The headteachers of Ripon’s two secondary schools – Outwood Academy Ripon and Ripon Grammar School – speak to Sarah French to discuss why they believe their city is among the best for education.
When it comes to choosing an attractive environment to go to school there can be few as lovely as Clotherholme Road in Ripon.
On one side of the road is Ripon Grammar School, renowned as one of the best schools in Yorkshire, where results and Ofsted’s judgement are outstanding and where pupils must pass a selection test to secure a place.
On the other side is Outwood Academy Ripon, a school which matches, if not exceeds, the grammar in terms of pupil progress and is aiming realistically for an outstanding verdict from inspectors next time they visit. The Academy is also becoming known for its high provision of emotional support for young people and the calm and purposeful way that students go about their learning.
Outwood Academy is the most recent incarnation of a school that started life in the 1930s as a secondary modern, became Ripon City School in the 1990s and then Ripon College. It is keen to shake off opinions held by some – it may look the same school, but its culture and ethos has changed significantly. According to governors some people’s perception of Outwood is hopelessly out of date.
Ian Pringle, a governor at both Outwood Academy and Ripon Grammar, says: “A lot of parents of would-be Outwood pupils have a perspective from a generation ago and as a consequence they’re a generation out of date.
“They don’t understand the reality of what Outwood is: a very good school. It’s made real progress in the past few years particularly in terms of academic attainment. The levels of pupil progress now being achieved are outstanding.
“We need to dispel the notion that the two secondary schools in Ripon can’t offer all that’s needed for all the young people of Ripon. Children don’t need to leave the city, they can get an excellent education here, which ever school they go to.”
In 2011, the governors of Ripon College saw advantage in being part of a larger organisation that provided the support they say was not being offered by the local authority. They joined Outwood Grange Academies Trust, one of the highest achieving academy chains in the country with a reputation for rapidly transforming schools. At Ripon it has been the catalyst for change. The school adopted the “student first” mantra and underperformance was eradicated.
“It is true that, in 2008, when I arrived, Ripon College needed the structures and systems embedding that would transform the school,” explains Outwood Academy’s new principal Angela Sweeten. “A rigorous behaviour for learning system was required.”
Ofsted inspectors returned in 2011 and judged the academy to be “good”. Its results this year – 98 per cent of students achieving five or more A*-C grades at GCSE, or 71 per cent when English and maths are included – have put it on course for “outstanding” next time, particularly in relation to the all-important value added to students’ attainment.
Perhaps a bigger challenge is informing the local community of the quality of education provided in their city. There is no need for them to look elsewhere, say governors and Mrs Sweeten. This acceptance that both schools have parity is demonstrated by the increasing number of families who have children at both schools.
They include Rachel Hoult’s children – 12-year-old Edward goes to Outwood Academy, while his sister Alice, 16, went there until this summer. Her GCSE results of two A*s, seven As and two Bs achieved at the academy qualified her for a place in the grammar school’s sixth form where she is now studying A-levels in English, theatre studies, history and biology.
Mrs Hoult says: “The academy isn’t able to offer the full range of A-levels yet but I’m hoping that by the time Edward reaches sixth form it will have grown and he’ll be able to stay there if he wants to. It has improved so much that both my children have done really, really well there. With Alice, we couldn’t have guaranteed that she would have got into the grammar if she hadn’t gone to Outwood first.
“Anyone who puts the academy down is not talking from experience. Discipline has been really improved and the support, dedication and encouragement offered by the teachers is well above what’s expected of them. We are lucky to have two really good schools in Ripon.”
Mum Tessa Rich, whose daughter Helen attends Ripon Grammar, says the progress Outwood has made in recent years meant she had no concerns about her son Mikale, now 13, going there.
“I knew he would be fine at the academy. I knew that things had changed: that the teaching was excellent, that work would be targeted at the right level and that behaviour was good.
“I’m equally positive about both schools and believe that children get an equally good chance.”
Critically, unequivocal support for Outwood Academy Ripon has come from what, in times past, may have been an unexpected quarter. Martin Pearman, headmaster of the grammar school, says: “Our two schools together are providing outstanding education and we are very fortunate in Ripon to have two good schools – it’s an excellent situation to be in.
“I am very happy to work collaboratively to ensure that our young people, which ever school they go to, get the best educational experience. Having two smaller schools allows us to develop a much greater sense of community in each place and to have curricula that are entirely appropriate to meet the needs of children in both schools.”
Mrs Sweeten adds: “Our schools are different. We accept we are in selective system, but what is great for Ripon families is that there are two schools that can meet all the different needs of the city’s children.”