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Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Newly-knighted head, Kevin Satchwell quizzed
To listen to coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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One of England's most successful head teachers has been knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Kevin Satchwell is head of Thomas Telford School in Shropshire.

The technology college last year became the first non-selective state school in which all the GCSE/GNVQ candidates got top grades.

This year it has been in the headlines again because of its success in selling its online information technology course to other schools - bringing in so much money it can afford to put 1m into the formation of one of the new city academies.

Why is the school doing so well? What is the secret of his success? Does he believe that comprehensives should be modernised?

Sir Kevin Satchwell answered your questions in a live forum.



Newshost:

First of all Kevin congratulations. What does it mean to yourself and your school for you to receive a knighthood? And will you be known as Kevin or Sir Kevin to your staff from now on?


Kevin Satchwell:

The staff can call me what they want, I am not too particular about insisting that people call me Sir Kevin or that sort of thing - they will do whatever they feel relaxed with - there isn't really an issue there.

But turning to the honour, to be quite frank with you, this award isn't just for me it is for everyone connected with Thomas Telford School because the children all own a part of this and the staff because as far as I am concerned had the children not achieved what they had achieved and had the staff not done what they did to enable the youngsters to achieve then perhaps the recognition of the school would not have been highlighted in the way that it has. So this is an award for everyone involved with the school and it has been wonderful to share it with them.


Newshost:

In today's Queen's Speech you might have heard that the Government is putting forward proposals to increase the involvement of business partners, religious groups and voluntary groups in running schools. How do you feel about that?


Kevin Satchwell:

Well personally I feel very relaxed about it. We consider that we are very much at the forefront of what is happening in terms of that agenda. The issue comes down to that we have got to find as many different diverse ways that we can to ensure that the quality of education that's available for youngsters is the very best that we can make it.

I heard a quotation last night from Michael Barber which impressed me. What they are looking for at government levels is that they have a minimum high standard. Now if we can have a minimum high standard for everyone and then following that we can have other particular institutions or organisations that are going to go further than the minimum high standard then that is a great way of approaching it.

Now to achieve these sorts of standards, we can't do it on the basis of organisations that have existed in the past and that is largely because the education service has now been deregulated. The education service is no longer the exclusive domain of local authorities, it is no longer the exclusive domain of the publishing companies or the examinations boards - it belongs to all of us. What this opportunity brings us with the variety of different people - public and private sectors - all working together. It means that everyone who has got a stake in education has got something to bring to the party and can actually use that to help improve the quality of education for young adults. I think it has got to be a good thing.


Newshost:

Sarah McMichael, London, UK Many teachers complain that they are unable to teach well due to disruptive pupils in the classroom. How do you solve this problem at your school?


Kevin Satchwell:

I don't think it is a problem that is just solved at this school, I think it is a problem that is addressed in many schools. It is quite a conundrum this one because if you could give a simple solution to this what would happen is that you would patent it and everyone would go for it. But I think what lies at the heart of this is finding out what it is in every young adult that stimulates them, interests them and gets them involved. Often if you get to that and you then get a youngster to show their prowess, whether they are interested in sport or whether they are interested in languages or whether they are scientists or whether it is charity work. It is finding that something special in every young adult that when you look at them, you see that glow on their face.

That is the start and then you begin harness and nurture that. That is why I am very much into things like specialist schools because it allows us to provide for youngster so they can neatly fit in to what that school is prepared to offer them - it fits neatly because it fits the aspirations of the youngster. In my view that's got to be the way forward. Find out what it is that makes the youngster tick and then use that to build up their self-esteem and get them involved in education in the way that will be meaningful.


Newshost:

Do you share concerns that the problem has got worse in the last decade?


Kevin Satchwell:

I think there are issues generally over law and order but I think that is the wider issue. I don't think society's evils can be thrust upon the schools and teachers blamed for this - I don't think it is anything to do with that - I think it is a much, much broader agenda. What I do know is the sort of young adults that I come into contract with - the critical mass and more than the critical mass of young adults - are lovely people to be with. Even those youngsters that may even be facing difficulties through adolescence - and most of them do go through that phase. And what enables them to go through that phase is by teachers working with them to build up their self-esteem and find out what it is that makes them tick.

Yes, I think we have got challenges ahead but it is generally to do with law and order across board. But I think teachers are doing a magnificent job in trying to get to the heart of what makes youngsters tick. Once you get there and you work on that then they will then begin to work on the other things that we know will be important to them in later life.


