With its best Ofsted in 20 years, record-breaking results and rising student numbers, the transformed Coleshill School is going from strength to strength since joining the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership (ATLP).
The much-loved academy has made even more progress since inspectors graded it as ‘good’ and now, “inspirational” headteacher Ian Smith-Childs is looking forward to moving the school even further forward.
When Ian Smith Childs takes his daily learning walk, he is greeted by a comforting sight: classrooms packed with happy children, eager to learn.
“Our students have such a positive attitude towards learning,” beams Ian. “We have high expectations and the excellent teaching challenges them to reach their true potential.”
He has every right to be proud. Last year, Ofsted inspectors praised the “ambitious” academy for its quality teaching, pupil achievement and behaviour, and strong leadership and governance. They described the academy as a ‘united learning community’.
Ian says: “2016 was such an incredible year for us. Ofsted confirmed what we knew already – that we are a good school in all areas, with the potential to be outstanding. Now we want to build on this success by embedding that excellence through quality education.”
And if anybody can do this, Ian can. Inspectors described the capable leader as having, “inspired the school community, raising expectations of teaching and pupils’ achievement.”
But Ian would be the first to acknowledge that the school’s new status stems from the hard work of Coleshill’s learning community and through collaboration.
The Arthur Terry Learning Partnership made this school a better place,” says Ian. “Our rapid improvement came as a direct result of being in partnership of generous schools, who shared our belief that we would give this community the school they deserved.”
Warwickshire County Council has also noticed the school’s turnaround. At the end of last year, the authority – which is home to around two thirds of Coleshill’s students – presented the academy with an award for excellence in education.
The two parties are now in discussions as to how they can support the region’s rising school population. The 900-strong school could expand gradually over the next five years to around 1200 and the sixth form (which was also Ofsted graded as ‘good’) will to grow to 200, due to the larger cohorts coming through the school.
In short, Coleshill is in demand. But it wasn’t always so. Just three years ago the academy was entrenched in quicksand: struggling to fill places and saddled with a special measures rating. So how did the former grammar school, that was once the pride of Coleshill, re-build itself to eventually rise even taller?
Changing the landscape
Coleshill’s metamorphosis started in September 2014 when the failing academy began working with a “like minded partnership of schools.”
“We desperately needed some support,” admits Ian, who was a deputy headteacher at Coleshill at the time.
“The Arthur Terry Learning Partnership was an established multi-academy trust with a strong record for school improvement and it seemed like a natural choice. It was a real lifeline for us.”
The academy saw the benefits of partnership working “very, very quickly,” according to Ian.
In two years we completely turned the school around.”
The first challenge was to move the school from its grading of requiring improvement to good. This was following the previous grading of special measures prior to Ian joining the school. Thankfully, this happened in record time, due to the “triumvirate of support” of leadership direction, HR support and specialist leaders of education (SLEs) who worked alongside leaders and teachers to identify significant areas for school improvement.
“What the ATLP did was to enable us to focus on learning and teaching. They provided support to help us do what we needed to do. We ensured that all the teaching was good very quickly,” recalls Ian.
Key appointments were also made at all levels. “They gave us some really good staff who were committed to school improvement.”
This included Simon Roberts – an experienced senior leader from Arthur Terry School – who joined Coleshill deputy headteacher.
“He was the architect of our school improvement,” Ian says. “He really simplified everything and made it very clear what we needed to do in terms of learning and teaching.”
The robust plan was driven by the then CEO, Sir Chris Stone, who provided one-to-one mentoring and coaching to Ian, coupled with the guidance and support of other experienced headteachers and leaders. As part of his continuous professional development both Ian and Simon completed the Arthur Terry National Teaching School’s (ATNTs) respected ‘Aspire to Headship’ programme.
“The succession planning is so good across the ATLP – it’s not just building teachers but leaders, and not just leaders, but heads,” Ian adds.
With Coleshill School now rated RI (requires improvement) and officially part of the ATLP, Ian was asked by Sir Chris to become headteacher of the academy.
