Walton's one happy family

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Results are on the increase and the governing body is so involved that some of them come in once a week to do repairs and decorate. Martin Whittaker reports

Name Walton girls' high school, Grantham

School type 11-16 arts technology college

Proportion of children entitled to free school meals around 9.8 per cent

Improved results In past three years up from 40 to 48 per cent of pupils achieving five C grade or better GCSEs

At Walton girls' high the governors are so involved in the life of the school that they even repair and maintain the buildings. Every week a taskforce of governors with DIY skills, nicknamed the Wednesday workers, volunteer to come in armed with power drills screwdrivers and hammers.

They put up noticeboards, repair stools in the science lab and even build classroom partitions - and generally do whatever they can to improve the fabric and facilities at the Sixties-built establishment in Lincolnshire.

Some might see this is a way of sidetracking governors from their more strategic responsibilities for ensuring high standards. But it has contributed to the much closer working relationship governors have with the headteacher and her leadership team which has improved since Rosalind Gulson became head five years ago.

Each governor is attached to a faculty and governors are invited on school visits. Inspectors, in their last report, commented that governors were now better informed about the work of the school.

Angela Jasinski, a local education authority governor, says this closer relationship has given governors a greater stake in school improvement.

"The way we move on is by more communication and by keeping each other informed," she said. "It could be us and them: they're teachers, we're governors. But it's not like that in Walton. We're one happy family."

Walton Girls' high is an 11-16 arts technology college on the outskirts of Grantham.

Nearly a fifth of its 650 pupils come from the town's deprived Earlsfield estate, but some travel as much as 22 miles each way from outlying towns and villages - testimony to the school's growing reputation.

Its last Ofsted inspection in 1999 found few weaknesses, while strengths included good standards of attainment, very good ethos, good quality of teaching and excellent standards of behaviour.

And its GCSE results have steadily improved. The school has gone from hitting the governors' target of 40 per cent A*-C in 2000 to 48 per cent this year. Its target for 2004 is 50 per cent.

In the past three years it has gained a clutch of awards, including Sports Mark, Charter Mark, Artsmark Gold and Careers mark. It is very strong in music and performing arts: it gained arts college status last year and has just opened a pound;100,000 dance studio.

The school now competes well with local selective grammars. On the way in through its gates, even the local taxi driver comments on its good reputation.

"We do our best to turn out poised, confident citizens," says head Ros Gulson. "My girls can beat those from the grammar school in public speaking, for example, because we are boosting self-esteem the whole time.

They can hold their own.

"We are flavour of the month at the moment, but to me that has its own downside. You then have a lot to live up to. We are not whiter than white, we still get the odd smoker on the bus, but it will be dealt with. Nothing is brushed under the carpet."

She says the school's ethos is based on old-fashioned principles of hard work, good behaviour and discipline. Girls stand up the moment Mrs Gulson walks into a classroom. If there is a stray piece of litter, she asks the nearest pupil to pick it up.

At the same time she does not believe in sergeant major-style discipline, more instilling self-motivation and confidence.

The school has a policy of no exclusions. "We can't say we never have problem people, and to be brutally honest I think girls can be worse than boys. But we're proactive the whole time. We spot problems early on and bring on support."

Walton girls is strong on citizenship - it piloted the GCSE. Wearing another hat, Mrs Gulson is a magistrate and she laments seeing teenagers come before her with very few life skills.

"It's soul-destroying when you see youngsters coming in and paying their fines. They have debts up to their eyeballs and no money-management skills at all."

Walking around the school, there is a buzz and enthusiasm among staff and children. Mrs Gulson points out that the toilets always have a vase of fresh flowers, and in new science blocks teachers have chosen bright colour schemes for their walls.

In a corridor, teacher Jackie Brockway bustles forward to sing the school's praises. A year ago she appeared on the front page of The TES after she resigned from City of Lincoln community college in protest over the blocking of a pound;1,000 pay rise.

Mrs Gulson saw the story, spotted an opportunity and promptly offered her a post. "I'm really enthusiastic about the place," says Mrs Brockway, who is subject leader in music. "To come into an atmosphere like this is just wonderful."

Mrs Gulson says this is down to the value put on staff. The school was big on continuous professional development long before it was a buzzword. It was one of the first schools in the country to appoint advanced skills teachers and today nearly a quarter of its teachers have AST status.

The head also sits on the Department for Education and Skills'

implementation review unit, and sees her secondment as an opportunity for her colleagues in the leadership team to gain experience running the school.

"The ethos of continuous professional development has to be at the heart of everything," she says. "It's so embedded in what we do. There's never, ever been an issue about staff going off on courses.

"The thing that gives me most pleasure is if you have a newly-qualified teacher coming into school, and you nurture that member of staff and then see them go on to advanced skills status.

"I think that's brilliant because you've got a little hothouse - you're seeing people flourish."

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