‘Every child, every lesson, every grade matters’: Behind the scenes at a Hornchurch secondary school

PUBLISHED: 13:00 10 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:03 10 October 2017

The Albany headteacher Val Masson.

The Albany headteacher Val Masson.


Most of us would agree that running a secondary school is an unenviable task – but to find out just what it takes, the Recorder got a brief glimpse at life behind the headteacher’s desk.

The Albany headteacher Val Masson.The Albany headteacher Val Masson.

Around Havering, The Albany has not always boasted a sterling reputation – although in recent years the public’s perception of the school in Broadstone Road has improved significantly.

As we sit down in her office, the issue of transforming the school’s reputation is one of the first I put to Val Masson, who has been headteacher here for the last two years.

“It’s always been a surprise to me, this reputation that The Albany apparently has, because in my 12 years working here that has never been my personal experience of this school,” she tells me.

“This school is a wonderful place to work, with bright, friendly children and welcoming staff, so I’m glad to hear we’re getting that message out there.”

The picture Val paints is certainly closer to the reality I experience on the Friday morning I am able to visit.

Apart from the difficulties you’d find in any school – teachers struggling with unyielding photocopiers and pupils in the corridors without a signed hall pass – the problems that saw The Albany rated as requiring improvement by Ofsted in February 2015 are not apparent at all.

Back then, inspectors flagged up issues with the school’s approach, claiming teachers did not insist upon high enough standards.

The Albany headteacher Val Masson.The Albany headteacher Val Masson.

Such a claim is not something that could be levelled at the school since Val took over.

“Every child, every lesson, every grade matters – that’s our ethos here,” Val, who lives in Barking and Dagenham and has sent all her children to comprehensive schools, tells me.

“That is because we want, and expect, everyone to be the best that they can be.

“Here at The Albany our role in that is to ensure that by the time they leave here we have given them the right skills and vision for their futures.

“The other part of that is that we hold our pupils to a high standard that we expect their parents and our staff to help them achieve.”

Education is always a hot topic, and Ms Masson is remarkably forthright about the challenges her school is up against and how it is meeting them head on.

She says: “The problems facing us at The Albany are the same national challenges facing teachers across the country – the biggest is possibly the new GCSE grading system, which is a source of confusion for our pupils and their parents, and the second is making sure we hold on to well qualified, ambitious staff.

The Albany headteacher Val Masson with students Kaci Webb, Bobbie Ford, Kyra-Leigh Croucher and Ronnie BrooksThe Albany headteacher Val Masson with students Kaci Webb, Bobbie Ford, Kyra-Leigh Croucher and Ronnie Brooks

“We work really hard to make sure we have the best recruitment processes in place and our staff retention rates are brilliant.”

When it comes to the first problem, it appears The Albany has passed the initial wave of new numbered GCSE grades in English and maths with flying colours.

Across the country, teachers were briefed to expect one or two Grade 9s – the highest possible grade – at their schools.

On results day, The Albany was thrilled to discover its pupils had got more than 10.

Another recent success has been changing pupils’ attitudes to the school.

Last year, for the first time in 12 years, pupil attendance rose above the national average.

So how did The Albany manage it?

Val says: “The first challenge is to change the culture of the school – make it a place our pupils want to come when they get out of bed in the morning.

“That’s done by fostering a sense of community. If a pupil can’t wait to get into school in the morning to see his friends then we’re doing our jobs right.

“After that it’s about identifying students who might be struggling and offering them as much help as we can.”

As part of my flying visit to the school I’m also treated to a tour of the school grounds, and from the bright displays that line every corridor to the open door policy that allows department heads to pop in and out of lessons it’s clear

I’m also struck by how green and open the school is – something that surprises me, despite the fact I’m a born and bred Havering resident.

Val notices my surprise.

“We’re essentially an extension of Harrow Lodge Park and we’ve got a tremendous amount of field space, but unless you’re a parent or a pupil you would never know it.

“I often think of the school as one of Havering’s hidden gems.”

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