Holbrook: Failing high schools heads for a brighter future

THERE was a tangible sense of shock when Holbrook High School – once renowned as one of the county’s best performing schools – was plunged into special measures.

The departure of headteacher, Debra Pritchard soon after only added to the turbulence for parents, students and staff.

But today, in his first interview since taking over, interim head Martyn Berry pledged to haul the school back on track.

“The task is to get the school out of special measures as quickly as possible and I expect that to happen within 12 months.” Mr Berry said.

Moving to Suffolk from Stockon-on-Tees, Mr Berry is no stranger to schools in trouble, specialising in those needing extra support. The River Leen School in Nottingham, now called The Bulwell Academy, was his most recent transformation project, which now boasts improved exam results and an even financial keel, recovered from a half-a-million pound deficit.

His challenge now is to quickly raise the quality of provision at Holbrook by improving pupil behaviour, lifting teaching standards and driving up GCSE results.

“Since I arrived I’ve been to around 60 classes, and you don’t see specific examples of bad behaviour,” he said.

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“There are just some students who are off task in lessons and the new behaviour policy is specifically there to address that.”

New behaviour and homework policies are just some of the changes being implemented at the school to combat “inadequate” classifications in all four areas Ofsted assessed during the damning inspection, which begun on February 29 this year.

Her Majesty’s Inspector Ian Seath found that overall the school was providing an inadequate learning environment, the main concern being a significant decline in GCSE results between 2009 and 2011, and disciplinary issues.

Nicola Shelley, acting deputy headteacher, says the school has changed the way teachers implement the behaviour policy and are keen to develop their own teaching practice.

“I have been delighted with the improved standards of teaching in classrooms as I make daily visits around the school,” Miss Shelley said, who is currently being interviewed for the permanent post of deputy headteacher.

Observing teachers for at least five minutes every week, streamlining homework assigned to students – including introducing detention to pupils who do not complete it – and revising marking standards to be more constructive, are already reaping rewards.

“It’s an extremely positive process as we pull together, as teachers and learners, to move the school forward and improve standards,” Miss Shelley said.

Standards which are being rigorously monitored by Ofsted. Inspectors completed their first visit last week.

The school is now awaiting further recommendations.

“I can’t go into too much detail before their official feedback is given but they noted high staff morale, good relationships between staff and students, and far better communication with parents.

“There will be a letter coming out within a week for parents, outlining how the visit went,” he said.

Samantha Lyle has had children attending Holbrook High School for the past 12 years and says it’s evident change is taking place.

“My son has commented that classes are a lot quieter and children are paying a lot more attention.

“They’re doing as they’re told because they know there is a clear guideline now. I don’t think there are many that want to cross the line first with the new head.”

Mrs Lyle is also happy concerns about loose and varied homework arrangements are being addressed.

“There’s lots of it, and it’s marked punctually.

“If they (students) don’t get their homework in on time they get a detention to make sure that piece of work is done. I found that very positive,” she said.

School governors believe there is still progress to be made but are confident Mr Berry is the right person for the task.

Jane Gould, chair of governor, said: “Martyn has a lot of relevant experience and we are already feeling the benefit of that.”

n Is your son or daughter a pupil at Holbrook High School?