After the Journal revealed earlier this month that West Grantham Academy St John’s had come last in a local primary school performance list, we were invited into the school to see the work staff are doing to improve their standing.
Choosing to acknowledge rather than deny their current results, the school is being positive and proactive in implementing changes.
These include the introduction of new headteacher Wayne Parkes. His 19 years in teaching has seen him turn around schools placed in special measures, while he also cites his upbringing in inner-city Nottingham as valuable experience.
“I know the importance of education and of championing those in difficult circumstances,” he said.
“We’re serving a deprived community, but that’s not an excuse. For that reason we have to be more detailed and more thorough with our expectations.
“If a youngster has a lower starting point, it just means they need to make more progress.”
One key concern is pupils not meeting the expected levels in reading and writing. Mr Parkes said: “Last year, 63 per cent of youngsters passed their phonics test in Year 1, and of those who didn’t, only 50 per cent passed in Year 2, so you’ve got youngsters going into the system who can’t read. It’s got to be nailed at Year 1, and I’ve got plans in place to make sure that happens.”
The academy has also signed a three-year agreement with the Mowbray Education Trust. “This allows me to tap into a wide variety of expertise,” explained Mr Parkes. “Last week we had a full external review by a former Ofsted inspector looking at the quality of teaching and learning; where it’s good and can be replicated, and where things need improving, so we can get very clear action plans in place.
“And it’s about galvanising a team right from the top to the bottom, with everybody clear about their roles.”
One of those taking a very active role, and who encapsulates the passion staff feel for St John’s, is diocesan director of the academy Jayne Robb, who said: “This school changes lives.
“It picks children up and puts them on a different path, and that almost can’t be measured by league tables.
“Every child we get educated and into work, off benefits, off the treadmill of deprivation, boosts the town, so I’d say to Grantham get behind St John’s.”
Mr Parkes agrees. “This is a community school and we’ve got to ensure we’re working together as a community,” he said. “The first week I was here a couple of parents were sat on the wall outside and I went and had a chat with them. Afterwards they said ‘you’re alright you are, even though you wear a suit’. There are always going to be barriers, and you’ve got to break those down.”
It is clear during a tour of the school that Mr Parkes is already a popular presence amongst staff and pupils, none of whom hesitate in coming to speak to their headteacher. “He’s great,” said Mrs Robb, “He is like the Pied Piper – they all just gather around him!”
Mr Parkes is also something of a magician it seems; during the Journal’s visit he demonstrated that you really can cut a carrot in half with a five pound note, to the entertainment of colleagues and children.
With the plans they now have in place, Mr Parkes and his team are confident they will be able to work some more magic and transform the fortunes of the school.