The 'miraculous change' at once troubled school

21st December 2012 at 00:00
Figures reveal journey from `bottom of the pile' to top of the tree

Five years ago Perry Beeches school in Birmingham was, according to its headteacher, at the "bottom of the pile". Bad exam results, low morale and poor attendance meant it was officially "inadequate" and faced potential closure.

But figures to be published next month will reveal the scale of the remarkable transformation undergone by the former winner of two TES Schools Awards: it has gone from being one of the lowest-performing schools in the country to one of the highest.

Secondary school performance tables will show that Perry Beeches has moved from the 99th to the first percentile in value-added scores, putting it among an elite group of schools in England that excel at improving pupil performance.

"You can play GCSE games in so many ways but value-added scores show the performance of the school over five years - it is not just a one-year improvement," said executive headteacher Liam Nolan. "They show that in Perry Beeches we have had this remarkable, miraculous change."

A value-added score of 1,000 between key stages 2 and 4 is the national average; Perry Beeches has gone from 961 in 2007 to 1,054 this year. During the same period, the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs with English and maths has risen from 21 per cent to 77 per cent.

The job of turning Perry Beeches around fell to Mr Nolan when he joined the school in April 2007, soon before it was given a "notice to improve" by Ofsted. A back-to-basics approach was introduced for uniform and attendance, and pupils were given a role in school decision-making. Just a year later, inspectors said the school was "rapidly improving" and was on a "remarkable journey".

After making such a radical turnaround, Perry Beeches was asked to run a free school, which opened earlier this year. It is due to open a further two free schools over the next two years.

The improvements, according to Mr Nolan, are mainly due to good relationships between staff, pupils and their families. "We all have a really good understanding of what it is to be successful; we sample good practice and share it," he said. "We are fairly tough on poor behaviour: we chase it up, monitor closely and give praise where praise is due."

The school is now heavily oversubscribed, with more than five times the number of applicants to places. Perry Beeches II, the free school, has already received 350 applications for 100 places in 2013. "People here really want a Perry Beeches education," Mr Nolan said.

Perry Beeches won two accolades at the 2011 TES Schools Awards, being recognised as Secondary School of the Year and Overall Outstanding School of the Year.

Education secretary Michael Gove has regularly spoken about the school's success. During his speech at the National College's 2011 annual leadership conference, he held up Perry Beeches, now an academy, as an example of why "deprivation need not be destiny". He has also praised the school for providing "world-class" teaching and learning.

Big brand

Building on the success of its first free school, Perry Beeches expects to open two more in the Midlands within the next two years. Applications have already been lodged with the Department for Education.

The aim of the mini-chain is to expand the Perry Beeches "brand" and replicate the secondary's success.

From September 2013, more than 100 trainee teachers will complete their training at the two existing Perry Beeches schools under the new School Direct scheme, which is replacing the Graduate Teacher Programme.

Photo: Executive headteacher Liam Nolan joined Perry Beeches in 2007, just before it was given a `notice to improve' by Ofsted. Photo credit: Julian Anderson

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