As part of our series focusing on the people who lead our academies, Simon Cox, Headteacher of The Parker E-ACT Academy in Daventry, reflects on the lessons he has learned over the course of his career.
Simon joined The Parker in April 2019, having served as headteacher of a school in Basildon, Essex for five years.
My dad was a fireman for 28 years and my mum was a school dinner lady, and they both taught me the importance of a good work ethic. They always said, “You need to work hard and have aspirations, but you also need to be humble.” Growing up in Croydon, they were very keen to make sure that I held on to traditional values: being nice to people, being polite, dressing properly and always being grateful. For me, those are the values that I want to instil in all of our young people at The Parker.
I got into teaching because I have always enjoyed listening to the thoughts and ideas of young people. I was a junior footballer at Crystal Palace for nine years and found sports interesting, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to go on to study that at university. I went into teaching from there and had some really fantastic mentors. I was inspired by many, many great teachers and saw the impact that a good teacher can have on their students.
Sometimes there’s a danger of just seeing the young person sat in front of you. You see how attentive they are, whether or not they do their homework, how they behave in the classroom. When I became a head of year in 2004, I got more involved in the pastoral side of education. I realised that unfortunately, some of these young people could be growing up in a home where they didn’t have the same support that I had as a child, or that financial security or those aspirations. Maybe in their family, school wasn’t seen as important. The more young people you meet, the more you understand those different circumstances. Then you can work on helping your students to realise that school can offer them a route out of that place.
It’s so important that every student has the chance to be successful. Some students experience success through their grades, some through sport, some through music and drama. During my time as an assistant headteacher in Essex, I noticed that there were young people that were missing out on that recognition. I worked with a number of large organisations to develop the Employability for Life Charter, an award which recognised those students who were turning up on time every day, working hard, looking smart and trying to learn. When I became a deputy headteacher in Havering, the award was rolled out in the area and had a positive impact on behaviour and outcomes because students who weren’t usually rewarded were given the chance to succeed.
The key to transforming a school is raising standards and raising aspirations. In 2014, I became headteacher of a school in Basildon. The school was in special measures, 58 teachers had left in the first month and there were 175 exclusions in the first two months of the year before I joined. In order to combat these issues, we focused on taking the time to understand the needs of our young people and gave them the support and motivation that they needed to achieve. When I left in 2019, we were over-subscribed, nationally recognised for our sport and pupil premium work and there had not been a fixed-term or permanent exclusion in five years. Ofsted had also rated the school good with outstanding leadership and management.
There’s no better way to raise aspirations than by showing students the world that’s out there. At my previous school, we received a fair amount of attention in the press for our Enrichment Week. We were in a deprived area, with 44% of students eligible for pupil premium, and time and time again families told me that they couldn’t afford to take their children away on holiday. I brought it to the governors and we devised Enrichment Week, which gave families the chance to take a trip during term time. You can’t underestimate the value of giving children new experiences, or of giving families the chance to spend valuable time together. For children who couldn’t go away, we planned a whole week of enrichment activities so that nobody was missing out.
I’m really excited to have joined a trust with such a strong focus on mental health. It is so important that our staff have an understanding of their students’ pastoral needs. Sanctioning poor behaviour is part of working with young people, but it is vital that we learn to reflect and unpick why they might be behaving in a certain way and offer support. Having met lots of our Daventry families already, I’m confident that our work around mental health will help us to support not only the young people at our academy but also their families and the wider community. I believe that we can have a real impact by drawing on E-ACT’s wealth of knowledge around mental health.
Understanding a school’s community is key. The Parker isn’t just an academy. Daventry is a very tight-knit community and The Parker is an important part of that. What Daventry needs is for us to continue to work together with DSLV (the other E-ACT academy in the area) to provide every single one of our young people with the opportunity to be successful. Although geographically it can be difficult for our children to branch out of Daventry and the surrounding villages, our job is to open the door to a whole world of opportunities, to the bigger towns and cities not so far away, where they can go on to do wonderful things.