The new leadership team at Wetherby High School are now in place and are already seeing positive results from the changes they have introduced since the start of term. Reporter James Metcalf interviews the school’s executive headteacher and acting headteacher about what has changed and why.
Wetherby High School is certainly looking different.
With brighter colours, a refurbished reception area, and an outdoor dining area with a canopy and benches, these material alterations are surface indications of much broader changes within the school.
On a Monday morning every single member of the school, staff and students, meet to begin the week with a common goal.
This process, known as ‘checking in’, is followed on a Wednesday with a ‘check up’ and on Friday with a ‘check out’, ensuring progress is monitored, concerns are addressed, and relationships are maintained.
This is just one facet of the school’s newly introduced coaching scheme which sees students from all years meet in coaching groups with teachers and other staff members for guidance and support, but also to foster an atmosphere of personalisation - knowing each other is key, according to the new leadership team.
Wetherby High’s executive headteacher Simon Flowers, who has been headteacher at Carr Manor Community School in Leeds for 10 years and has been principal at two other schools before this, is behind this and other initiatives at the school.
Joined by his vice-principal from Carr Manor Lucie Lakin, who is acting headteacher at Wetherby High, the policies taking shape at the school are already yielding some crucial improvements at the school which, it is hoped, will drive up achievement but also contentment at the school.
Mr Flowers said: “We have looked at Wetherby High through a different lense than everybody else because we are involved with the other extreme at Carr Manor. We have asked how well does this organisation know each child, and how personalised is the offer? That is how we started and that has brought some radical change in the time invested here.
“The subtlety around coaching by an adult who knows the children in detail means no child slips through the net. How do you do that? Well the whole community takes part in that process.
“Every adult is tasked with getting to know children in detail. They get to know their family, they advocate for them, and what you develop is a community with shared values, shared commitments, and a shared mission, so everybody is involved not just members of staff.”
When coaching groups are not together, they can stay up to date with what is going on at the school, including which school house - another introduction used to great effect - is winning in terms of house points. This scheme works in partnership with the school’s vastly improved out of hours offer. The school day has been radically changed, with learning beginning from 9am on a Monday and 8.30am on other days, and until 2pm on Wednesdays and Fridays with a usual end time of 3.30pm.
The time then left open is taken up with activities put on and supported by staff through flexible learning, which again generates a relationship beyond the classroom.
Mrs Lakin said: “One of the big changes is the offer to students out of school hours. Every single member of staff has signed up to either lead or support a club, and that is an opportunity to develop different relationships between staff and students.
“One thing this offers, with the coaching scheme, is consistency and clarity after a turbulent year for the school. For 150 people to be engaged in the same thing is great and one thing it has been able to sharpen up is explicit vision and mission, and I think that had been challenging for the past 12 months. We wanted to be really clear about the vision and the ethos we wanted to share. It is easy to sound sentimental but without that bedrock you are not going to be able to move forward.” Wetherby High School was classified as requiring improvement at their last Ofsted inspection, and though they have been working with staff and students for less than a month, Mr Flowers and Mrs Lakin said they can already see improvements that such impress at the next inspection which is expected at any time.
Mr Flowers said: “We have a classroom dynamic and a coaching dynamic and a whole set of relationships that are new, and that will break down the year group structure and students will join together from different year groups.
“From that children will hopefully realise they are being supported and that this is a place for enjoyment.
“Then we are in a better position to challenge performance both in terms of staff and students. It has improved attendance and has reduced any need for children to go home in exclusion, and it is about children choosing to behave well, not being told to, and we are starting to see that already. Then it is about where that takes you in terms of achieving and attainment.
“We want Wetherby to be proud of their school. We are expecting Ofsted again at any time in the future and they say what they say, but we know there is work to do and we are laying the groundwork for rapid improvement and already the attendance is better than it was last year.
“We know that children travel further under our leadership, so we expect the results in the summer to be better even though we will have only been working with them for a year.”