Wright Robinson College is currently riding on “the crest of a wave”. The school’s success is the evidence behind the theory.
I am one of the longest serving secondary headteachers in the country, having held my current post for more than 25 years. In that time, I have seen 12 CEOs come and go and at least 100 headteachers that have resigned, retired or been dismissed in Greater Manchester.
Whether we like it or not, as headteachers it is a volatile educational world that we live in.
We sink or swim in a climate which revolves around short-term results, so surviving 25 years leading one of the biggest schools in the country and achieving the highest accolade a school can achieve, an Ofsted judgement of outstanding, is an accomplishment of which I am proud.
Wright Robinson is one of the largest 11 to 16 inner city comprehensive schools in the country with 1,650 students. The school is situated in Gorton, a richly diverse community of Manchester two miles east of the city centre. It serves four of the poorest wards in the country and some 60 per cent of its school population have been or are currently entitled to free school meals.
I believe that at the heart of our success is the college’s behaviour policy.
Before this latest visit, the previous two Ofsted inspections (in 2012 and 2014) had judged the school to be outstanding in the behaviour and safety of students. However, we were placed in a requires improvement (RI) category as a result of our outcomes for individual and groups of students.
This placed an immense pressure on the school and me personally – as a third RI judgement would have meant forced academisation.
Meanwhile, in September 2015, following a consultation in December 2014, Ofsted introduced a more rigorous inspection framework aimed at having “an even greater impact on improving education and care for all children and learners in England”, as said chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.
In March 2016, we were inspected under this new framework and Ofsted judged us:
- Overall effectiveness: 1
- Effectiveness of leadership and management: 1
- Quality of teaching, learning and assessment: 1
- Personal development, behaviour and wellbeing: 1
- Outcomes for students: 1
For me, this proved my long-held view that the secret to sustained whole-school improvement is outstanding student behaviour. As student behaviour has improved at Wright Robinson this has enabled us to improve in the other three areas focused on by Ofsted.
At our previous inspections in 2012 and 2014 there was only one area that required improvement and that was the outcomes for students. This has improved over time and is now judged as outstanding. I believe outstanding behaviour across the school allows teachers to teach outstanding lessons and students to make outstanding progress.
Our behaviour policy is based on the 3Cs: choices, chances and consequences. It embodies a code of values and standards that everyone understands and can sign up to. It is fair, rigorous and its systematic implementation has made it a winner with staff, parents and students.
The teenagers especially respond well to the positive and mutually respectful environment which the 3Cs help to generate. Like everybody they like to live in a community which is fair and does not allow fellow students to behave in an unacceptable manner without consequences.
The Ofsted report stated: “Value is placed on being kind and respectful, and contributing to the community. Many pupils have leadership roles which enable them to make a strong contribution to this aim. For example, older pupils play a key role in supporting younger pupils through coaching and mentoring. Year 11 prefects are highly regarded and set strong examples for younger pupils by participating in the supervision of social time activities.”
The school’s approach to behaviour and pastoral care has allowed us to build the concept of “Team Wright Robinson”, which is an essential element to our success. The report adds: “Pupils believe that the school is a safe haven in which to learn and flourish. They wear their ‘Team Wright Robinson’ badges with pride and are appreciative of the high-quality support and teaching they receive.”
Whole-school culture and ethos
A headteacher’s most important and challenging task is always to create a school culture and ethos that enables every child, regardless of ability, to achieve. It must never be underestimated because it is the platform which facilitates whole-school improvement.
My theory is that unless student behaviour is outstanding, the conditions needed to build a good school ethos will never be realised in full.
At Wright Robinson the students will tell you that their most important piece of uniform is their Team Wright Robinson badge. They wear it on the left lapel of their blazer because it is closer to their heart and Wright Robinson is in their blood. They and the staff will tell you that they are part of Team Wright Robinson. There is no them and us – only us, which means teachers, students, support staff and parents working together.
When you arrive at the school, you will be greeted by hundreds of good mornings or good afternoons. Manners, courtesy, support for one another, a sense of responsibility and respect are the cornerstones of Team Wright Robinson. They permeate throughout the school.
