Sewell Park College in Norwich looks back on a year to remember
Ever since the Blyth-Jex School became Sewell Park College, students and staff have been working hard to leave behind the stigma of the former struggling school.
Driving that ambition is headteacher Gavin Bellamy, pictured, who joined determined to prove it could 'fly'. Twelve months after his appointment, and with a successful Ofsted under his belt, he believes his team is already well on its way to transforming the north city school, the students it serves and the communities they live in.
'The behaviour is sorted; the curriculum sorted,' he said. 'The challenge now is to teach differently, switch children on and give them the right lessons and subjects they want to get involved with.'
When Mr Bellamy arrived at Sewell Park College, he wanted to build on the work which was begun by his predecessor. Karen Topping had joined Blyth-Jex at a dark time when the school was haunted by special measures and a poor academic record.
By 2011, despite being free of Ofsted's 'inadequate' tag since 2000 and with a much-improved set of results, it was still finding it hard to shake off the perception of a struggling school.
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Mr Bellamy said: 'I recognised a school able and wishing to continue to improve and together we identified some general priorities.' Top of Sewell Park's wish-list was the idea of creating a 'strong culture of learning'. That meant addressing behaviour – still a problem in the eyes of Ofsted and a number of members of staff – as a priority.
'In reality behaviour didn't need sorting out,' said Mr Bellamy. 'The children just needed clearer boundaries. Staff didn't have the authority to introduce detentions.'
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A new behaviour or 'justice system' was introduced to ensure students knew what was expected. It is based round four key rules which aim to be clear and fair for pupils – arrive at lessons with the right approach to learning; be respectful of others and the learning environment; engage with each learning task to the best of your ability; and actively listen to the teacher and the contributions of others. The St Clement's Hill school now operates a 'three-strikes' approach which sees any child breaking the rules three times in a class given a detention. A fourth breach leads to a day in the isolation room.
Walking around the school, one student summed up the impact of the new system when asked what happened if he got a fourth 'strike'. 'Isolation,' he said. 'You used to be able to wriggle your way out of it – but not any more.'
Pupils can appeal against a decision and, for those who find it a real struggle to adhere to the rules, a pastoral support team is on hand to find out why.
The top 30 students dogged by behavioural breaches are automatically seen by an intervention team – purposely not populated by teachers – to find out what issues could be causing the problems and how to overcome them.
Pupils might be given one-to-one help, behavioural therapy or mentoring, or get involved with group work. But it does not mean students who do follow the rules and engage in lessons are ignored. Mr Bellamy said staff worked hard to know every pupil and celebration evenings recognised students in a wide range of areas. Youngsters are also being encouraged to take control of their learning. The curriculum has been altered, school 'communities' established and the school is about to start GCSE studies in year nine to give pupils more flexibility to try out subjects and work at a speed and level suited to them.
Low attainment is addressed at the earliest opportunity with year seven pupils arriving at the school without a level four in literacy, numeracy or science given extra support to reach that target by the end of the year.
The school's ultimate aim, like that of every other, is to become 'outstanding' in the eyes of Ofsted and their community.
Following a no-notice monitoring visit by Ofsted in October last year, the school was deemed to be making good progress against all its targets.
And when a new sixth form, in partnership with the Open Academy, opens in September, a cohort of about 150 Sewell Park pupils are expected to sign up.
'The students know we mean business when it comes to challenging poor behaviour and when it comes to learning. They also know we will bend over backwards to support every child,' Mr Bellamy said.