THE headteacher of one of Thurrock’s only failing secondary schools has spoken exclusively to the Gazette about how he is turning things around.
James Howarth started as head of the Hathaway Academy in Grays - formerly known as the Grays Media Arts College - in September, just months after the school assumed academy status.
The Academy Transformation Trust, a charitable company which looks after 16 schools across the UK, now helps manage the school.
Mr Howarth is working closely with the trust to drive improvement at the school.
After one term, he has worked to increase attendance, with pupils now at school 95 per cent of the time, 2.5 per cent higher than in September. The introduction of a house system has helped too, Mr Howarth claims, as it has given pupils a greater sense of belonging and inter-school competition.
He explained: “The houses are called self worth, purpose and enagement, with each house designated a charity that they raise money for.”
He added: “I maintain the ethos that if you build it, they will come.
“School has to be a place pupils enjoy coming to.
“It’s about getting kids involved and engaging with them through good teaching. Then they don’t question whether they want to be here or not.”
Mr Howarth said that becoming an academy has given him the autonomy to make changes to the curriculum and manage the budget to suit the needs of the school, rather than the local authority saying how the money should be spent.
He said: “For me, the key thing about being an academy is the autonomy to spend my budget in an appropriate way to support teaching, progress, attainment and learning.
“I can set a curriculum that suits the need of our community.
“Take the High House Production Park for instance – I can set a curriculum that will maximise the opportunity for employment there or at the new port.
“Then there’s the right that being an academy gives me and the school to have a vision and a purpose.”
Mr Howarth is also keen to learn from the borough’s teaching schools: William Edwards, the Harris Academy and Dilkes, three “outstanding” schools which are qualified to pass on the wisdom of their success.
And he is now working with Grays primary schools, like Little Thurrock, to establish relationships that will make pupils’ path through primary school to secondary school more seamless. Again improving standards.
By September, the Hathaway Academy could have a post-16 offering, tailor-made for its students based on the GCSEs they are taking now.
Mr Howarth said: “There is so much opportunity here in Thurrock and schools have to play a significant part. We need to create aspirational students and have something for children to aim for here in Thurrock.”
HATHAWAY FACTS BEFORE ACADEMY TRANSFORMATION:
*In 2012, just 35.1 per cent of the school’s leavers obtained five or more GCSEs at A* to C including Maths and English.
*In 2013, that figure rose to 39 per cent - 54 per cent less than the borough’s top performing secondary school, the Harris Academy - one of the best peforming schools in the country.
*In 2007, the school was found to be “inadequate” by Ofsted and placed in special measures.
*In 2009 and 2011, the school showed signs of improvement, but was still only “satisfactory”.
*In December 2013, Ofsted placed Thurrock in the top 20 per cent for secondary education across the whole of England.