The first step to turning around a school, according to Sir Steve Lancashire, chief executive of primary academy trust Reach2, is to make an overall assessment of the school’s strengths and weaknesses.
“When you come into a school, the first thing you do is to establish the strengths and what’s stopping them from succeeding. You need to know why they’re struggling,” he explains. “Usually, expectations are too low.”
Once Lancashire has established what is working and what needs to change, the next thing he does is to get the right leadership team in place.
“As far as possible, I will do this with people who are already in the school and then bring in new members of staff only where necessary,” he says.
And getting the right teaching staff in place is just as important as choosing a good leadership team, says Gemma Clarke, executive headteacher at Brampton Primary Academy in Bexleyheath, Kent.
She initially found recruitment to be a challenge, so began targeting NQTs, working with local initial teacher training providers.
“We did this really early on, so we captured the NQTs who were really hungry for this kind of job. In the end, we had an inexperienced staff, but a team who were passionate and were very willing to experiment and to try new things. They also really knew their pedagogy, because it was all fresh.”
Most fixer heads agree that once you are happy with your team, the next step is to set up effective systems and procedures within the school.
Niall McWilliams, headteacher of the Oxford Academy, has five focuses: implementing the highest standards for behaviour; offering a broad and varied curriculum, but with a focus on English and maths; providing strong professional development; tracking data “religiously” and reaching out to the local community.
As far as he is concerned, the final step is one of the one of the most important.
“It’s difficult for people in this area,” he says. “Every time you pick up a paper you read about the high crime rates and deprivation. It reinforces the stereotype.”
“[So you have to] stop drawing attention to the difficulties that people face, and talking about the ‘challenging circumstances’ that the school is operating in.
“Part of turning a school around is breaking these stereotypes down. In turn, as the school becomes better, the reputation of the area can begin to change. The two are interconnected.”