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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 11:09 GMT
Long road out of special measures
Pauline Edwards and Gareth Jones
Reputations are hard won and quickly lost, says Mr Jones
Almost one year ago to the day, a team of Ofsted inspectors were casting a critical eye over Geoffrey Chaucer secondary school in a deprived part of Southwark in south London.

Their verdict, it later emerged, was not great.

Weak leadership, low educational standards and poor governance led inspectors to put the school on special measures, a sign that it had sunk to a "deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs".

Since then, the task has fallen to co-principals Gareth Jones and Pauline Edwards to turn it around.

"It's not a five-minute job," says Mr Jones, who has 30 years experience in secondary education and took over at Geoffrey Chaucer in January.

It's very much about back to basics and zero tolerance
Pauline Edwards

"Pupils often feel they have become failures. We had to start looking at things a bit more strategically."

A much stricter behaviour code was introduced that bought radical changes, says Mrs Edwards, whose educational background centres on inclusions and special needs.

"It's very much about back to basics and zero tolerance, bringing back rules and clear boundaries, rewards and consequences that are consistently carried out," she says.

Now students' attitude and achievements are celebrated once a month while those who are misbehaving are dealt with quickly and severely.

If a student is late one day, they are put in detention the next.

The result has been many more detentions and exclusions.

But pupils are now given a say on the behaviour system while teachers are beginning to see benefits in the classroom, says Mrs Edwards.

'Relentless changes'

"Once a school is in special measures, lots of staff leave," explains Mr Jones.

"In our experience that has not happened. People have chosen to stay because they are confident about the leadership and they can see the improvement.

"Teachers come to school to teach and move pupils on. It is a great credit to them that they stay."

When you see satisfied children coming to school there are not many jobs that can give you the same satisfaction
Gareth Jones

Turning a school around is usually expected to take two years, says Mr Jones.

But it is about putting the school on a firm footing which has to take as long as is needed to make sure the school does not plunge straight back into special measures.

He says the pace of change at Geoffrey Chaucer has been quite relentless, and the work rather wearing.

"But day by day you see staff grow, you see progress in the facts and figures, young people changing.

"And when you see satisfied children coming to school there are not many jobs that can give you the same satisfaction," he says.

The future

And their aspirations for the future?

Within the community, Mr Jones wants the school to be seen as an improving school.

"Reputations of schools are hard won and quickly lost. We want people to give us the benefit of the doubt and to come and have a look for themselves," he says.

For Mrs Edwards, some of her aspirations have already been met.

Most of those starting in the school this year had put it as their first preference.

"That really gave us a boost," she said.

Ofsted too has noticed the good progress made. In a report from their last visit in September, inspectors noted standards, teaching and learning had begun to improve.

But there was still much to do, they said.

Together, Mr Jones and Mrs Edwards are confident that by September 2007 Geoffrey Chaucer will be off special measures, with pupils and staff heading for a brighter future.

Tougher regime

But this illustrates the ever greater challenge of leadership in the tough new climate of official intolerance.

Ministers are now giving schools just one year to turn around or face being closed or replaced - a point they highlighted in commenting on the annual report from the inspectorate, Ofsted, which showed 13% of secondary schools inspected last year were judged inadequate.

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, said: "While no one has a brief for failure, it would be better if local authorities had the opportunity to work with schools to overcome difficulties rather than threats of closure or sackings undermining staff morale.

"Heads often feel that inspection has become a type of Russian roulette following previous arbitrary changes by Ofsted to the rules on inspection."

He said chief inspector Christine Gilbert was right to highlight the importance of leadership to high standards.

"But the effect of arbitrary rule changes has been to discourage and undermine the morale of some head teachers," he said.

More schools judged 'inadequate'
22 Nov 06 |  Education
Fewer schools on 'failing' list
14 Mar 05 |  Education
The five-year school turnaround
08 Jul 04 |  Education
Ofsted to name struggling schools
06 Feb 04 |  Education

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