Guest post: From failure to success – my schools improvement story by Terence Ayers

Let me preface what follows by saying that the success of the school is a testament of the skill and dedication of others, past and present; for my self I have been on a twenty year journey, sometimes bumpy, but enjoyable and rewarding.

It was in the early 1990s that I was appointed Chair of Governors of a small inner city Primary School with an uncertain future – the word was that ‘School Closed’ notices were at the printers. However I was fortunate that at the same time we appointed a new head teacher. As with any new appointment there was a difficult period of jockeying of positions until we both agreed our goals were the same. Once our respective positions were understood it gave us a platform to make changes.

Our first task was to reduce the budget deficit which was growing out of control. We were fortunate that the local authority changed its employment policy along with the introduction of the Blair government which started investing more in education.

The second task was to improve the quality of provision and that meant reducing the number of absentees, creating a bond of trust between the school and parents and, crucially, improving test results (although this was perhaps not so difficult given a starting point where we averaged 12% for English and Maths).

Our third task was to convince the local community to support the school in the face of a move to close it down. Again fortune smiled on us because at that time the head teacher and I were invited to a reception at No 10 Downing Street to receive an award for being one of the most improved schools in the country. The community rallied round and, from that point onwards, instead of being on the edge of the community we were at its heart.

However there was still a great deal of work that needed to be carried by both management and governors, not the least improving the structure, performance and authority of the committees to work in tandem with the needs of the school. Our decision, which roused some critical remarks from outside, was that with the exception of items delegated by the governing body, the senior management would set the agendas and make recommendations which members of the committee could accept, reject or pass on to the full governors meeting. To aid the process it was important that governors received published committee minutes well in advance of the full governors meeting. To facilitate this we created Online Governor (www.onlinegovernor.com) to help eliminate internal print and distribution coats.

With the schools finances improving, it was agreed that recruitment of staff would be based on specific requirements and not simply on replacement. An example of this was when we needed to replace the caretaker we departed from the norm by specifically recruiting someone with building experience. The outcome was that he saved us a great deal of money and, in addition, we have won gold in ‘Leeds in Bloom’ five times out of the last six years. Another important decision made by governors was that senior management could recruit support staff not in a leadership role.

Although we are succeeding there is still so much to achieve. We now have a national reputation for children’s art (our children provided two of the paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy) and in this year’s SATS results for reading we scored 100% at level 4, with 58% at level 5. We have also been asked to bid for a new school build. However, we know that unless the partnership between all the stakeholders is retained, the success we have achieved over the years could soon be lost and that would be unforgivable.

Terence Ayres is a Chair of Governors who also runs Online Governor – an innovative paper free administration system designed to benefit school managers, governors and local authorities. More information here

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