The Big Interview: KGGS headteacher Graham Burks
When Graham Burks became the first ever male headteacher of Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School in 2007, the school was in a category of concern. Seven years later it is rated outstanding by OFSTED and results have consistently been in the top four in the county. After announcing his retirement at the end of this academic year, Graham spoke to the Journal.
What challenges did you face when you started at KGGS? Clearly there had been a lot of unrest with two awful public meetings, but it was just a case of finding out what had been going on, and actually it wasn’t as bad as it appeared. I came in as an outsider, and could be honest and straight with people. There were 1160 girls on site who were very able. Once I got them on board the staff turned it around really quickly. Sixteen weeks after I came we had our first OFSTED inspection and the school was deemed good with one or two outstanding features. It was a real shock to the governing body. And the results went skyward really quickly. A year after those public meetings the Journal did an article titled ‘what a difference a year makes’.
Where did you work before? I’ve 34 years’ experience in six secondary schools in Lincolnshire. Before KGGS I was headof Joseph Ruston Technology College in Lincoln when it had the highest levels of social deprivation in the country. I’m a time-served professional - I’ve never been given anything easily.
Your time at KGGS has seen it become an academy. Yes, we resisted it initially, but the major financial advantage became clear and together with the governing body and encouragement from Nick Boles MP we went down that route. We are an academy that has also retained our status as a traditional girls’ high school with a modern feel. Having academy status also meant we were entitled to bid for capital money for buildings, and create the new block. We’ve been able to replace some really tired mobile buildings, relocate art in new accommodation, and expand science. Gelder built it and did an amazing job - I have met better, fairer and more reliable tradesman in Grantham than anywhere else.
What makes the KGGS students and staff special? The fact that they are all girls together makes them competitive and very focused, but they also support each other with the older girls mentoring the younger ones. They are not just very bright, but their work ethic is staggering. And the staff are fantastic with them - we’ve got to a point now that the staff are intolerant of people around them who don’t work hard. And the staff are clever about what they do - they stand back, think, and are reflective.
What made you decide to retire? I’ve had a knock back with my health and I don’t do anything unless I can do it 100%. I’ve told the governors early so they can find someone who can do that. It’s a long time until the end of the year and I’ll be very emotional at that point. One thing that was lovely was that within the first few weeks of being here my son said to me: ‘Dad, since you’ve worked at that school you’ve been a nicer person to live with.’ My family think the girls have ‘womanised’ me! We’ve been really happy in Grantham. I will miss it and most of all the school, the wonderful staff and all of the students - they have, and I am sure will remain, spectacularly impressive.