“Chris likened the role to walking a tight rope, with the net being close initially and then gradually getting lower – it’s a great metaphor,” Ian says.
A united learning community
Richard Gill, who is now CEO of the ATLP, remembers how Ian immersed himself in Coleshill, set on driving the school forward and raising standards. But no headteacher is an island. Ian drew confidence from those around him, as they set about delivering a robust and long-term strategy.
“School improvement is not a quick fix – it’s a sustainable plan,” Ian says.
Yet Ian had just ten school months from starting as head in June 2014, before the call from Ofsted came. When inspectors arrived, they were greeted by a different school. One that was good in all areas, with outstanding features.
The report said: “They (ATLP, school staff and leaders, governors) have created a united learning community that has high expectations and aspirations and very positive relationships.
“Successful partnerships have helped to strengthen the quality of leadership and teaching. Close links are fostered with colleagues leading other schools, the ATLP and a specialist leader of education from the primary phase.”
Ofsted added: “Excellent relationships have been quickly established with the new academy sponsor. Governors acknowledge that this transition has been a ‘seamless process’ and, as a result has already helped to strengthen the quality of education on offer.”
In the same year as this excellent Ofsted report the school’s GCSE results continued to rise, with the highest ever number of students achieving a C or above in English Maths (66%). The school recorded its best every A Level results and results in over 10 subjects were above national average.
As word of Coleshill’s improvement spread, so did the school’s popularity. Year 7 numbers rose from 160 to 220 and a school once written off, reclaimed its place in the town.
It’s given the community a lift. It is a big deal for parents and staff in our community report that people are now talking about the ‘comp’ as being good – a better place.
“Being part of the ATLP has enabled us to become more outward facing. We are a business and enterprise school and we are championing the skills of our students through strong local links.”
In addition to “revolutionising governance” joining the ATLP family has had an immeasurable effect on staff – such as promotion opportunities and career development and wider collaboration. The feel-good factor presides over Coleshill.
“The ATLP is a strong and successful brand and the teaching school is a bonus. We are fully staffed and we have not had a problem filling our staff or student vacancies.”
Ian is keen to champion the fundamental role played by the Arthur Terry National Teaching School which- helped Coleshill to re-build its staffing structure. The ATNTS – a recognised provider of outstanding teacher training – deployed SLEs to the school; helped to fill leadership positions and brought in outstanding associate teachers and NQTs in the core subjects of English, Maths and Science.
“Being able to access quality associate teachers and NQTs is a major plus. Because you are working with them from the beginning, they want to stay,” Ian says.
What has the ATLP done for Coleshill?
“I would not be doing the job I’m doing now without the ATLP,” Ian says.“I had to develop quickly, but I had the support to do so.
“The partnership is very good at recognising leaders and developing leadership with a sustainable approach. You don’t feel like you are on your own, which is a key part of being in the ATLP.
“There is autonomy to be your own school in a framework of support and accountability. I can make my own decisions, but within a clear time frame. Those are the benefits of an outstanding provider and teaching school.”
Ian is now very much part of ATLP’s give and gain culture. The mentee turned mentor is working with Nicky Gould, acting headteacher of the ATLP’s Stockland Green School, as the popular academy aims for ‘good’ at its next Ofsted inspection.
“She can’t believe the support she’s getting – she will flourish,” says Ian.
As a fellow headteacher who was given the capacity to make his school ‘good’ Ian understands better than most that school-to-school support is the engine for school improvement.
“We are in a different landscape – schools can’t survive on their own now and you got to look for a partnership of like mindedness. If you have schools with the same ethos as the ATLP, then that can only be a really good thing: you can develop the things you want to and know that there is always that support. Because you are in a partnership, it’s not a ‘done to’ structure.
“The ATLP has the blue print for their own self-improving system – we are developing the model of ‘grow your own’ and creating that core of excellence across our family of schools. It’s our duty to pass on this outstanding practice to each and every child that we have the privilege to teach, so that they benefit from the very best that education – and life – have to offer.”