Executive head says Ipswich Academy will improve as just 19% of pupils gain five or more top grade GCSEs

Pamela Hutchison is the executive principal of Ipswich Academy.

Pamela Hutchison is the executive principal of Ipswich Academy. - Credit: Su Anderson

The new executive principal of Ipswich Academy has insisted results will improve after it emerged only one in five students achieved the standards expected of them in their GCSEs last year.

Only 19% of students at the academy, which replaced Holywells High School, achieved five or more A*-C grades including the core subjects of English and maths last summer.

It was significantly below the national average of 52.6% and the academy’s previous score of 31% in 2013. All schools must ensure that at least 40% of pupils hit the target.

The failure came despite students moving into their new £16milllion home in Braziers Wood Road, described as an “educational model fit for the 21st Century”, in November 2013. The academy did not submit its GCSE data to this newspaper last year, but the results were revealed in the third and latest Ofsted monitoring report which ruled that the academy is not making “enough progress towards the removal of the serious weaknesses designation”.

An Ofsted inspection in July 2013 ranked the school as inadequate.

Nancy Robinson, the former principal, resigned around a week into the school year last September. At least 13 teachers left the academy in total last year.

The latest Ofsted monitoring report, published on December 12, said: “The majority of the areas for improvement… have not been tackled with enough rigour to… improve the academy at a fast enough rate.

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“Too much teaching in the academy is either inadequate or requires improvement, which has had a negative impact on students’ outcomes.”

It added: “Poor behaviour remains an everyday occurrence in lessons.”

But it praised Pamela Hutchison, who became executive principal of the academy in September, for identifying a number of weaknesses and attempting to resolve them through “decisive action”.

Speaking to the Star, Mrs Hutchison said: “The exam results were less than we expected (but) since I arrived we have taken urgent action to put improvements in place and we are confident that those improvements are making a real difference.

“Since (the last monitoring report) there has been a huge sea-change. Students and staff are working together to really move the academy forward.

“We believe that we can make Ipswich Academy a good academy by that joint effort.”

She said she understood if parents of some children starting their GCSEs at the academy in the next few years would be concerned at the revelations, but said: “People are very welcome to come in and look at what we are doing, and talk to students and staff who will talk about the improvements there now are at the school.

“We are really keen that students’ and their progress is absolutely at the centre of everything we do and we have made absolutely sure now that the assessments that we make about progress of students and the good aspects of staff teaching are absolutely accurate.”

She confirmed 40% is the target for GCSE results this year but stressed she is focussed on individual progress for each student.

She added: “There is a much more positive attitude about the school, both students and staff, and I get a real feel that we are working together to drive up standards and progress at Ipswich Academy.

“I’m confident that, as we speak now, we are achieving better progress for students.”

Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said there are “behaviour issues” at Ipswich Academy

He said: “Ipswich Academy became an academy because it was deemed to be a failing school. They have had changes of manager, changes of principal (and) the school is still not being successful. Academies are supposed to raise standards but they don’t seem to succeeding with this one unfortunately.

“I don’t think you can blame the teachers, although they have a role to play, as do the management and parents. If there are behavioural issues, parents have to take some of the responsibility.

“It is an area of social deprivation. I’m sure there are significant problems within those particular families and that has had an impact on results.

“But there is more to education than just academic results – it is about the vocational development.”

Meanwhile, Ipswich Academy is currently advertising for a behaviour manager “to work with students across the academy”.

According to the job description, the new position is critical in supporting the high expectations being set by all members of staff.

They will manage the behaviour support systems and resources, facilitate restorative justice, student mentoring and support colleagues with behaviour management strategies.

They will work closely with the director of inclusion, college principals and programme leads to ensure appropriate short term provision is implemented for targeted students.

Responsibilities include identifying needs and contributing to the development of high impact intervention/mentoring/restorative programmes which will enable students with emotional, social and behavioural problems to be successful.

They will also work closely with parents and outside agencies, where appropriate, in order to help remove barriers to learning and liaise with subject staff and base group tutors.

Pamela Hutchison, executive principal of Ipswich Academy, dismissed the suggestion the post was created so that senior leaders and teachers could pass on the responsibility of ensuring good behaviour.

She said the role is “absolutely about supporting students”, adding: “Children of school age have all sorts of challenges nowadays, such as strict families and mental health problems. They need, at different times in their school life, support.”

She insisted poor behaviour was not a concern at the school, explaining: “There are two elements to behaviour in Ofsted terms. There is behaviour that you and I would recognise, which is the way in which people behave to each other and when they go around the building and interact with adults.

“The behaviour for learning which is about developing your independent learning skills, about the kind of skills that employers want, about planning and problem-solving – that kind of behaviour for learning.

“I have very little concerns about behaviour in its simplest form. Of course there’s the odd time when behaviour isn’t good but part of what we do is to help children to develop good behaviour because that’s what you do in schools.

“The second part of it, which is about developing their behaviour for learning skills, is something that we see as really important at Ipswich Academy and we have our own full-time careers adviser.”

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