In July 2017, just 16% of pupils at Perry Court Primary School in Bristol achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at key stage 2, placing it as the lowest performing school in Bristol and in the bottom 1% of the country’s primary schools.
When we joined E-ACT in September 2017, we set ourselves a target of becoming the most improved academy in Bristol. I’m proud to say that we did it, going from 16% in the combined measure to 69%. These results were 5% higher than the national average and a 53% increase on the previous year.
We’ve since received national recognition from Sir David Carter, had people visiting from other E-ACT regions and we’re now being used as a model for how to turn an academy around in a year. I’ve even been told that this is the quickest an E-ACT academy has ever experienced such a transformation.
‘I just can’t praise my staff enough’
This year, we’ve managed to bring together a group of brilliant people and this has been key to our transformation. Our new members of staff came with real energy and talent, and the staff that remained were a strong core group of talented individuals.
We do not work any harder than before, but we now work within a more structured and collaborative model. I just can’t praise my staff enough. They all bought in to everything that the trust and the leadership team had put together and they work incredibly hard.
As a senior leadership team, we’ve taken away a lot of the duties, admin and behaviour jobs that our staff were doing before and have allowed them to focus on teaching and learning. We’re also honest with each other and transparent with our stakeholders – there’s no more saying, ‘don’t show them that classroom’ or ‘avoid that area of the academy’ when people visit us.
Significant changes in teaching and learning
We’ve made a number of significant changes to the way pupils are taught. As you can imagine, our children were coming into Year 6 at a low starting point after years of inadequate teaching. We decided to split the year group up and invested in an additional Year 6 teacher. We were then able to spend more time ensuring that we had the foundations right whilst providing lower adult to children ratios.
We took steps to make the learning environments more consistent. Tougher systems were also put in place to improve the children’s behaviour throughout the academy. We worked incredibly hard, but the children, like the staff, really bought into what we wanted for them. They wanted to do well and to set the benchmark as the first Year 6 cohort at Perry Court E-ACT Academy.
‘A lot of our pupils see a glass ceiling.’
The biggest challenge in this community is raising aspirations: unfortunately, a lot of our pupils see a glass ceiling. It’s our job to let them know that they can go on to achieve whatever they want to.
Reaching out to parents and the local community has also been key. When the academy was performing badly, there was almost an invisible barrier up between the academy and the community. We’ve been transparent and open by addressing past failings while also talking about how we’re going to fix those failings. We were clear from the start that the only way to turn the academy around was with the help of everyone: the staff, the parents and the children.
The E-ACT network
Working collaboratively with the other E-ACT academies in Bristol has been so helpful. This is my first headship, and having that close network of headteachers has been useful for me as we’re able to support and inspire one another.
The academies are all geographically close together, and our staff benefit from being able to visit the other academies in our region. Whether it’s me going to meet with another headteacher to share ideas or a teaching assistant going over to another academy to see how an intervention is run, having access to that kind of training has been invaluable.
My aim is to make Perry Court the academy of choice in Whitchurch. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re well on our way and we’re showing that we can do it. We have more and more parents wanting to send their children here and more and more staff wanting to work here. Last year we were struggling to fill positions, but now I put up a vacancy and we get thirty applications per job: people have heard about the impact we’ve made and they want to be a part of the journey.
I love this academy. I’m a local Bristol boy – I grew up around here and I live in the community. I want people in the area to have a better start in life, and I really believe that they can get that here at Perry Court E-ACT Academy.
Richard Healey is Headteacher at Perry Court E-ACT Academy.