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Addington High executive head aiming to make school most improved in London


THE executive head of Addington High says he aims to "work himself out of a job" by helping the struggling school become outstanding as soon as possible .

John Hernandez was appointed last week after six months working with the school, which was put into special measures by Ofsted last October.

He will continue to guide acting head teacher James Malley and the rest of the school as it becomes an academy sponsored by Ravens Wood School in Bromley, where he worked as deputy head until 2010.

He said: "We don't intend to do what some academy chains do, which is a case of coming in to change the school.

"Yes, there will be changes, but those will depend on the needs of the school.

"I am there to provide expert guidance, to ensure everything is working and moving forward. My role is to work myself out of a job."

Mr Hernandez comes with an impressive CV, having achieved big things in his current role as head teacher of Norlington School for Boys in Waltham Forest, where he moved in June 2010 after the school partnered with Ravens Wood.

Sixty-four per cent of students there achieved the benchmark of five good GCSEs including Maths and English this year, compared to 49 per cent the year before and only 40 per cent in 2009.

The school was also commended this year by the minister for schools for being "exceptionally effective" in educating pupils from deprived backgrounds (defined as those receiving free school meals) – who make up almost 40 per cent of Addington High students.

Last year 46 per cent of Addington students achieved the benchmark. Chairman of the school governors Jo Tanner said of Mr Hernandez: "He has turned [Norlington] into London's most improved school. That is what we want for Addington High."

Rigorous monitoring and clear expectations are to be credited with improvements at Norlington, Mr Hernandez said, along with boosting students' self-belief. He added: "We work on a six-week structure.

"We review the whole school every six weeks and the performance of students. We assess their progress and we target support around that.

"Every six weeks the year 10s and year 11s do a self-review. They sit down, look at their performance and they analyse how well they have done. The important thing about that is they stop and think, and that is a reminder about what they are aiming for.

"Life gets in the way and you lose focus, you have an argument with your mum, things happen.

"We have said, once every six weeks, let us stop, let us remember what we are aiming for."

Setting expectations goes all the way down to uniform, Mr Hernandez believes. He said: "I cannot control you on the street. I can guide, provide influence and support, but ultimately I cannot control you. "Once inside the school gates you are part of my community. Previously they [Norlington pupils] wore a sweatshirt – well, OK, you wear that on the street.

"Now with a blazer, having set the expectations around that, students feel differently about the environment they are in.

"Throw into that a really clear purpose and focus on outcomes, so every student at school has a clear purpose for what they are trying to achieve; they are not just there for social reasons.

"The gang culture has disappeared from school, the behaviour has improved enormously; it has gone from 200 exclusions before I arrived to, this year, I think we have had four or five."

This is not to say the same tactics will necessarily be used at Addington High, which has nearly twice as many students as Norlington, and Mr Hernandez is at pains to point out that decisions will be made between the head teacher, governors and local community.

He said: "What we are looking for is that Addington, in the same way as Norlington, develops its own, unique experience with students, but which is still outstanding.

"There are many ways to skin a cat."

His sights might be set on outstanding, but his relatively brief influence at Addington High was not enough to convince Ofsted inspectors in December that the school was ready to come out of special measures after its "inadequate" rating in October.

Mr Hernandez is not keen to discuss the ins and outs of the school's problems, but deemed Ofsted's original report "fair."

He said: "I do not have the authority or power to question it, and I accept it, and we get on with making it better.

"The initial step at the moment is to understand what is wrong at the school, to break down the fundamentals, to use the Ofsted inspection process and what they have identified.

"Why is it we have such committed, hard-working staff, yet we are in special measures? What has happened?"

Mr Hernandez has pledged not to use the 'difficult students' card if his methods do not succeed.

He said: "Addington is a community school, Norlington is a community school.

"The students you get in the school – your job is to ensure they are successful, whoever they may be.

"Can their behaviour be challenging? Yes, and it is our job to ensure that the systems and the structures and concepts and learning meets the needs of the students.

"Fundamentally it comes down to helping kids believe they can achieve. There is a moral aspect to it – do you actually care about the students in front of you and what they are going to do?

"The teachers at Addington High are massively committed to making this school an outstanding school – every single person."

Addington High is switching to academy status after a turbulent period, during which the school has been beset by poor performance and scandal. Head teacher Tim Davies left his post earlier this month after two years at the school. Early successes have been overtaken by a series of controversies that have blighted the school over the past 12 months. Ofsted inspectors put Addington High into special measures in October, citing poor exam results and attendance levels. The Advertiser has previously reported on a sex scandal which led to the sacking of deputy head Tim Edwards, while a teacher was sent home for allegedly being drunk in charge of a lesson. On departing, Mr Davies hailed the academy move as a 'new chapter for secondary education in New Addington', and said it was 'the right time for me to move on'. And chair of governors Jo Tanner said there was no pressure put on him to depart, adding: "Tim has been with us for 12 years and with the changes that are coming to the school, he felt it was the right time to move on." John Hernandez spells out his vision for the school...
  • The uniform:
"We will have consultation to examine that. We are minded to look at the uniform. It is interesting – many students have expressed a desire to change. There may well be a change but we will consult the community and the parents."
  • The curriculum:
  • "The number of vocational courses may drop slightly but there will still be vocational courses offered. We will be looking at making sure the students are matched to the right courses. It comes down to what is the appropriate choice for Addington High, for the type of students. It will be under constant review every single year from now on."
  • The sixth form: "The sixth form will exist; the only thing that will be questionable is what courses will it offer. It is a stepping stone to where students go next so we need to make sure it meets the needs of the students."
  • The head teacher: "I will not comment on that. We will have a proper interview process at a later stage. That is for the governors to decide. I have every faith in [acting head] Mr Malley. He is an incredibly hard-working educationalist who wants the best for his students and his school and has a lot of experience of his students at New Addington."
  • The staff: "Will staff transfer [from Ravens Wood]? That will depend on the needs of the school. What there will be is the expertise from Norlington and Ravens Wood and the training and development to ensure the right systems are in place. Whenever we and Sir George Berwick [executive head of Ravens Wood] have led a project, it has been about developing the staff to be successful. It does not matter how they got to where they are – it is what we do from now."
  • The name: "The fundamental message of this whole thing is that we are looking to create a school for the whole community. I don't think will change the name but that will be a decision for the governors, through consultation."
  • Addington High executive head aiming to make school most improved in London

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