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How to ditch the 'failure' label

The year before Helen Salmon took over St James's school, Exeter, was one of "turmoil and difficulty" with three different temporary headteachers taking charge. Placed into special measures in November, 2005, Ofsted inspectors found pupil behaviour poor, procedures to monitor teaching weak and senior managers who could not identify what was needed to improve the school.

Mrs Salmon, who started at the school last month, concedes that the inspectors were right to describe St James's as failing. But with a background of improving poorly performing schools and a new senior management team in place, she is confident she can turn the situation around.

"The Ofsted judgement was correct. The school had lost its way. Teaching and learning was suffering and pupil behaviour was not as good as it should have been," she said.

"We are rebuilding and getting the support of the community. We are raising our game across the school and coming out of special measures is do-able in a reasonable time-frame. The children show huge potential."

The school's catchment area includes some of the highest levels of social deprivation in Devon, with attainment for pupils starting at the school already below the national average.

Mrs Salmon moved to St James's after working as deputy head at two challenging Bristol schools: Hartcliffe engineering community college and Hengrove arts college. Her experience helping Hartcliffe boost its GCSE results from 19 per cent to 36 per cent of pupils achieving five A* to C grades and in moving Hengrove out of special measures has set her agenda at her new school.

"I have established a strong senior management team and we have a shared vision which is concentrated on learning," she says. We have also introduced an accelerated learning plan for Year 11 pupils to improve results. I have seen them improve rapidly before and want that to happen here."

Mrs Salmon is building links with Exeter college to increase the numbers of pupils going into further education .

She said the Public Accounts Committee approach to defining sub-standard schools seemed "simplistic", but praised the way Ofsted inspections considered other factors beyond exam results.

"Inspectors are more aware of context than they used to be. They are rigorous and use data properly," she said.

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