AFTER being dumped in the bottom three by Ofsted for two years running for the number of pupils getting a good or outstanding education, Thurrock is being forced to look closely at how it goes about teaching its youngsters.
After an inspection blitz in February, Ofsted bosses told how improvements are happening and there is more optimism about the standard of education our children are getting.
In this, the latest in a series of articles where your Gazette attempts to get under the skin of education in the borough, NEIL HAWKINS speaks to Kevin Sadler, the chief executive of the Gateway Learning Community, a centre in Tilbury which oversees the running of numerous schools in the area and has been at the heart of education improvement in Thurrock.
ON a clear day from the Gateway Academy, you can glimpse the gleaming peaks of Canary Wharf. The buildings are a symbol of aspiration and success.
It’s where Kevin Sadler encourages his pupils from the Tilbury school to gaze out to in order to gain inspiration for their futures.
“Our children haven’t aspired to go there or similar previously,” he told the Gazette. “But more and more are now. More are going to university and more have higher aspirations.
“But if you don’t have that aspiration, that’s ok too. If you’ve made a decision to work in a modest job our philosophy is you’ve got choice.
“If you decide that’s not right for you but then want to aspire to something higher, we want you to have the education and qualifications to open those doors.”
Mr Sadler is the chief executive of the Gateway Learning Community, a partnership of schools in Tilbury and Chadwell St Mary that includes the Gateway Primary Free School, the Gateway Sixth Form, Herringham Primary Academy, Lansdowne Primary Academy, and soon Tilbury Manor.
He dismisses the idea that he and the Gateway Learning Community are building an “empire”, instead they’re forming a partnership simply for Chadwell and Tilbury.
“We have no ambition to grow beyond that. When Manor becomes a part of our organisation next month we’re on track.”
He would like to add one more school though...
“We’d like Chadwell St Mary to become a part of the Gateway Learning Community. It’s a good school and it will provide a lot of capacity because of the good work that is happening there at the moment. It’s a small school and we think we can provide scale to support it with infrastructure.”
The infrastructure Mr Sadler talks about is a centralised service available to all his school such as ground maintenance and finance which he says saves money, and lifts burdens from heads allowing them to focus on learning.
Mr Sadler, who helped set up the GLC in 2007, now feels they’re a national template for the academy movement, citing the “healthy competition and amazing collaboration” between his schools.
“We’re all of the same view that we want to work together”, he says. “We share best practice and deal with our issues to raise standards for all children.
“The people we’ve appointed to the GLC all have the same goal and are single minded, and want our own schools to succeed.”
The Gateway Primary Free School recently received its first Ofsted inspection, scoring a “good” from the education watchdog. The school moved into its new £7million building in March on the grounds of the Academy in Marshfoot Road.
The rating is in stark contrast to the way primary education is viewed in Thurrock Herringham is above the national average for attainment, as is the Free School. Lansdowne though has work to do, after its last Ofsted showed it to be “requires improvement”.
Mr Sadler said: “The issue for Lansdowne is children come in and their attainment is low so we have to make up those gaps. The simple idea we have is that primary school will get the child to a level that’s above national average.
“That then gives the Academy the opportunity to accelerate that so when they leave school with their GCSEs, they’ve got every chance to access the wider community in terms of business, learning and employment opportunities.”
Figures revealed recently that more than 4,000 schools are now academies – a fifth of all schools. In just the last six months, there has been a 25 percent jump in the number of primary academies to 1,983.
Asked if academies are the future for education in this country, Mr Sadler said: “We have a lot of freedom to define our curriculum in a way that we believe is right for our children, and to define our day and how we deliver things.
“As an academy, we’re able to consult with our community. We have freedoms to do what we think is right.”
For more information on the Gateway Learning Community, visit www.theglc.org.uk