‘How we achieved dramatically good GCSE results in the poorest ward in London’
Max Haimendorf, secondary headteacher of King Solomon Academy, writes
Five years ago, parents in our community took a leap of faith by sending their children to a new type of school that was completely unproven. Our first GCSE results confirm that their faith was well placed. Our pupils are climbing the mountain to university.
King Solomon Academy’s GCSE results are the culmination of years of hard work since the school welcomed its first secondary pupils in 2009. This summer, these pupils achieved the school’s first GCSE results: 93 per cent of pupils achieved five GCSE grades A*-C including English and Maths, and 75 per cent achieved the English Baccalaureate. These results are dramatically higher than national averages even though 75 per cent of our pupils are eligible for the pupil premium, and the school is situated in the ward with the highest deprivation affecting children in London.
The results are a reflection of the level of ambition and expectation that the school’s governing body, leadership team and teachers have for the pupils we serve. Like other ARK schools, our stated mission is to provide all of our pupils, irrespective of background, a transformational and rigorous education that prepares them for success at university and beyond.
Success has many fathers. It’s right that we acknowledge the team of people who made it possible for our children to achieve these results. From the politicians – of different parties – who have supported us so far, the parents who back us and ultimately the incredible teachers who deliver day in, day out.
The belief in every child’s potential to succeed in academic university study defines our culture and approach, and has attracted a group of leaders and teachers, who believe anything is possible and are willing to do whatever it takes to provide a life of opportunity for all their pupils. Our teachers see themselves as agents of change in pupils’ lives, building strong relationships with pupils and their families. This relationship building happens from even before pupils start at the school when the headteacher visits the home of each pupil to welcome them and their family into the school community. Being part of the ARK network gives our teachers and leaders access to excellent training, with a rigorous combination of challenge and support to enable them to deliver in the classroom.
The vision of university success for all guides our curriculum. We believe that without mastery of English and mathematics, success in academic study beyond GCSEs is impossible, and as such, the first years of the secondary curriculum dramatically prioritise rapid progress in English and mathematics. Pupils in Year 7 spend 12 hours each week studying English and literacy, on top of another five hours of reading in and out of school. This focus on English and maths enables our children to be successful readers, writers and mathematicians and our first GCSE results are one way of illustrating this: 95 per cent of our Year 11 pupils achieved Bs and above in English Literature and 75 per cent achieved B and above in Maths. The prioritisation of English and Maths mastery in the early years of secondary school also provides the foundation for academic success in all subjects, with 95 per cent of the year group studying Spanish or French, 75 per cent studying triple science and 93 per cent studying at least one of history and geography for GCSE. As we open the doors to our sixth form in September, pupils will continue to study rigorous academic subjects at A-level to enable them to achieve at the very best universities.
To achieve so much academically, pupils work hard in and out of school, with high levels of motivation in lessons and a significant amount of homework every night. This is maintained by excellent teaching, which inspires and engages, and by relentlessly generating a culture of aspiration and excellence. Classes are named after the university that the class teacher attended, and university success and pupils’ future ambitions are used as the reference point for behaviour and learning from the moment the pupils start at the school. Each year, pupils who work hard are rewarded with a week-long residential at one of the country’s top universities. The pupils who sat their GCSEs this summer had already visited Warwick, Bath, Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge and a number of London universities before they started Year 11.
As well as the raising of aspirations and the achievement of high exam results, we want our children to be excited about learning and the doors an excellent education can open for them. School has to be fun for pupils to enjoy it: as part of the curriculum, we provide every pupil with a string instrument and teach them to play to orchestra standard; pupils from Year 7 onwards perform unabridged Shakespeare plays. Residential trips give pupils the experience of living on a farm for a week, visiting Paris or going camping, experiences that in many schools’ are the privilege of those whose parents can afford them. We talk a lot about being a team and family for each other and it is these shared fun experiences which make life at KSA really special for all of us who are involved in it.
This year the secondary school welcomes the first pupils graduating from our own primary school, becoming an all-through school. With our primary school achieving excellent results with its first key stage 2 exams, we look forward to the years ahead where we will be aiming even higher for our pupils’ success at university and beyond.