‘We banned mobile phones, extreme haircuts and jewellery. And I said to Ormiston Venture Academy staff, give me three weeks’

10:04 14 September 2012

Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston.

Picture: James Bass

Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

IT was one of the worst-performing schools in Norfolk, but after a dramatic two-year turnaround Ormiston Venture Academy is among the best. Principal Nicole McCartney told Mercury reporter SAM RUSSELL how the school shed its reputation, and pupils achieved the best GCSE results of any non-selective state school in Norfolk and Suffolk this summer

CLASSES were noisy and disruptive, pupils joked as they failed tests and it was regarded as Gorleston’s “problem school”.

So when principal Nicole McCartney took the reins of the former Oriel High School in September 2010 she faced a daunting task.

But - with the support of talented staff and pupils - Oriel has changed its fortunes and rebranded itself as Ormiston Venture Academy.

The number of pupils leaving the school with five A* to C grades leapt from 46pc to 94pc in the first year - making it the best-performing non-selective school in Norfolk and Suffolk - and this summer it climbed higher to 95pc.

The gold standard of five A* to C grades with maths and English shot up from 36pc to 46pc in the first year and now stands at 59pc, the best in the Great Yarmouth borough, and attendance increased from 86pc to 94pc

But it was not an easy journey, and principal Nicole McCartney said she had to “wipe the slate clean” and start again.

“The predecessor school was widely known as one of the worst in the area, if not in Norfolk,” she explained.

“When I arrived it was very clear that the staff and kids were fantastic, but they seemed to be bogged down in forever saying ‘this is the best we can do’.

“It wasn’t about a staff mentality, but one coming in from outside.”

She kept all the original staff and set her sights on raising aspirations - notoriously a problem in coastal resorts.

“The immediate focus was the uniform,” she said.

“We said to staff, we can’t fix everything in one day so we’re wiping the slate clean by getting the smartest uniforms in Norfolk.

“We banned mobile phones, extreme haircuts and jewellery. I said to staff ‘give me three weeks’, as they thought a new uniform couldn’t stick.

“But if students can’t walk three feet without being told to tuck their shirt in, they’re going to tuck it in.

“It took three days, then we introduced further systems and structures and made sure they worked.”

Many students had felt there was “nowhere to go”, so school trips to destinations including France and Poland were arranged to help youngsters see what is possible.

Student feedback was sought, a rewards system was established, including a games room and optional classes were offered until as late as 7pm.

The school was divided into four “colleges” so there were clear “lines of accountability”, with struggling pupils - and teachers - able to get help and successes celebrated.

Pupils who previously had a string of supply teachers now have stability, with a “no child left behind” policy backing this up.

And children at the school say they have noticed the difference.

Jacob Talkowski, the school’s head boy, said: “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how proud people are of what they can do.

“Before, when we had tests. people would say ‘I’ve failed, that’s funny’ - people thought they couldn’t achieve that much, but now they study, get good grades and are excited about it.

“They understand how important it is as before it wasn’t highlighted enough.”

The 15-year-old revealed that his dream of becoming an architect was helped when the school invited architects in to speak to students, and he is confident in his abilities.

Fourteen year old Victoria Hall had spent one year at Oriel High School before it became an academy.

“The one thing that’s changed the most is the classroom behaviour,” she explained.

“Before it was loud and there was no control - now you know what you’re doing.”

She already has three GCSEs - with pupils studying for them from Year 9. She writes for the school’s digital E Magazine and is aiming to become a commercial airline pilot.

It seems the only way is up for all the pupils.

An £8.1m project to build new school buildings is under way, and the school’s next open evening is on Thursday, October 4 from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.


  • Well done Ormiston Venture Academy. You beat The Sir John Leman High by 9% on the 5 GCSEs A* -C inc Maths and English measure, even though you live on the edge of a great big council estate!

    Report this comment


    Saturday, September 15, 2012

  • Excellent .... Well done

    Report this comment


    Friday, September 14, 2012

  • The test for academies come when their educated pupils apply for a few jobs with a hundred others, some from Gresham or Paston. Then we will see whether their results are adequate for the established preferences that exist.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Friday, September 14, 2012

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