From ‘special measures’ to ‘good’: How Teach First was a key factor in transforming our school
Working with Teach First on both Leading Together and the Training Programme empowered headteacher Anthony McGuiness and his senior leadership team to turn their school around.
Tony left an outstanding school in Liverpool city centre to join All Saints Catholic High School in the town of Kirkby. In December 2014 they had an Ofsted inspection, two days before that he was interviewed and offered the role - all the data suggested it was going to go into special measures. Tony had worked with Teach First in his previous role, and saw that a partnership with them at All Saints could be an opportunity to turn the school’s fortunes around.
Starting from special measures
Before I joined, All Saints was graded as a proper special measures school. We were experiencing declining numbers, and there were problems with recruitment and retention. I had worked with Teach First in my previous school, but my view of the organisation was quite narrow; I really only thought they could offer trainee teachers. It’s only in recent years I’ve become aware of all the whole-school support Teach First can offer.
Years of mistrust
There are pockets in the city of Liverpool where the culture is quite different and people’s aspirations reflect this. I left school at 16 with no qualifications, then went on to work in the Birds Eye factory on the Kirkby industrial estate. In the late 1970s and early 80s these jobs disappeared with Thatcherism and the recession. When those jobs went, aspirations went as well. All those working-class kids who’d been brought up predominantly in nuclear family households, saw their main income disappear overnight.
Looking for an opportunity
All Saints is a challenging school in a challenging area. I haven’t got a plush office, if I had to say I did, it would be the corridors. It’s the same for the senior leaders.
I was very conscious that for the first four or five years we’d been very operational and hands-on, meaning we had less time to think longer-term or strategically. We had made about 20 appointments through Teach First. Despite recruiting successful trainees, our team’s capacity was still impacted by the needs of the school. We had to fit all our strategic work into the evenings. So I started looking for a programme designed for senior leaders; we’d never had an opportunity to be offsite for development opportunities together as a group, simply because the school is a busy place and needed the everyday presence of senior leaders.
Leading Together programme
We were introduced to the Leading Together programme and Martin, our Achievement Partner, when the pandemic hit. During the process, the senior leadership team would meet as a group for a couple of hours after school together, before Martin spent time with each staff member one-on-one.
What I particularly enjoyed about the programme was how it focused on teaching and learning pedagogy, curriculum and behaviour. These are issues that are relatable to a school in our context. It’s based on science and empirical research that’s applicable to the classroom and our day-to-day jobs.
Martin empathised with us and really wanted to make a difference, providing us with a truly bespoke experience.
Critical for success with Ofsted
Most importantly, Martin gave us the cherry on top for the upcoming Ofsted inspection. He was able to support us with fine tuning things we were putting in place, making sure we were prepared. He shared a couple of really good resources (particularly around curriculum deep dives), that we were then able to share with our subject leaders. The elation that I felt when we got outstanding twice in my previous school is nothing compared to the elation of being the former head of a special measures school that received good in November 2021, and the impact this had on the staff.
Building confidence for the future
I’d say that the personal relationship I developed with Martin has really made the Leading Together programme work for me. In face-to-face meetings I could say to him “I’m just dealing with this, what do you think?”, then hear his thoughts - I’ve gained significant value from that. Although some training packages are very scripted, Martin would be prepared to go off message and we’d have more discussions about something that was particularly important or relevant to our school context.
He also helped to reassure us that we’ve got ownership of our future. Currently, he’s helping us get on the front foot and prepare for leading a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) as he’s got experience there. So, although the programme is coming to an end, I’m looking to maintain our connection for that next stage of our development journey.
To find out more and apply to the programme visit our Leading Together webpage.