Leadership programme

Doing the right thing when everyone is watching

Ella Capaldi

Head of School

Park Community School

At Park Community School this year, we have been privileged to join the Next Big 10 project. Its philosophy immediately resonated with us at Park – to transform the education system so that young people can receive a balanced education, focussed on head, heart and hand. No small feat!

In our school, which serves 980 young people in Leigh Park, Havant, this aligns perfectly with what we believe. Our vision is clear – to bring about generational change through an education that means young people find what they love at school, and through doing so, develop the confidence and resilience to make great choices, take opportunities and be their best.

But vision without action is simply words.

The challenge of delivering the vision, as school leaders across the country know, is tough. You have to be brave. Avoid being blown off course. Focus on what is right for young people in your care. This means that doing what is right does not always deliver in league tables, Progress 8 and other external measures.

We often talk about integrity; doing the right thing when no one is watching. It’s a quality I hold dear, model and encourage in students. However, the current challenge as I see it, is doing this while everyone is watching. By this, I mean that every choice regarding curriculum is reflected in school measures, and often what we might consider good choices for young people in terms of what they study and experience, are not recognised in current measures and therefore disadvantage the school in league tables and numerical measures.

If we are brave enough, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. A school where children are happy, willing to make mistakes and are able to find what they love with the support and challenge of committed staff has a lasting impact.

We need to remember that headline measures only show a tiny part of school culture, and the difference schools can make for the young people they serve.

For us it starts with belonging. Everyone is part of Park. Every adult and child brings something different, and by recognising this we strive to create a school in which everyone has at least one adult who knows them well. We actively build relationships from which we can support and challenge. Support without challenge leads to low expectations. Challenge without warmth and support leads to a cold exam factory where no one wants to be.

Weekly whole school assemblies where the whole school comes together, and we do mean EVERY child and adult, are important to us. They give us opportunities to share and develop our values, reflect on what they mean for us, think about the power of our words and actions and the opportunities we have. And of course, to celebrate and remember the things we create together that make us proud to be part of Park.

Eating lunch together forms an important part of the school day and using our school restaurant as the heart of the school – a place for group intervention, one to one coaching, parent meetings, including the challenging ones – means we normalise parts of school life that can too often happen in rooms tucked away or offices.

We are proud of our curriculum. Expectations that students gain knowledge and think hard about it, connect it and apply to new contexts is the aim. At Key Stage 4 we offer courses that don’t count in league tables, for example, horticulture and construction skills. Students can be employed at school on weekends, evenings and holidays, establishing a strong work ethic, offering opportunities for coaching from adults in the role and for some, much needed additional income for their families. It means at 16 when they leave us, many stay and work with us. Through this they gain informal mentoring and support through their time at college and university. Some are then employed as adults, providing great role models for the next generation and building on school culture over time.

For us, where young people are given a range of experiences within, and beyond the standard curriculum that build cultural capital, expose them to things they have not previously experienced and help them find the things they love, they are more engaged, more confident and more likely to keep going when things get tough.

Through the Next Big 10 this year we have had the opportunity to visit other schools and collaborate with teachers who are doing things differently. It is exciting and has provided space and inspiration to reflect and encouraged us to push on with the things that matter, alongside staying focused on improvement.

We have been part of three groups focussing on real life learning, rethinking assessment and using technology.

One result is a developing online learning profile for students at Key Stage 3 that captures evidence and experiences which contribute towards their development at Park, The profile captures skills development such as problem solving and creativity, leadership opportunities and the wider experiences our students have including time on the farm, at our construction skills centre or working in the school kitchen. Over time, it will become a record of attainment and achievement across students’ five years at Park.

In technology and computer science, a pilot project in which computer scientists design the technology to propagate plants is being developed. Year 9 students will be applying their learning to something real and will measure the impact of their work.

We are far from perfect. We have a long way to go to achieve our vision for our school and its community. Attendance remains a challenge. Outcomes at Key Stage 4 are not as we would wish them to be yet. We do not get it right for every child. But we see year on year improvement. We see increasing numbers of parents, grandparents and carers support us in upping the expectations and challenge for their children. They attend exam results day and share stories of their own experience. They celebrate the achievements of their children, whether they are the first in their family to achieve a qualification at Key Stage 4 or have gained top grades.

Thank you, Big Education, for connecting us with like-minded school leaders, pushing us to think harder and encouraging us to keep being brave and keep doing what is right.

Ella Capaldi, Head of School, Park Community School

Big Education

Leadership Programme

Applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives you the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

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This blog is from a school taking part in The Next Big 10, a programme for schools who are transforming education against strong headwinds

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