How to turn round a failing school

How to turn round a failing school

Reports about the goings on in Oasis Academy school in Sheerness, Kent have recently drawn the attention of the press for all the wrong reasons. Apparently, teachers have been subjected to racial slurs, threats of sexual violence and even death threats.

Staff have been physically assaulted and have had to avoid chairs being thrown at them. And the foul-mouthed perpetrators are as young as 11.

The situation became so bad that staff went on strike in an attempt to change the culture.

Poor pupil behaviour is nothing new, of course, but there is a suggestion that since the lockdowns it has become more common.

Whether that is true or not, the solution is about leadership.

One thing that a new headteacher of this school thought odd was that it had been designed as an ‘open plan’, with various lessons held in the same space.

He quickly had classrooms put back in, excluded nearly 300 pupils and managed to improve things before he left for a new job.

The school then slid backwards to the point recently when teachers voted with their feet and walked out.

The solution is about leadership and employing zero tolerance with regard to poor behaviour.

I once worked in a school that had many discipline problems and things were really out of control.

The children were disrespectful and abusive towards staff and it was a really unpleasant place to work.

The teaching staff were very demoralised and many wanted to leave. However, this situation was transformed when the headteacher left under a voluntary arrangement.

The deputy head took over, brought every child into the main hall along with all the teachers and said basically, ‘Enough was enough’.

He took control of the situation and within one week the school began to change.

He was determined to instil a new attitude among both the pupils and the staff, and he demanded cooperation to do this from the whole community.

Unfortunately, the governors of the school decided not to appoint this very successful deputy head as the new headteacher and instead appointed an outsider.

Things deteriorated to some extent again, although not to the same degree.

Running an organisation such as a school requires high-level leadership skills and vision.

These people must always be chosen very carefully if they are to lead a challenging school that has students who are socially deprived and face considerable issues.

There are no magic solutions but setting out what you want and sticking to this expectation from students and staff is crucial.

Katherine Birbalsingh is an excellent example of a visionary and outstanding headteacher.

She enforces discipline and has extremely high expectations from all her students.

She will accept nothing less than their very best in terms of behaviour, respect and work ethic.

While she has been dubbed the ‘strictest headteacher’ in the country, parents want to send their children to her school – the Michaela Community School in Wembley, London.

And most of the children learn to respect the culture of the school and their exam results show how successful it is.

But there are parents who have no ambition for their children and don’t care how badly behaved they are at school.

Nevertheless, a school with the right culture can transform children who have been written off.