Several years ago, an Ofsted inspector told me that student attendance was a true indicator of the quality and provision of a school and like many inner city high school heads I doubted this idea. In many inner city high schools at that time attendance was below the national average.
However I invested in an infrastructure to improve attendance. Attendance was given a high profile in school and gradually improved alongside the behaviour. Student attendance last year was 96 per cent and stands at 96.8 per cent this year – one of the highest in the country.
The Ofsted report stated: “The school promotes the importance of attendance strongly among the community and holds parents to account when attendance falls below the school’s high expectations. The number of fixed-term exclusions has decreased rapidly as leaders have successfully implemented anger management sessions and a special support programme, for identified pupils. The school continues to use alternative methods of educating pupils by using the school’s own dedicated centre.”
I realise now that the Ofsted inspector was right. Children come to school to learn, to feel valued, to be safe, to be happy and not to be bullied. The report adds: “Pupils in the school form a richly diverse community; they are encouraged to work well together and no form of discrimination is tolerated. Pupils report that bullying is almost unknown, and dealt with swiftly on the rare occasions when it occurs. The school monitors bullying assiduously and incidents are extremely rare.”
We have proved you can improve attendance in an inner city high school – as with everything we do it is about high expectations and aspirational targets for all students, whether that be academically or pastorally.
Over the past four years, we have become one of the most popular schools in Greater Manchester with more than 700 applications received each year for our 360 places. In a recent survey carried out by the school, parents of year 6 students put the safety and happiness of their children as their number one priority for selecting a secondary school. Outstanding student behaviour coupled with its safe student culture is one of the main reasons for Wright Robinson’s popularity.
Learning and progress
Once behaviour is no longer a barrier in the classroom, a platform has been created allowing teachers to teach and learners to learn, but student compliance alone is not enough.
The foundations for strong teaching, learning and assessment must be set in place. For student progress to be truly outstanding, a culture and ethos of team-work must be cultivated. An outstanding school thrives in an atmosphere where everybody believes they can and will achieve. High aspiration is the key and this is achieved through rigorous target-setting, tracking and monitoring.
Five A* to C GCSE results in 2015 were 64 per cent including English and maths and 25 per cent of all grades were A* or As, remarkable for an inner city school. The school embraced the EBacc when other heads said it was too challenging.
We believe that our students should be given the best possible opportunities and adjusted our curriculum accordingly in 2011. We have achieved above national average for the percentage of students achieving the EBacc subjects for the past three years. In 2016, results for student progress are also excellent. Intervention lessons, before school, during lunchtime and after school, are eagerly attended. Only when the ethos and culture are right does achievement really flourish, even in the most challenging environments.
Recruitment and teaching quality
Imagine meeting your class and being greeted by a chorus of good mornings, good afternoons, hellos and how are yous. Mutual respect is omnipresent at Wright Robinson. Team-work is nowhere more evident than in the classroom. All 105 teachers will tell you the same thing.
Everyone can leave their classroom door open because there is little disruption. We regularly recruit from other local schools because teachers have heard on the grapevine about how good student behaviour is. Teachers can teach without fear of disruption and they are able to successfully develop their skills and experience.
And of course being able to recruit the best teachers means better quality teaching which leads to better student progress and better outcomes.
The quality of teaching and learning is monitored throughout the year through lesson observations and data analysis. Teachers are provided with personalised CPD pathways to ensure high standards of teaching across the school, in addition to generic training such as safeguarding and radicalisation. Currently, 94 per cent of the teaching at Wright Robinson is good or better.
What I am aiming to get across is that all of these areas are linked to outstanding student behaviour. However, this does not happen by magic. It has to be developed slowly and surely and understood by everybody in the school.
It has to be led by a strong pastoral team supported by the senior leadership team, headteacher and all the staff.
However, once it is developed, it is a force for good that is incredibly powerful.
Outstanding student behaviour has allowed us to build the concept of Team Wright Robinson which is at the heart of our ethos and culture. An ethos which allows all children to achieve their potential in a safe and happy environment. This is the real secret behind our success.