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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK
Faces of education
Penny Lewis is the head teacher of Allerton High School in Leeds. She took up the post just over a year ago

This is a personal account of being a new head teacher in a multi-cultural, comprehensive school. Others may see it differently.

My first year of headship was helped by having had extensive experience as head of four departments and being deputy head in two successful schools.

I had developed inner strength from surviving the teenage years of three wonderful sons and had the support of a long suffering husband, who was in his second headship and spent his year discovering the joys of the "domestic goddess" and "naked chef"!

We're bidding for business and enterprise specialist status

The school had recently gained a good Ofsted report and my first responsibilities were to develop the action plan and get to know what made the school tick.

The areas Ofsted identified for development were quite extensive and the staff were anxious because they felt they couldn't work any harder.

Run ragged

The local education authority had failed its inspection and was about to be privatised - its advisers were leaving in droves; the governors who had been kept at 'arms length' were supportive but unable to address the accommodation and site problems.

There were several temporary contracts; the senior management team was run ragged, left with no quality time to plan strategically, but were exceptionally effective at managing crises and there were plenty to keep us busy!

Prior to taking up post, a visit in the holiday proved interesting: three caretakers eating toast, drinking tea and reading papers -guarding the main office; smoke drifting from a cleaners' base; water ingress in most sections of the building; toilet doors and seats missing etc

Penny Lewis and pupil on PC
The term started. I watched and listened. Classroom 'control' was generally good, but the challenging behaviour of a significant number of students restricted the range of teaching and learning styles.

Litter accumulated at a phenomenal rate and it took two caretakers to manage the litter picking machine. Vending machines needed heavy supervision.

Looking back over the first five terms, we learnt a great deal together: litter became more manageable, once the vendors went and working to the Investor in People standard, the development of staff unleashed enormous potential which moved the school forward.

Once most of the roofs were repaired, morale was raised by refurbishing the entrance, dining room and hall.


Installing security cameras, water fountains and establishing a work-related programme provided a better learning environment.

Mentoring students with more emphasis on reviewing individual targets produced a 15% improvement in the GCSE results; the best ever Sats and A-level results.

And broadening the sixth form curriculum improved our post-16 intake by 25%.

What next?

To sustain and build on our current level of performance and continue to have high expectations for improvement.

Education Leeds has identified 1.85m - to replace the worst block in school and establish one of the first Multi Faith Centres in the country.

We're bidding for business and enterprise specialist status, supported by HSBC - to build on our links with other schools and support out-of-hours learning within the community.

It's going to be another very busy year.

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