North Walsham headteacher willing to ‘ruffle feathers’ to drive up standards after union criticism

Headteacher of North Walsham High School Neil Powell. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Headteacher of North Walsham High School Neil Powell. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

A north Norfolk headteacher has said he is not afraid to ruffle feathers to drive up standards, following union criticism, because schools have a 'moral imperative' to improve.

Since Neil Powell took over at North Walsham High School last June, eight members of staff have left and three have been suspended.

It has seen class sizes increase and the largest union at the school, the NASUWT, raise concerns, leading to an independent review into school management.

But Mr Powell, who has now recruited staff to plug the gaps, said difficult decisions were inevitable.

'One of the key issues when you improve a school is starting very clearly with a new set of values, new systems, new processes, new structures. The levels of accountability need to change,' he said.

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'We have been very clear about that - in some instances it has meant staff have decided this isn't the organisation they want to be with.'

He described North Walsham as an 'outstanding school' with 'some of the finest young people', but said outcomes for pupils could be higher.

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'Every parent wants the very best for the child, I just don't believe every parent knows what that best is - and it's our job to tell them good is not good enough.'

He said new, tougher inspection guidelines meant previously good standards may no longer be as positive and that headteachers had a 'moral imperative' to not rest on their laurels, with 'ruffling a few feathers' a part of a leadership.

'I make no apologies for being very, very clear and being very resolute as a leadership style,' he said. 'But it is not a school where morale is low - people are choosing to come here because the children are amazing.'

Colin Collis, from the NASUWT, described the comments as 'utter tripe' and said previous concerns over 'leadership and management' remained.

But Mr Powell insisted the school, which has a good Ofsted rating, is on an 18-month improvement curve.

'If you look at other schools that have been through that in the area, Cromer and Stalham, they have been on that journey, but we are just a year behind on that curve,' he said.

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