GCSE pass rate jumps 60 per cent in nine-year turn-around for Newport's Duffryn High School
3:02pm Tuesday 22nd October 2013 in News
FAILURE is not an option for pupils at a Newport school which has hiked up its GCSE pass rate from just 20 per cent nine years ago, to 81 per cent this year.
The battle to raise standards at the 1,200-pupil Duffryn High School has been the "ruthless" personal mission of head teacher Jon Wilson, who asks teachers to assess their pupils' performance every four weeks, after which any failing pupils are personally discussed.
Standards have continued to rise every year despite a planned rebuild at the school, which was part of a programme involving Newport High School and the former Hartridge High dating back to 2009, being put on hold due to financial constraints within Newport council.
"This has been a nine year job," said Mr Wilson of Duffryn's educational transformation, after he took the top job at the school in 2004 in charge of 74 teachers and 40 support staff.
"You don't make things like that happen over night. But I will never be happy until we've got 100 per cent."
Speaking about the postponed refurbishment, Mr Wilson said: "We were the third element and with the financial situation it's on hold. But we always say it's not the school buildings that make a great school, it's what happens in them.
"It's no good sulking. The moment we think school buildings are the answer is when we start to fail."
Nine years ago a change of uniform made an immediate impression around the school and soon Mr Wilson started to focus energies towards teaching, learning, and raising aspirations for the students.
"Aspirations were low and aspirations for staff were low as well," he said of 2004. "We've now got a culture in school agreed amongst all staff that for everyone who comes through the door, we have really high expectations and they must achieve, failure is not an option for anybody and that starts with my staff.
"We have been ruthless about reviewing teaching and learning in this school."
Every department gets reviewed by the leadership team, who observe lessons - much like an internal equivalent to the inspectorate Estyn - and look at teachers' schemes of work and pupils' behaviour before writing a report, to which the department must draw up an action plan.
Mr Wilson said he has gone about assembling "as talented a group of teachers" as he can, with the view that only the best teachers are suitable for Duffryn, and the school has even posted video clips on its website of examples of good teaching practice for younger staff members to see.
Rowan Wetherill, who has been head of science at the school for three years, said exam results have gone from 32 per cent of students achieving A*-C three years ago, to 84 per cent, while Paul Thompson, head of maths, said that GCSE results last year at grade C and above were up seven per cent on their previous best and their main focus has been on "proper teaching", with lesson planning now an "absolute priority".
The reason for the rise in the school's GCSE five A*-C pass rate is not, Mr Wilson believes, because exams are getting easier.
"I don't think exams are getting easier, I think young people are progressing and getting better at learning," he said.
The pastoral care at the school has been given much more emphasis and mentoring sessions for pupils who may be falling behind are the norm.
Lucy Purcell, head of English said they have a range of strategies in place to continue improving as a department, including morning tuition sessions, same sex classes, core support groups, after-school revision clubs, reading, film and other book groups, a debating team, new schemes of work at Key Stages 3 and 4, peer-observation programmes and individual projects based around the use of philosophy for children and assertive mentoring.
Part of Mr Wilson's change in ethos when he arrived in 2004 was "never to pander to a small minority of parents and pupils", he said, and attendance has improved from around 82 per cent nine years ago to 90 per cent.
Financial pressures are "increasingly worrying" for the head teacher but Newport council has "done a great job supporting the school", he said.
"When visitors come here they always comment on the high standards of good behaviour," said Mr Wilson. "I think in the community things are slower to turn around and it can be difficult if a school has a reputation, to get rid of that reputation because it can go on for 10 or 20 years and the only answer is to have high expectations and keep on improving."
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