Newshost:

Malcolm Moss, Colchester. Congratulations on your knighthood - it's well deserved. You have nine deputy headteachers. Have you been able to fund those posts through standard funding or by enterprise? How crucial is that staffing structure to your school's success?


Kevin Satchwell:

Starting with the last question first, the decision of having nine deputy headteachers is critical to the success of this school. Because each of those nine deputy heads has a curriculum responsibility and this is probably the uniqueness of it. One is responsible for maths, one is responsible for science, one is responsible for technology and so on. The reason that I wanted deputy heads who were specialists in their areas is because I wanted them to lead the teaching - in other words to be heads of departments as well. That enables me to answer the first part of the question. So by having nine deputy heads, who are also in effect heads of department, it means that we have a very flat management structure and therefore it becomes cost-effective. Because in effect it is nine heads of department that I don't have to appoint in addition to deputy heads and senior teachers. So that enables me to come up with a very cost-effective model. So I am able to say to Malcolm that I can do it through the standard funding to the school.

I would encourage other schools to look at organising flat management structures because it does enable you to direct the people. The strange thing in education is that people who are good at teaching tend to get promoted away from teaching. What I am very keen to ensure is that the people who are good at teaching are kept at the interface with the youngsters but they can still have the status and progression and widening of their career portfolio by combining the roles of things like deputy heads with head of department.


Newshost:

Has your school faced any problems with recruiting staff?


Kevin Satchwell:

Yes, we have had difficulties - like all other schools - as was indicated in the Times Educational Supplement recently, we have great difficulty in recruiting in maths. I think we have got difficulties nationwide there. One would have to say that we have got to address those issues and we have got to find ways in which we can encourage more people to apply to become teachers.


Newshost:

Peter, Sheffield What do you feel are the main challenges facing state education in the future? What changes can we expect to see?


Kevin Satchwell:

Part of the answer to this question will be embodied in the Queen's Speech today. What we have got to do is to unleash the enthusiasm of private and public sectors to work together so that we can improve the quality of education - that can work. It has been breath of fresh air working at the Thomas Telford School for the last 10 years, working with people from industry - it has been a totally different experience. I can say that because I have worked in both systems as a head. I was highly satisfied with the previous system where we worked through what was a largely a council chamber atmosphere.


Newshost:

What have they brought that wasn't there before?


Kevin Satchwell:

They bring a slickness - the bureaucracy is considerable shortened. They empower the head to get on with decision-making, they set very precise goals and they are very decisive in terms of ensuring that you get the quality of support that you want. Heads should be allowed to run schools in my view and that is what I found that working with the business community has allowed me to do.


Newshost:

Martin Brown, Surrey, UK What do you think makes a good teacher?


Kevin Satchwell:

I go back to why I went into it in the first place. I think there is something burning inside you - it is a sort of passion that you want to work with children and you have a love for things like your subject. The prospect of sharing something with children that you enjoy and love - whether you are a history teacher or maths teacher, scientist or technologist - and seeing the wonderment that that can bring to youngsters. Those sorts of people that enjoy being with young people and have a passion for their subject - my advice to them is become a teacher as there is nothing more satisfying or fulfilling. You have got to have that passion of wanting to teach and then don't be afraid to try new things out.


Newshost:

You sound very optimistic when lots of people have expressed some pessimism about the future of teaching. Do you think that the changes which the Government is proposing will improve the lot of the teacher and will encourage more people to come into the profession?


Kevin Satchwell:

Oh yes. I have no strong political views either way. I will follow the agenda of whichever government is in control. But no one can complain about the fact that this Government that is currently in control has done a cracking job in Key Stage One and Two - the standards of numeracy and literacy have soared and that has got to be good for young people. The focus is now on the secondary schools in Key Stages Three and Four and they are very ambitious about what they want to do there in terms of raising standards and there is considerable additional investment that is coming into the schools.

My view is that there is a wonderful opportunity that lies ahead in the next four years. Of course there are obstacles and we have already referred to the biggest obstacle facing us and that is recruitment into the profession. But if you put that aside, this next four or five years is going to be terrific fun because the Government is giving us an opportunity to get involved in the opportunities that have arisen as a result of the deregulation of the education service.

Nobody is stopping anybody working with somebody else. I find that any school that wants to work with us at Thomas Telford School, we will work with them. If they don't want to work with us, we won't and we can understand that but there is a great camaraderie that is emerging in the teaching profession at present. There is also a general acceptance that there are different types of schools. I have no strong belief about whether it is a comprehensive school, a grammar school, a special school - but at the end of the day it is down to the people and what the people will do to make that school a good school. The Government have put education right at the top of the agenda and who can knock them for it.


