Good heads, good schools

13th May 2005 at 01:00
From the outside, Ninestiles school hardly takes your breath away.

The tired red-brick building, dating back to the 1920s, clearly needs a makeover. Set just yards from rows of semi-detached houses and surrounded by iron railings, there is little space for recreation, sport or even car parking.

Walk through the front door, though, and you soon realise it is anything but an ordinary inner-city secondary school.

Pictures of Tony Blair line the walls of the small, smartly-decorated reception area, mementoes of his 1999 visit. Since then, a succession of Department for Education and Skills' officials has filed through its doors.

David Miliband, the former school standards minister, visited last September.

No doubt they were drawn by the school's headteacher, knighted for services to education. Sir Dexter Hutt took over at Ninestiles in 1988, when 6 per cent of pupils left school with five or more good GCSEs.

Last year 72 per cent left with five top grades and Birmingham city council and the DfES approached him to turn around other local schools.

Sir Dexter is quick to acknowledge the contribution teachers have made but believes a school's ultimate success depends on its head. "I don't think you get good schools without good heads," he once said.

Today the 56-year-old Liverpool fan is executive head of Ninestiles, a post which also gives him responsibility for the nearby Waverley and International schools. His title, more akin to big business than the classroom, is well chosen. Sir Dexter helped set up a company, Ninestiles Plus, which makes an estimated pound;300,000 a year and runs training courses, a graduate training programme and produces learning resources.

He now sits in a new, brightly- lit office at the back of the school, allowing Christine Quinn to be "conventional" head of Ninestiles. But, to many, he is its figurehead. The Ninestiles website carries a striking caricature of him. Click on the "latest news" icon and only one story appears - the headteacher's knighthood, awarded in January 2004.

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