Porn scandal primary takes first steps to recovery

12th August 2011 at 01:00
One-year turnaround at school which taught Boris Johnson's kids

A state school that educates the children of leading politicians, actors and authors can expect more than its fair share of press coverage.

But two years ago, Canonbury Primary School in north London was generating headlines for the wrong reasons after its headteacher was sacked for watching internet pornography in his office.

Last year, a former teacher died in a car crash the day before he was due to appear in court accused of sex offences against young girls.

And soon afterwards the school was placed in special measures by Ofsted, which described it as "failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education".

But Canonbury Primary, where London mayor Boris Johnson sent his children and whose current parents include author Nick Hornby and actor Rupert Graves, is confident that it has turned the corner.

Under the headship of Matt Britt, the school has gone from "unsatisfactory" to "good".

"We hope to be rated outstanding in two years," said Mr Britt. "It's a tough challenge for us, but we believe it's possible. We've gone from special measures to good in a year, which is pretty good going.

"Everybody was feeling ashamed to say that they were part of Canonbury. All the joy had come out of the school. We wanted to build a sense of pride and develop things we could celebrate. The bottom line is that the school had to prove itself again. We wanted to say that we worked at a school staff could be proud of rather than embarrassed about."

In June, Ofsted praised 450-pupil Canonbury for the "significant and rapid improvement" achieved by Mr Britt and his senior leadership team.

The head has set up a new management structure which includes non-classroom-based senior teachers: a director of standards, a school business manager and a community cohesion leader to help improve attendance.

Mr Britt, who joined Canonbury in February 2010, admitted he was shocked by teaching standards at the school.

"There were lots of warning signs so I knew it would be a tough (Ofsted) inspection for the school," he said. "Morale was low and learning and teaching was very low in a way I hadn't seen. It was worse than I thought it was."

Within a week of his appointment he was forced to deal with the news that a former teacher, Robert Stringer, had died after his car crashed into a bridge the night before he was due to stand trial for child sex offences, including rape.

Mr Stringer had been sacked from Canonbury in early 2009 after it emerged he had shown pupils at his former school the film Shakespeare in Love, which includes sex scenes.

Mr Britt now asks staff to sign up to a code of professional values, which commits them to making sure their teaching will be "good or better".

"In March 2010 only one lesson out of 16 was good or better," he said. "The recent Ofsted inspection said that has now gone up to 65 per cent."

The changes will continue with the addition of music to the school's curriculum next term. It will hold an end-of-year concert at the nearby Union Chapel, in which all pupils will take part.

"We want to make music a real driver that will help us go from good to outstanding," said Mr Britt.

Timeline

Lows to highs

November 2006: Ofsted rates school "satisfactory", but calls then head Jay Henderson an "inspirational leader who leads by example".

October 2008: Mr Henderson is suspended on full pay amid allegations that he watched pornography at work.

May 2009: Mr Henderson is fired for gross misconduct.

February 2010: Matt Britt is appointed head. Former teacher Robert Stringer dies in a car crash ahead of child sex offences trial.

June 2010: Canonbury is placed in special measures.

June 2011: Ofsted rates it "good".

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