Please note that this case study has been anonymised.
Visits took place between October and December 2007.
Longwood Grange High is a large (11-16) school situated in a northern metropolitan borough which serves an area of significant social and economic disadvantage. In 2002 the school gained specialist status in performing arts and was chosen by the local authority as its first pilot extended school in 2003.
The school has a leadership team of nine. This includes two deputy heads, four assistant heads, an advanced skills teacher and a business manager. The deputies line-manage the assistant heads who, in turn, either line-manage middle leaders who lead other school teams or themselves lead school-wide teams.
One assistant head, as director of specialism, leads on specialist school and extended provision. She argues that the performing arts specialism is not only vital in raising students’ self-esteem: it is the vehicle for community involvement and curriculum-enhancing liaison with feeder schools.
Attainment at Longwood Grange has improved steadily over twelve years: in 2007, the number of 5A*-C results reached 43%, with 21% also attaining English and Mathematics. Its leaders agree: further improvement will depend on better progress in Key Stage 3 on which 60% of entrants embark from a base at, or below, Level 3. This academic year, the school set up a Year 7 competencies curriculum. This programme, delivered by a small multi-disciplinary team, may be extended, at least for some students, into Year 8.
Longwood Grange High School’s governors are “informed and astute”. The recruitment of several influential members has been achieved thanks to the head’s networking skills. The committee structure has been replaced by three working groups. Every term the governing body holds, perhaps in a hotel, a special strategic conference attended by invited leadership team members or contributors.
The long-sustained improvement at Longwood Grange is attributable to the leaders’ belief that it is their role to “spot opportunities”, “to connect developments using the new initiatives” and also to “make what is offered fit for purpose in our place”.
The head is conscious also of the need to nurture talent amongst future leaders. Succession planning is implicit in her designation of her experienced deputy as associate head. Aspirant leaders are identified and supported. In this now more complex school, the role of the headteacher has changed. Her deputy colleagues note that the increasing on-site complexity plus the head’s need to “look and go outside” have, in turn, led to changed roles within the leadership team. “It’s become more hierarchical directly as a result of the complexity and running with so many initiatives.” The leadership team “hierarchy” unfolds on three levels. The head looks outward, the deputies “hold the vision” and the assistant heads take the role of managing the school’s teams.
Longwood Grange High School has an improvement trajectory stretching back twelve years. The challenge is to maintain improvement. The managed structures of the specialist and extended school were welcomed in part for the contribution they might make in meeting this challenge.
There are indications of further impact. At the point of transition from feeder school, entrants now arrive with greater self-esteem and confidence of expression. Extended school activities attract a wide community and increasing student support. “The community is buying in now,” says the head. Higher attendance at catch-up and revision sessions may reflect a culture change.
Leaders identified the “attitudes of some parents” as the barrier which had, in the past, held down attainment. Optimism about progress in overcoming this barrier is tempered in the case of the headteacher by her concern about “quite unrealistic expectations on the part of the prime minister and some in DCSF”. The school’s 5A*-C rate, including English and Mathematics, is below 30%. Predictions based on data (Fischer Family Trust and Raise-on-line) indicate that 22% is “just within reach”. An expectation of reaching 30% very shortly is unrealistic. “We are being set up to fail.”
Governors and leaders are now exploring with the local authority the possibility of “Academy model 2” status. A potential sponsor is not one who wishes to take control but one who wishes to establish training partnerships which will raise aspiration, broaden student horizons and, also provide for the partner a recruitment avenue. In her approach to Academy “model 2” and to the sponsor, the head applies the same criteria as were applied to specialism and the extended school. Will Longwood Grange’s involvement access new resources? Will it help us reach out? Can we make it fit our school’s purpose?
It is not the fact that Longwood Grange High School is a “managed structure” that determines its management, leadership and governance practice. It is the fact that it is a school whose leaders take a positive, searching and assertive approach to initiatives.
Changes to status and structure may continue as the school’s leaders and governors apply their searching, assertive approach to the question of academy status.