When The Parker E-Act Academy was placed in special measures in January following an inspection by education watchdog Ofsted, it was confirmation of what many bystanders had feared were falling standards over a period of time.
The Ofsted report graded as ‘inadequate’ the achievement of pupils, leadership and management and the quality of teaching, while the behaviour and safety of pupils was described as ‘requires improvement’.
But nearly a year on – with a new head teacher and a new leadership team – a monitoring inspection has found the academy to be making “reasonable progress” towards the removal of special measures and the school says it has begun to tackle long-standing issues which have tarnished its reputation.
Headteacher Andrew Mackereth took over from outgoing Krysia Butwilowska in June.
Mr Mackereth, who was previously the head of Heart of England School in Solihull for seven years, has established a track record in working with schools in special measures.
However, he denies he was parachuted in just to see the school out of his current difficulties with Ofsted.
He said: “I came to this school because I wanted a challenge, and I wanted a different setting.
“The main weakness was not enough students made enough progress and this was due to a number of different factors. There had been leadership difficulties and high staff absence, as well as a palpable lack of belief and unity within the student and parent community.
“Any one of those factors could have been survived, but the three in combination proved to be a fatal cocktail – making the judgement of special measures almost inevitable.”
“My earliest decisions were trying to putting back some sense of belief from the community. We have so many things we have to be fixing all at once, but the energy the leadership team brings is exceptional.”
Mr Mackereth said his main challenge was improving standards of behaviour.
He said: “This became unacceptably low. The use of bad language and aggression had become so routine they were accepted. And that was wrong.”
But Mr Mackereth said he saw bad behaviour as a sign a child’s needs had not been met, and that by working with parents, they had seen palpable change – with fix term exclusions remaining relatively low.
“During the recent monitoring inspection, by chance it was Remembrance Day.
“During the morning break the entire school stood still and observed a breathtaking silence. You know you have a sense of community as something as importantly British as remembering the Fallen is observed impeccably.”
Parker Academy has also instituted other changes, including a new house system with house colours and competitions aiming to foster a sense of community.
While the report still identifies issues with the inconsistency of teaching, it praises the new learning and teaching policy and a system to improve the quality of teaching.
Mr Mackereth said he was confident it also identifies the use of a new data system to track students’ progress as a vital step in the management of the school.
He said: “Our reading of the report is that it is very much endorsing the paths we are on and the changes we have made. It is great that it is being recognised, with all the crucial areas of the report in January seeing progress.
“We are a happier school, more students come to school more often. The quality of the teaching is good and improving, the feedback is improving and what we know about them as individual learners is also getting better.
“But I don’t want to be complacent; I am so fortunate that my leaders at all levels are so strongly committed to removing us from special measures.”
For now, with the school showing encouraging signs of improvement, Mr Mackereth said he was looking towards the next GCSE results as a turning point in the school’s fortunes.
If results are vastly improved on previous years, then Mr Mackereth said he would look to see the school out of special measures by the autumn.
“But I am cautioning myself that schools rarely get of special measures within two years,” he added.