Four Dwellings high school, Birmingham

10th May 2002 at 01:00
For many years, one child in three at Four Dwellings has travelled from inner-city Birmingham to the school in the Quinton district, making it hard for the school to develop a community role. But efforts by the present management team to forge links with local schools and colleges, to draw in businesses such as the confectionery firm Cadbury and the building company Lovell, as well as set up facilities to educate parents, have raised the school's profile. Its image is increasingly that of a successful school - 23 per cent of children got five good GCSEs in 2001, against 5 per cent in 1998. There is now a queue for places.

Bernie Smith (head, inset picture) Mr Smith, 48, entered teaching in 1975. He has been at Four Dwellings for 10 years and head for five. Brought up on a council estate, he considers himself fortunate to have been sent to a school with a determined new head who had high expectations of her pupils. When his history teacher in Year 8 asked if he had ever thought of becoming a teacher, he was surprised and inspired. Now he says it is the desire to give children a better chance in life that motivates him.

"I don't believe in the charisma thing. One of my roles is to co-ordinate people who lead. There are lots of teams in schools and the community working to make life better for children. But to get chickens laying, you have to get the conditions right. Even then it will be some time before they start to produce eggs. We are nowhere near getting the conditions right yet, if we are going to compensate for social disadvantages. A key ingredient is long hours, and the head's family must be supportive of the fact that the job often entails a 70 or 80-hour week. But finding quality time is important. My wife is deputy head of an inner-city primary, so she understands."

Glynis Jones (deputy head, curriculum) "All of the senior managers have their own strengths. We complement each other, and together we can usually see the way forward. But we couldn't do it without Bernie's leadership. He is charismatic and inspirational. Staff are encouraged to try new ideas, and he'll find money to fund them. To lead, you need to be an effective manager. He gives teachers time to teach, and that creates goodwill."

John Hughes (chair of governors) "The head is a visionary who is always looking for ways to raise attainment. He sees an opportunity and says, 'Let's go for it.' And he can mould people without being dictatorial. He has two very good deputies, and while he manages them, they have definite roles, and he allows them to develop themselves. I was a senior manager at Rover, and we have talked about management styles. It amazes me how education is moving towards industry standards. It was a shock to certain teachers to go that route, but he brought them with him. Now the self-esteem of teachers flows down into the school."

Ian Trevethick (assistant head, pastoral) "Bernie's the type of bloke you wouldn't want to let down. He works far too many hours, but his enthusiasm is infectious. He is amazing at forging business links, and always gets money out of companies.

"We have a unique interview process, which helps us select the right people. We pride ourselves on not having a 'them and us'. There is a comradeship in adversity, and the results are won with hard work from everybody."

James Alcock (head of ICT) "I'm quite particular, but working with Bernie on an ICT suite for local families has made me realise that we should be open at all times. He encourages people to put ideas into practice."

Ela McSorley (head of drama, assistant head of English, advanced skills teacher) "He's very special and eminently practical. He is taking my class while I'm talking to you now. He allows ideas to flourish, follows them through and enables things to happen. The most difficult thing to change is the reputation of a school, and Bernie's worked tirelessly on that."

Peter Field (Cadbury link manager) "I wish to God I'd had a head like him when I was a kid. He's so dynamic it's unbelievable. He's such a captain, the way he throws himself into everything. He acts as a middle man."

Keith Slater (Quinton education action zone co-ordinator) "Bernie's brokering role is effective. He surprises businesses by asking, 'What can the school do for you?' This is the first year we have had more people applying to get in than we have spaces for."

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