CURIOUS school leaders from around Essex took the opportunity to delve into Burnt Mill Academy’s secrets to success.
A group of 19 heads and deputies gathered at the school, in First Avenue, Harlow, for the first open day which lifted the lid on the journey so far from satisfactory to outstanding.
Headteacher Helena Mills also outlined her mission to take the school – and the primaries within her Burnt Mill Co-operative Academy Trust – on to the next step of world class status.
She said: “Everybody loves our story and asks how the hell we have achieved what we have. I needed people to come and see it to believe it.
“We are achieving this with amazing teachers and lots and lots of interventions, making sure our kids are having a fantastic education which brings amazing outcomes.
“It fundamentally comes down to belief. We have transformed the expectations of our kids who are told they can be fantastic. Those expectations permeate our building.”
Other senior members of staff spoke in detail about achieving outstanding teaching, tracking every student’s progress through regular data gathering and raising expectations and achievements.
Stephen Hehir, deputy headteacher, told how students not likely to achieve a full nine GCSE passes are given a reduced curriculum so all their efforts can be focused on getting the very best grades possible in the core subjects.
Assistant headteacher Dee Conlon explained no children are allowed to slip through the cracks of the system as regular meetings are held where every single student is discussed to ensure they are on track. Those who are seen to be falling behind or struggling are identified immediately and intervention measures put into action.
She said: “I know how every single child is doing in every single subject. That’s how we get our results.”
Intrigued visitors were keen to ask how the school funds its high quality team of staff as well as how it manages to get 150 Year 11 students to voluntarily attend Saturday school.
They also got to see the theory in practise with visits to classrooms and lesson observations where they questioned students, looked at their work books and watched outstanding teaching in action.
Miss Mills said: “We expect every child to respect every adult. From the cleaners, to the governors through to me, it is all of our duty to model good behaviour to the children and to correct them when they make mistakes. Even the guy who picks up the litter in the playground gives rewards or punishment for the behaviour around him. I have surrounded myself with people who want to be a part of this journey.
“A member of the senior leadership team walks the school every hour of every day and visits lessons. That has helped to deal with behaviour as students know one of us could pop up at any time.”
But, just as important as the hard work and good behaviour, Miss Mills says, are life-changing experiences.
She said: “We are giving kids such amazing experiences. This is a dream factory. We are taking them for horse riding lessons and to New York and Ghana. We are making sure every kid gets one experience that changes their outlook on life. The impact that is having on our kids is just amazing. If we are expecting them to write creatively about a trip to London or a journey on a plane, they need to have lived those experiences first.”
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