the basics", instilling good behaviour and creating a "culture of learning".

"We have really focused on the quality of teaching and learning," she said.

Image copyright Brian_Handford
Image caption A focus on behaviour and learning "the basics" was key to turning the school round, says head teacher Helen Cassady

"We have quality personal development for staff on a weekly basis.

"We have behaviour systems focusing on positive behaviour, but also focusing on sanctions and accountability.

"We have a reward system with lots of incentives so students are praised for positive behaviour, but also for their progress in lessons and their contribution."

The school's population has higher-than-average levels of deprivation and special educational needs.

One of Miss Cassady's aims has been to encourage aspiration and raise expectations of its pupils.

'Bold' move

In order to foster pride in their school, she allowed the students to design a smart new uniform and, in what Ofsted called a "bold" move, introduced sweeping changes to the curriculum so it suited students' aims.

While many would argue over whether academy status helps or hinders schools, Miss Cassady says the freedom of being an academy and the support she has received from the sponsor has made her job easier.

"TKAT have been very good at putting in support where it was needed, but they've also given ownership and power to the principal and the governors," she said.

"There's accountability, but also support. There's high quality professional development, high quality back room support in terms of finances and those aspects, and there's practical school support."

Last year, TKAT, one of the largest multi-academy trusts in the south of England, was criticised by Ofsted for having too many low-performing schools.

'Significant progress'

Havant Academy is still in special measures, but in its last monitoring report, Ofsted said the school was making progress.

Teaching standards were still variable but had improved, and while progress was still needed in maths, standards in English had leapt ahead.

Overall, inspectors said "effective leadership" had led to "notable improvements" in teaching, achievement, attendance and behaviour.

Miss Cassady is hoping for a good result in the next inspection.

Image copyright Havant Academy
Image caption Staff students and parents have been "superb" at embracing change, says Miss Cassady

"It is a big challenge and a big step to go from special measures to good," she said.

"But we have made significant progress. When I arrived we only had one maths teacher and one scientist who'd been there for 18 months. Now we have a full complement of scientists and a full complement of mathematicians. The staffing is of really very high quality."

She says the staff, students and parents have been "superb" at embracing change.

"This was my first headship and they say you should choose your first school very wisely," Miss Cassady said.

"The best thing I did was coming to Havant Academy and driving improvement within the school. It's been challenging, but it's been brilliant."

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