It's no time to take life easy

31st August 2007 at 01:00
PART 4: THE ACADEMY HEAD

Focusing on a second phase of development and moving to new premises are the priorities for academy head Lynn Gadd, as she explains in the final part of our series on how senior staff aim to face coming challenges.

Harefield Academy in west London opened in September 2005, so we are about to start our third and in so many ways most important year so far.

The academy replaced an existing school and the sense of responsibility to its students has been enormous. Every one, even those with only one year of compulsory schooling to do, deserved to see rapid and positive change in all aspects of their education. Although change is often difficult, I do not feel that we have let anyone down.

It might be tempting to think we can now take life slightly easier. This is not the case and probably never will be as until all the students at Harefield Academy get the best that education can offer, we will not rest.

The past two years presented the most amazing range of challenges, excitement and achievements. For me personally they have probably been the most rewarding of my 32 years in London schools.

Seeking the support of external groups and individuals has been essential and we have very much appreciated the input of partners such as the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.

We now move to our second phase of development. Systems and structures that are the life-blood of a successful academy are in place, we have the confidence to be more focused and refined in our approach and we are clearer about our challenges for the year ahead.

For the first time we will have a full Year 7 and as a result of improved recruitment in other years, our student numbers will increase by more than 100. No family has accepted a place for September under duress.

The expectations of our parents are high for next year and we must now deliver our promises to all.

INNOVATIVE PROGRAMMES

Young footballers and gymnasts who show particular talent are joining the academy from other schools to follow an innovative education and training programme. The Young (Watford FC) Scholars scheme and the Harefield Gymnastics Academy programme being launched will allow them to receive top class coaching whilst pursuing academic excellence.

Our original concept of personalised learning has been refined and adapted over the past two years. All of our students spend 45 minutes a day in vertical (mixed age) personalised learning groups and this time has to be positively used. We have some outstanding examples of good practice and this must be the gold standard for all next year.

Throughout the academy's first two years, students have been offered increased opportunities to be leaders. In co-operation with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, we have worked hard to develop the heroes programme with Humanutopia. We have peer mentors and sports leaders.

Through student leadership and student voice activities we aim to engage students in planning and supporting the development of the academy. Activities have developed since the appointment of a new co-ordinator, but there is still much to be achieved. This is particularly the case before we move into our new building, which we hope and expect to happen towards the end of the academic year.

RESULTS

Having run the academy in the old and challenging building for two years, we all realise that a new building alone does not make for a successful school. Our community deserves the best and planning is needed to ensure that education is not disrupted during the move.

It is vital that we continue to believe that all the students can and will succeed. Throughout the next year we must continue to reference theories about underperformance with data-driven evidence and challenge collective descriptions unless there is hard evidence.

We enjoyed improving A- and AS-level results this summer, albeit with a small cohort, and our GCSE results of pupils achieving five A*-C grades have jumped by eight percentage points. We strive to move upward and onward throughout 2007-08.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR STAFF

Retaining a highly skilled and dedicated staff who feel valued is vital to the success of the academy. Many need to now move on to a second phase of development themselves, when their leadership skills are nurtured. We have already supported a gifted member of staff to achieve advanced skills teacher status and we hope to replicate this success.

One of the reasons I welcomed the opportunity to lead an academy is that I do not thrive on being told what to do by either central government or local authority advisors. I welcome the fact that there is an expectation that an academy principal will read, listen and absorb information about current trends and initiatives and then act on an understanding of what is right for their students and community.

Also, I have the delight of working with wonderfully supportive sponsors and the only pressures they create for me for next year is the positive one of developing and fully utilising their business links to enrich the curriculum and provide life chances for our students.

The buzz that has been present at Harefield Academy for the past two years will certainly be sustained over the year ahead. With so much to achieve within such a positive climate, next year is going to be good!

CURRICULUM VITAE

Name: Lynn Gadd

Age: 54

School: Harefield Academy, Harefield, Hillingdon, west London, an 11-18 academy specialising in sport, health and well-being

Previous job: head, Copthall School, Mill Hill, Barnet, north London

Number of years teaching: 32, the past 24 years as deputy or head, at four London schools

Education: BEd, Chelsea College of PE, University of Brighton, East Sussex; MA, Institute of Education, London University

FIVE PRIORITIES FOR THE ACADEMY'S FUTURE

1 Further develop the pupils' ability to work independently and to be more involved in student leadership and student voice activities.

2 Continue to improve standards and results at all levels.

3 Provide further opportunities for staff to be leaders and to build on existing expertise.

4 Monitor and evaluate the first year of the specialist courses for young sporting elite.

5 Prepare the staff and pupils for the move into the new building to ensure a smooth but exciting transition.

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