December 11 2013 Latest news:
Joshua Fowler, Reporter
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Little more than four years ago a Harold Wood school was trapped in a downward spiral that could have led to its permanent closure.
Now, at the beginning of this academic year, the story at Redden Court School is drastically different, with a new headteacher pushing pupils and staff alike to reach new standards.
The school, in Cotswold Road, last month revealed 75 per cent of its students achieved five A* to C GCSE grades, including maths and English, which is up from a lowly 30 per cent in 2008 when the school was handed a notice to improve by Ofsted.
Enter Paul Ward. The head at Redden Court arrived in January 2009, when “confidence among staff was very low” and they “needed direction”.
Mr Ward, as his pupils know him, put a focus on a broader curriculum and established a new senior leadership team which has led to the school’s recognition from the University of Exeter as a ‘thinking school’.
“The big issues that were failing the school were to do with standards, particularly in core subjects,” explains Mr Ward. “Exam results were just not good enough.
“We had to change the curriculum and we did a lot of work on making lessons interesting and engaging.”
Big decisions were needed from the head, who made the call to lose a number of staff members - as well as putting a “relentless” focus on English and maths.
He added: “It was tough, but what I would say is the vast majority of staff really wanted to get better. They just needed direction.”
Head of art, Meg Ryan, has taught at Redden Court for 15 years and says change was “needed” at the school, which was badly underperforming.
In the worst case scenario, had the school not improved after Ofsted’s visit, it could have been placed in special measures before closing permanently.
“It had to change”, said Meg. “I think teachers here have always had a reputation for working hard, but when Mr Ward arrived there was immediate leadership.
“There’s a very tight community here, and not everything is about exams. We prepare young people for their life and whatever your likes or dislikes, there’s something for you here.”
Pupils agree that there is a community feel to the school, which has around 700 pupils, making it one of the smallest secondary schools in Havering.
Youngsters reaching the end of their school days with a handful of mediocre exam grades have been made a thing of the past, and many students now volunteer themselves for extra science and maths lessons after school.
Year 11 student, Jack Ayling, of Harold Wood, said: “I’m taking additional maths because when I go to sixth form, I know I’ll have already covered half the stuff. It makes my future easier, and we know that subjects like maths, science and English are needed for jobs.
“I don’t really enjoy science as much as other subjects, but I’m doing triple science because it’s a good opportunity.”
Students seem undaunted by Mr Ward, who by any standards a tall figure. Instead he is painted as open and approachable by students who arrived at the beginning of his tenure.
The school’s student president, Sean Nicolaidis, said: “We see him all the time, I don’t find him scary. I think most people find him approachable, we just walk past and he’ll ask us if we’re having a good day.”
It’s a sort of rags to riches story for the school, hidden off of Squirrels Heath Road. But the story isn’t over yet, as Mr Ward is constantly looking to push the boundaries of his first brief upon arrival.
He added: “I came here from a school in Barnet that wasn’t too dissimilar in many ways. The board were looking for someone to improve the school and my brief was basically to get us better.
“I think we’ve come a long way, but we’re not finished yet.”
An accomplice to a gang of cold-calling builders who took an 87-year-old Upminster man for £64,000 has been jailed for 18 months for money laundering.