A Thought Piece by Fuzel Choudhury 7 December 2018

In 2018, 70% of students at Heartlands Academy achieved at least 4+ in English and mathematics at key stage 4, rising from 60% just last year. An amazing 98% achieved at least a 4+ in English Language.  

Our academy is in Nechells which has been rated the 16th worst place to live in the country, yet we’ll be in the top 150 schools for our Progress 8 score alongside grammars and independent schools. When you consider our context, our students have done phenomenally well. 

Keeping it simple and consistent 

When people ask me, ‘how did you do it?’, I feel a little embarrassed. I think people expect you to say something really creative and out-there, so I end up feeling like a cheat when I tell them that it’s actually quite straight-forward.  

I’m a firm believer in doing a few things exceptionally well.  There’s no point in trying to do 20 different things and delivering nothing: you need to identify the seven or eight things that are critical for raising standards and focus on them. 

Keeping it simple and consistent is key. For example, when I was appointed headteacher of Heartlands there was a very complex behaviour system in place. I just thought, let’s keep it simple: we want a culture of positivity with very clear boundaries and then nobody gets confused.  

Initially, I faced some resistance from parents. They would say, ‘you’re too harsh, is it really a problem if my child is only a minute late? Why can’t they wear trainers just for one day?’ Parents thought that because we are in Nechells and not in a more affluent area, we couldn’t set high standards. But that’s precisely why we have high expectations of our students as it’s how you raise aspirations. 

‘We value teachers that are on board, positive and loyal.’ 

I’ve had lots of people visiting Heartlands recently and they always comment on how buoyant the staff are. That’s because we value teachers that are on board, positive and loyal. We don’t have time for negative influences in our team – I’d rather train and develop inexperienced but positive members of staff.  

Every member of our senior leadership team coaches two people, spending time in classrooms with teachers who are needing more support. Furthermore, every Friday we spend our morning briefing sharing good practice. If a teacher used an effective starter in their lesson, for example, we’ll get them to demonstrate that to the group.  

‘Outstanding teaching alone won’t deliver results.’ 

At Heartlands, we serve a high percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds with varying levels of ability. While an able student will pick up a concept quickly, a less able student may take more time to understand a concept and be less inclined to pick up a book at home. 

We’ve therefore built in more curriculum time by adding a sixth period and making use of the 20 minutes of tutor time at the start of each day. All Year 11 tutors are English and maths teachers, so now students also have an extra 20 minutes of English and maths in the morning which has made a huge impact over the course of the year. 

Going above and beyond 

One of the first things I said to my staff when we came back after the summer was, ‘we’ve had a phenomenal year and clearly our strategies work.’ We won’t be introducing anything new because we’re going to focus on making the existing strategies work even better. 

I am thrilled with our team and how they’ve gone above and beyond for our students. And the students have responded. With a bit of tough love and a bit of structure, they’ve succeeded way beyond what anyone could have dreamed.  

Fuzel Choudhury is Headteacher at Heartlands Academy.