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19th August 2016 at 01:00
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Last summer King Solomon Academy was the highest performing comprehensive in the country at GCSE level, with 95 per cent of its pupils achieving at least five A*-C grades, including English and maths.

That feat – which placed the academy above 25 selective grammar schools, just seven years after opening – came despite its location in one of the capital’s most disadvantaged wards.

And the academy’s head, Max Haimendorf, believes his school’s achievements can be replicated.

Speaking at a recent Teach First conference the head – who was in the charity’s first cohort of teacher trainees – said they were the result of “what we did five years ago in year 7”.

Now as school leaders anxiously wait on next week’s GCSE results, here are the eight simple steps that Mr Haimendorf says represent his recipe for success:

1. Prioritise relationships and consistency that drive a small school culture

Mr Haimendorf introduced a system at King Solomon Academy (KSA) where each maths teacher only teaches a single year group.

“I think the secondary way of teaching children where you are trying to maintain relationships with 200 kids, 300 kids, 400 kids is complete madness,” said the head who believes mastering quality teaching across three key stages is “impossible” and “superhuman”.

2. Take a warm/strict approach that demands excellent behaviour

The school has adopted the technique from Doug Lemov, author of guide Teach Like a Champion, who says teachers should find a good balance between being kind and strict. Mr Haimendorf said KSA tries to put strong relationships at the heart of what they do, rather than” military diktat”.

For example, every pupil has a “pay slip” that measures attendance, punctuality, homework and behaviour in one metric which leads to rewards or punishment.

3. Ensure you have strong relationships with families

At KSA, all the staff are given a paid for work mobile phone that pupils and parents can ring and text so communication is quicker. Meanwhile, Mr Haimendorf visits the homes of every child and their parents before they start at the school.

“In secondary schools, [home visits] should be normal,” he said. “Why would you start a relationship with a family and it’s so impersonal that the only relationship with them is they wave their kids off to your school and might come to parents’ evenings?”

4. Have a pipeline of developed and retained talent

All teachers are given weekly one hour coaching sessions with their line managers on how to improve.

Mr Haimendorf says he ensures there is “no deadwood” in his staff by recruiting ambitious, talented people. They include top graduates straight from university that are trained on the job and many Teach First participants.

5. Have an aspirational view of all pupils attending academically rigorous universities

The mission of KSA is for all pupils to be able to attend a university. Classrooms at the academy are named after universities that teachers at the school attended and trips to universities are organised for pupils as early as year 7.

“By the time that they are 15, 16, 17, and making real choices about life, then university won’t be an alien thing to them,” Mr Haimendorf said. “They won’t be lost or confused by it.

“I am going to make it normal, expected and achievable for them to go to a top university.”

6. Spend more time on a narrow curriculum - starting with English, reading and maths

A key part of King Solomon’s GCSE strategy has been giving Year 7 pupils 12 hours of English and two and a half hours of silent reading a week. English homework and reading was also expected every night.

“I do genuinely believe children being able to read is the ingredient to all academic outcomes,” Mr Haimendorf said.

But he recognises that implementing a big change like this can be challenging. “I do think there is politics in schools and heads of department just see their personal value as how many hours of curriculum they have.

“It’s really dysfunctional as it means whenever they can they will just grab more curriculum time whether it is good for the children or not.”

7. Have a data-driven system in place

“I think this is just good teaching and good curriculum management,” Mr Haimendorf said. “There are different strands that mean that we are focused on detail and focused on our children’s learning day to day, week to week, which I think is vital.”

Pupil outcomes are viewed “as a key performance measure” for heads of department at the school which “provides clear metrics for leaders to understand, measure and maximise their impact”.

8. Uncompromising governance and leadership

Mr Haimendorf says a clear vision of goals, shared by school leaders and governors, can help to drive success. Describing his governors’ ambition to wipe out the attainment gap, he said: “It’s unwavering, it’s ambitious and it’s going to happen. That’s very different to how other governing bodies see their work.

“It gives me a lot of permission and confidence to try and be bold for the kids.”

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A-levels and the future

King Solomon Academy is already adapting its formula to meet new challenges. Yesterday the school received its first set of A-level results. And that, Mr Haimendorf admitted earlier this summer, has been worrying.

“Having teachers who hadn’t really taught A-level very much or at all in some cases, makes the whole operation very difficult,” he said. “We just need to be better at teaching A-level.”

The academy is now making A-levels and getting pupils “university-ready” its number one priority, and making changes to its curriculum and performance management process to reinforce this emphasis.

“If you look at successful private schools, GCSEs are just not a thing,” Mr Haimendorf said. “That’s not what it’s really about. We have got to build that in our school.

“Having a brilliant A-level department is what I care about. If that means we get 60 per cent A to C [GCSE grades] next year compared to 80 per cent that would be sad but we need to build excellence.”

King Solomon Academy statistics (Box)

95% of students achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including English and maths

77% of students achieved the English Baccalaureate

60% of pupils eligible for free school meals at any time during the past 6 years

*Source: Department for Education league table data(2016)

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