A judgement on a school is made via a wide range of factors and, in trying to guarantee each of our students benefit from having attended a school with a strong reputation, we have to balance a firm line on securing our own development, whilst also making sure all stakeholders feel there are plenty positives to talk about.

Undoubtedly, a school’s real reputation comes from the bread-and-butter of day-to-day practice: how students approach school each day; how parents feel about their child‘s progress in lessons, in making friends, and in developing confidence; and how those in the broader community judge the school in terms of community interaction, our approach to working with Lichfield, and our students’ conduct as they come to and from school.

Nationally, the most public barometers of a school are the DfE Performance Tables (Summer 2017) and the school’s OFSTED Report (November 2017). Our most recent Summer results were the school’s strongest, placed the school in the top 30% of schools nationally, and were better or on par with illustrious neighbours resting on long-held ‘outstanding’ reputations. Elsewhere, last term’s OFSTED visit graded us as ‘good’ – exactly where we felt we were – as whilst our headline results cried ‘outstanding’, we knew we needed to embed our new curriculum and breed greater consistency in all we seek to do. Indeed, we were more keen that the experienced OFSTED team noted the substantial and systematic change that the school is putting itself through in order to enable our students to be the most successful around.

The OFSTED Report target of “continue to improve” recognised that we were already putting exemplary systems and processes in place and had harnessed the dynamism and energy required to succeed:

  •  “New approaches to teaching, a better curriculum, the introduction of a House system, changes in day-to-day organisation and improvements to the physical environment have reinvigorated the school.”
  •  “A culture of high aspirations now pervades this rapidly improving school.”
  •  “Most of the changes you have brought in are being implemented still. As such, they should deliver even greater benefits over the next two years.”

Certainly, everyone connected to the school will be able to point to things we can improve upon, and we know our trajectory is not going to continue with an ever upward line graph, but we feel sure that any observer will celebrate the advances, the will to get better, and the commitment to put the time and graft into going at it each and every day.

Naturally, a school’s reputation is enhanced when the community backs the school so it is important we strive to make sure we hold ourselves accountable for having a positive impact on our locale. With careful planning, such a commitment fulfils multiple objectives. Do visits and placements to local care homes broaden our students’ life experience? Yes. Do corporate events and community performances challenge our students to thrive in different environments? Yes. Do projects with business leaders, religious leaders, charity co-ordinators and community groups offer our students new perspectives and transferable skills? Yes.

With this in mind, perhaps one of the most exciting developments in our new House system is where the students voted for a local charity to support. This has seen Darwin House align with Acorns’ Hospice, Garrick House back the British Lung Foundation (Sutton Coldfield), in connection with a leading student, Johnson House’s vote brought in St Giles Hospice, and Seward House selected the Midlands Air Ambulance. It is easy for schools to resort to throwing £1 in a bucket and saying this is charity. Instead, we have sought to learn about the groups that make our community a better place and to insist that our charity fund-raising is not passive donating but active learning.

Similarly, our commitment to our families and neighbours was modelled in our campaign to address the new parking restrictions proposed outside the school. Of course our actions were motivated by caring for the safety of our students, but were also connected to the well-being of our parents who rush from pillar-to-post each morning, and our neighbours who deserve to live without a parking lot blocking their drives and access. If we ask our students to look out and take care of others, it is essential we model this expectation.

Nonetheless, we are all too aware that we will be seeking the support of our families, local politicians and community groups over the next few months. The negotiations with the county and district councils over the Sports Centre need to protect student funding and ensure no Friary student loses out to agendas outside of education. Equally, the local and national push towards academy status needs to be met head on and establish the school in a new setting where our successful approaches can be retained and be allowed to flourish. These will be crucial issues for the school this year and it is certain our on-going success will rest on being able to call in on the support and enthusiasm that we hope to have earned.

2018 will be a pivotal year for the school and amidst the hullabaloo of national, regional and district challenges we will ensure our eyes remain firmly on championing our students. The students make the school, they are the reason we are here, and whatever this year brings it can only be placed in the context of making a difference to their lives. They are our absolute priority so going out on a limb for them and shouting out for their futures is as compulsory as a school tie or a pen.

A good reputation for the school means a good reputation for everyone involved in the school. We all have a big incentive to do our bit by making sure that attending our school opens doors and grants opportunities ahead of others. Let’s make sure we talk each other up and fight for the common cause of the school because if the school thrives so do the individual lives of every child and nothing is worth more than that.

Matt Allman

January 2018