Newshost:

Do you think we should scrap the term comprehensive?


Kevin Satchwell:

It wouldn't bother me if they did because as I explained earlier, a school is a school is a school. I think all schools will range between being moderately successful to extremely successful and they will have their reasons for that because at the end of the day I don't think that parents get too preoccupied with the sorts of agendas that are put forward by politicians. I have no strong views about whether comprehensive education should stay or go - what matters is what happens inside those schools.


Newshost:

Sheila, Nottingham If you had a magic wand and you could ask anything from the new Education Secretary, what would you ask for to help tackle the apparent shortage of teachers?


Kevin Satchwell:

What we have got to do is to allow heads to recruit their own trainees. If every school was allowed to train its own trainees on a reasonable bursary or salary for them. In other words, cut out the bureaucracy of having to be trained under the traditional PGCE programme - they would go straight into schools. So we could advertise to recruit in our own area and I could bring in say a dozen trainees into this school. I could train one in French, one in German, one in English, one in PE, one in technology and so forth. They would be paid a trainee's honorarium of maybe 12,000 - 14,000 year for the training year. At the year, if they come up to scratch and there are opportunities available in the school, then they actually get a job in the school.


Newshost:

Would that mean the end of formal teacher training colleges?


Kevin Satchwell:

Yes - why not? I am quite relaxed about that. I think that schools are well positioned to be able to train their own teachers and I think it would be a simple system where we could solve our own problems locally as well. Many of the problems to do with teacher recruitment are very localised - there are sever difficulties, for example, in London.

It is easy for us to be critical of the people who are not providing the teachers for us. Headteachers have been quick to come forward and say - the Government is not providing the teachers for us. There are all sorts of reasons why prospective teachers either don't want to carry on doing that or won't even enter into the prospect of becoming a teacher. What I have said is give the responsibility to the heads. So that heads would be responsible for the recruitment of teachers themselves and let the schools train them and give the funding to the schools so that they can have direct control over what is happening in creating the future profession.


Newshost:

Bryan Williamson, Telford, Shropshire. Isn't it the case that the Thomas Telford School is, in fact, selective? If the best students from any area are focused in one school, then the results will always be excellent. The other schools in the area recruit pupils dependent on where they live.


Kevin Satchwell:

That is not the case as far as Thomas Telford is concerned. Let me make the situation crystal clear. The rules of admission for this school are available to anyone - they are transparent, they are there on the school website - and it makes it crystal clear what the admission arrangements are here. If Bryan was to talk to anyone of the primary heads in Telford they would explain to him that they have had special needs children right the way through to high-flyers who have come to Thomas Telford School.

This sort of interpretation is largely based upon the myth that existed when the school came into being 10 years ago. I understand the reasons why there was reluctance to accept Thomas Telford School because of its intention to have a radical approach. But the idea that Thomas Telford only takes the brightest youngsters is just a total untruth. There is a full range of ability here - it has to be. It is embodied within the funding agreement with the Secretary of State and if we didn't adhere to that funding agreement then we wouldn't receive the funding to educate the youngsters.


Newshost:

Tim, Wolverhampton. What do you think the next step will be in your career? Can you foresee a time when headteachers will become Members of the House of Lords? Will there be People's Peers drawn from the classroom?


Kevin Satchwell:

Relating to the peerage issue - that is the last thing that is on my mind. I have far too much work to do with schools and far too much work to enjoy being alongside youngsters. As to the future, nothing is going to move me from the interface of working with youngsters.

Yes, I do receive sometimes quite lucrative offers to take on alternative positions of work. But going back to why I went into the teaching profession in the first place - it is because I had that burning desire to want to work alongside children because there is nothing more satisfying. They could offer me a million pounds tomorrow to do another job and I wouldn't do it because there is no more satisfying job than working alongside youngsters. Every morning I drive to work and I can't wait to get to work. It is great to come into school and see the smiles on the youngsters' faces, the staff are wonderful to work with - there are no pockets of misery here - everyone wants to get on with each other. If I had any intention of wanting to leave this then I would be a mug.

See also:

15 Jun 01 | Education
Top honour for go-ahead head teacher
21 Mar 01 | Education
Comprehensive's 1m for new school
21 Feb 01 | Education
Comprehensive sells online course
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