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Monday, 10 February 2014 11:27

Is this the best performing school in Kent: John Wallis CofE Academy, Ashford?

Written by

John Wallis

My own view, scarcely original, is that a school succeeds through the quality of its leadership, rather than its status as an academy, free school or maintained school. My current nomination for best performing school in Kent is the John Wallis CofE Academy in Ashford (my hometown, so I am one of the few that know who John Wallis was!). Yes, its OFSTED published last week was only ‘Good’, not ‘Outstanding’ but the school replaced the previous Christ Church School and Linden Grove Primary both in Special Measures under KCC control just over three years ago and has travelled a great distance in that time. It is only Kent's second all through, children ages 3-19, academy. OFSTED sets the scene by describing the school population's characteristics: “The proportion of students known to be eligible for the pupil premium (additional funding provided by the government to help nationally underperforming groups such as students eligible for free school meals and children who are looked after) is considerably above the national average; close to 80% of students are of a White British heritage. While the proportion of students from minority ethnic groups is below average, the proportion who speaks English as an additional language is well above average; The proportion of disabled students and those with special educational needs supported through school action is well above average. The proportion of students supported at school action plus or with a statement of special educational needs is also well above average”.

In other words, this is a school flourishing in an area that includes much deprivation, and where many would dismiss the school and its students as bound to fail, because of the very high proportion of disadvantaged and SEN pupils. Other schools with a similar intake do fail because of low expectations and poor leadership. John Wallis shows what can be done to overcome disadvantage.......

I have already highlighted the school’s performance at GCSE, where it comes top of the county league table for value added, i.e. its students make the most progress between the ages of 11 and 16, of any school in the county, in spite of the low starting point of many. Whilst it only(!) makes third place in Kent for progress with disadvantaged pupils, it has a far higher proportion of such pupils than the two schools above it in the table.

A few quotes from OFSTED:

  •  Teaching is improving rapidly. Most is now at least good; some is outstanding
  •  In all key stages, progress over time is good and the proportion of students achieving five good GCSE grades, including English and mathematics, has improved significantly
  • All groups of students are achieving well and gaps in attainment are closing. This is because of the school’s determination to ensure that no student is left behind
  • Students behave well and they feel safe. They are proud of the academy and older students refer with pride to the improvements that have taken place, and the academy’s growing popularity
  • Children in the Early Years Foundation Stage are making good progress because of the quality of care and support offered
  • The primary sector, which has been in operation for just four terms, is now flourishing because of high-quality leadership and the establishment of a stable and committed staff.
  • The embryonic sixth form is developing well. Teaching is good, standards are rising and improved support and guidance is enabling many students to meet their ambitious career plans
  • The governing body is very effective. Ambitious plans to create a vibrant and successful all-through academy in an area that faces many challenges are already meeting with success. Governors keenly support the Principal and his staff, but are appropriately questioning and demanding, They are committed to securing further improvements in their quest to take the academy to even higher levels of performance.

It missed out on being an outstanding school only because:

  •  In a minority of lessons, the work planned does not sufficiently motivate, enthuse and challenge all students. 
  • A small number of sixth formers are given the opportunity to study courses for which they might not have met the minimum entry criteria, leading to disappointing results at the end of Year 12.

All this in run down premises due to be replaced by brand new buildings in September.

So, how is this success brought about? Government would argue it is an outstanding example of the advantages of academisation. However, OFSTED is in no doubt: “The inspirational Principal has an ambitious vision of continual improvement for the academy. He is ably supported by his senior team, his staff and the governors”. The Principal, John McPartland, came to John Wallis in 2010, at the opening of the academy, from his previous post as head of the high achieving, successful and very popular St Simon Stock Catholic Comprehensive in Maidstone.  I wondered at the time why he should take such a major career risk, but taking over and transforming a challenging school, with other good leaders behind him  has certainly paid off both for the pupils and his own reputation.

The big advantage the early academies had of being able to attract the best heads and leaders away from maintained schools has paid off again, but some others trying to follow his lead in Kent and Medway have come a big cropper, with several academies including the Marlowe Academy and Bishop of Rochester Academy each getting rid of at least three heads in their short existence! Other academies many with a better standard of intake lie at the foot of Kent's GCSE league tables, because of their failure to achieve adequate progress with their pupils.   

The example of the John Wallis CofE Academy, not afraid to highlight its Christian principles, demonstrates clearly once again that it is leadership that matters, not the status of the school. Congratulations to all concerned.

Read 13473 times Last modified on Friday, 21 February 2014 23:42

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