The Conversation: Building school pride

18th April 2008 at 01:00
First-time head Andrew Hutchinson painted his school purple - all part of a strategy to transform its failing reputation. Trevor Averre Beeson talks to a colourful character

Q. What made you decide to paint the school purple?

A: One of my early decisions when I arrived at the school was to determine what colour we should paint the front. The first school sign I saw was purple, so it seemed sensible to stick with that.

The aim was to send a signal to the community that the school was "under new management". What I didn't know was how controversial a colour can be.

Q: People didn't like it?

A: Not so much that. But everyone had a view, particularly as I decided to pair it up with yellow. Now it is so much part of the school ethos that people even wear purple tops.

Q: Yes, I saw a PE teacher walk past in a purple sweatshirt. Was that to prove her loyalty to the corporate colour?

A: Not really. But I do feel that once you have a colour, then go for it. We can all wear it, as I am wearing it now. Pupils have designed a really lovely tie incorporating the colour, and we have matched chairs, blinds, and carpet - the lot - to this theme.

When I first visited the school, every corridor was a different colour. Now they all match, they look clean, and it's easy for repairs and maintenance - any colour you like as long as it's purple.

Q: You also landed in the school just as it was issued a notice to improve. That must have been tough.

A: It was the job I signed up for, and Alec Hunter is not really a school that should be failing. There were good leaders and good teachers in the school, but it had somehow lost its way a little.

But since joining, I have put a relentless focus on improving our planning and approach to teaching and learning with "learning bursts" after school that teachers volunteer to sign up for.

The recent local authority review and HMI report found we have made good progress over the year and we are optimistic that we will move out of "the notice".

Q: You have quite a mixed catchment area. How have you set about managing behaviour?

A: I firmly believe in behaviour for learning - setting firm rules, with clear consequences if they are broken, and with a focus on a calm approach to dealing with pupils. We introduced non-teaching pastoral managers to deal with day-to-day behaviour issues, and an exclusion room to handle most exclusions. Saturday detentions have been popular with parents and teachers, but not pupils.

We've seen a drop in exclusions from 300 a year to fewer than 20 per term. My aim is zero exclusions. We need to grow the capacity to deal with more exclusions within school. We adopted a unique traffic-light system for misbehaviour which staff and students really like.

Q: There seems much more of a buzz around the place - a learning environment and a sense of pride. How have you done that?

A: Children need pride in themselves, their school, and where they live. I have explicitly set about achieving that as part of an improvement plan. Pupils designed the uniform. They play a part in determining school policy and in producing the school newsletter. The better news we get out into the community, the more pride we can all have in our school.

Q: It feels like a school just about to get a good Ofsted report. How have you achieved the change?

A: This has been my first headship and I have learnt a lot. But it is the same as being a good teacher or head of department. Be positive, plan ahead, share ideas, tell everyone about it, and be relentless in making it happen. I am delighted with my first year.

Trevor Averre Beeson is executive headteacher of Salisbury School in Enfield, London.

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