How we did it

When Ted Rowley arrived at his Essex secondary, it was making headlines for the wrong reasons. These days the school is all about good news.

When I applied for this job, in 1990, I was told that, 11 years earlier, the school had made national headlines because of its poor discipline. When I took the post, the recovery process was half complete. But the school had been through two heads since the school's troubles, with very different styles.

A third of the staff wanted me to be like my immediate predecessor, another third wanted me to be like the chap before him, and a third didn't really care as long as I left them alone.

Exam results were poor and we had the remnants of a mentality that aimed to keep the children occupied rather than get them to achieve. We set about trying to create an achieving school. Culture is difficult to change, especially given the school's reputation. There was a feeling that we could do no better. My target has been to convince staff, students and parents that improvement is possible.

Behaviour was a critical issue - there weren't riots, but it needed improvement. There was a uniform, but you couldn't tell from looking at the children. And hundreds of Year 7s and 8s went out at lunchtimes, against the rules. So we tightened up. We took away jewellery and locked it in the safe, stopped them going out at lunchtime, made sure they were wearing their ties.

At the end of my first year, the pupils went on strike. To defuse it we tried to make the protest legitimate by getting them to select representatives to meet me. That became the basis for a school council, which is still in operation. My staff and I took a course in assertive discipline, qualifying us to train others in the techniques, and a whole-school behaviour management policy evolved. Lists of rules appeared in classrooms, along with rewards and sanctions.

Staff recruitment has been key. Five or six years ago we got people to teach when they came for an interview. That made a huge difference and the quality of the staff has improved. Our GCSE performance has risen gradually and our intake is improving. I expect the improvement in results to continue.

Our most recent Ofsted report said we were a very effective school, students achieve well and their GCSE results are high compared to similar schools. The overall quality of teaching is good, and management of students' behaviour is a major strength.

Those things are about people working together, knowing what they want to achieve and supporting one another to achieve it.

It's taken a long time for the school to overcome its poor reputation, and we still have parents of children in junior school who are determined their child is never going to come to Bramston. I say, 'Come and have a look.'

That's the only way to convince people.

Ted Rowley is head of the John Bramston school, Witham, Essex. Interview by Martin Whittaker

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