Educating Norfolk: Celebrating success at Aylsham High School

PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:25 28 February 2014

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Last June, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the problem of poor children being left behind had shifted from the big cities to suburbs, market towns and coastal resorts.

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

In many ways, Aylsham could be a typical market town, but its high school is rated “outstanding”, and in last month’s GCSE league table 72pc of pupils achieved the government’s gold standard, far outstripping both the Norfolk and England averages.

For headteacher Duncan Spalding, the culture that leaders, middle leaders, teachers and governors establish is central.

He said: “The culture you create in a school is essential to how that school operates. We have tried to establish a culture where you insist on high standards of behaviour and conduct. We do insist that youngsters work hard, but it is based on a belief that everyone can achieve.”

He also cited the importance of the headteacher being as visible as possible throughout the school, and the school dealing with issues in a calm and measured way, which teachers would then see reflected back at them by pupils.

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The need to raise aspirations has often been raised as a key challenge for Norfolk schools, and Mr Spalding said student leadership was a key vehicle to achieve this.

Older Aylsham High pupils run a Friendly Faces group which brings a roadshow to primary schools to reassure future pupils, and allows children to talk through any problems, from bullying or homework to issues at home. The Young Chamber organises business breakfasts and helps local firms.

The viability of small rural schools is an ongoing concern, and Aylsham High has joined eight local primary schools to form the Aylsham Cluster Trust, allowing individual schools to develop specialisms which all can learn from, and increase capacity across the cluster.

And this year, the trust has formed triads of headteachers who visit each others’ schools to learn from and challenge each other.

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Mr Spalding said: “I think it’s really important that secondaries recognise how important it is to work with their primary schools. It’s absolutely crucial. They are our future learners, and our colleagues in the cluster are doing a fabulous job, but there are things that we can do because we have capacity as a larger organisation.”

For Mr Spalding, schools must not be complacent, however good their results.

He said: “It’s a constant process. You have to constantly be asking questions. I’m very lucky we have a very supportive governing body which challenges us very well. I think you have to be constantly asking yourself the question ‘Are we doing the right thing by our youngsters?’.

“Only by doing that and having ambition can you avoid the situation where you think you are doing OK.”

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