Crisis management: maintaining ‘outstanding’ under new headship

Silverdale School was judged outstanding in its latest inspection. New headteacher, Roisin Paul, explains how she tackled the dip in standards that could have threatened the school’s reputation

Author details

Suzanne O'Connell has more than 25 years' teaching experience, 11 years of which were as a junior school headteacher. She has a particular interest in special needs, child protection and extended services and is currently a writer, editor and...

Information about the school

Type of school: Secondary academy converter  
Number on roll: 1,335
Pupil premium: Average     
SEN: Average 
Other information: The headteacher joined the school in September 2013
Date of inspection: 15-16 October 2014

‘The new headteacher has demonstrated excellent leadership skills in her rapid response to concerns seen in the outcomes for students in 2013.’ Leadership and management

‘Outstanding leadership and management at all levels, including the governing body, ensure that there is a crystal clear view of how well the academy is doing and where it could do even better.’ Summary of key findings for parents

Silverdale might have been classed as an outstanding school but, as Roisin Paul explains, there were issues that needed to be addressed ‘as a matter of urgency’. Her first task was to implement the changes needed to show Ofsted that they had the dip in standards under control and that things were improving rapidly.

Changes to the SLT

Since Silverdale’s last inspection in 2009, a local school had closed which prompted 30 new students to move to Silverdale. ‘These students were predominantly from ethnic minority groups and were EAL speakers. The catchment of Silverdale was changing and the curriculum was not serving them well.’

One of her first actions was to strengthen the SLT. ‘The leadership team was under capacity and needed boosting urgently,’ she said. ‘I took this to the governing body and persuaded them that we needed to make some new appointments.’

The governing body agreed and three new members of the leadership team were appointed to address three specific priorities:

  1. closing the gap
  2. teaching and learning
  3. inclusion and SEN.

This injection of new people into an established school that was already outstanding could have caused problems. However, the introduction of the new members was successful owing to their:

  • enthusiasm
  • excellent credentials
  • ability to bond with existing members
  • focus on the key task of addressing the dip.

Added to this, the original members of the SLT acted ‘almost as mentors’ to the new members, Roisin explained. ‘With their knowledge, expertise and the will for the school to do well, possible dangers were averted.’

Information about the dip did come as a surprise to some people. ‘It hadn’t been communicated sufficiently but the vast majority took it on board and we began to implement new initiatives to reverse the trend.’

Community languages

Focusing on the Pupil Premium students was imperative for Silverdale. Roisin explained that Year 11 students had not been studying enough subjects and study support was taking up too much of their timetable.

In order to address this, students were introduced to some new GCSE courses in community languages. ‘You have to remember that 25% of our students speak English as an Additional Language and 33% speak a language at home that isn’t English. We introduced one year courses in Urdu, Persian, Mandarin, Polish and Arabic.’

Staffing these new courses could have been an issue, but parents were happy to come into school and help with after-school lessons. This had the knock-on effect of engaging the community too and made students feel much more appreciated. ‘It showed them that the school felt that they could do it and that they were important to us,’ Roisin explained.

Intensive mentoring

The school also identified 25 students who were at risk of underachieving and in need of additional support and provided:

  • allocated mentors from the SLT
  • resources and staff time which were channelled towards them
  • engagement with home to identify ways they could be supported.

‘We tracked every two weeks and threw in everything we could to bring them up to par,’ Roisin explained.

Tutors and Key Stage leaders also supported a lower-attaining group intensively, providing as much encouragement and practical support as they could to help them achieve.

The longer term

During the year, the school identified the successful strategies and applied them to the longer term plan for the school. These include:

  • plans to make community languages part of the curriculum (Key Stages 3 and 4)
  • ongoing mentoring – extended to subject leaders
  • continued tracking every three to four weeks (with plans to increase this frequency after Christmas)
  • introduction of the ICT double award
  • entering students for both English Literature and English Language
  • implementation of ‘Flight Paths’ target setting for EAL students. These can be reviewed and raised accordingly
  • double staffing during tutor time to enable mentors to meet their mentees.

‘We are still re-designing our curriculum,’ adds Roisin. ‘We need to take into account the changes to attainment data and think about how that fits in with our curriculum planning.’

Advice for others

While it has been a challenging first year for Roisin, there have been benefits to this too. ‘We have created better community ties, a better curriculum and better outcomes for our students,’ Roisin said.

Her advice to others is as follows.

  • Everyone has had to pull together to a shared agenda.
  • Be determined and committed.
  • Believe in yourself and your school.
  • You are not always able to consult to the extent you would like, owing to the speed of change.
Last Updated: 
19 Mar 2015