The Duston School 'has made enormous amount of progress' despite Ofsted rating, principal says

The Duston School has been rated as Requires Improvement after a two-day inspection by Ofsted.
The Duston School has been rated as Requires Improvement after a two-day inspection by Ofsted.

The Duston School is looking ahead to the future following its most recent watchdog report which applauded strong morale and leadership but said the quality of teaching for key stage 3 and 4 pupils could be better.

Following a two-day inspection in October The Duston School, sponsored by the Duston Education Trust, was rated as Requires Improvement overall with Ofsted giving a nod to improved early years provision, effectiveness of leadership and personal development, behaviour and welfare.

Principal Sam Strickland, who joined the schools' senior leadership team in April 2017, said: "We think that when Ofsted come back again we will be a Good school with many outstanding features.

"It's been kind of a seismic shift really, the big thing for the school is to get the climate, the culture and the ethos right.

"That was fundamentally flawed when I walked through the doors in April 2017."

Under Mr Strickland's leadership, he has introduced a new student care model, which was implemented in September 2017, to bring form tutors to the forefront of reporting bad behaviour to senior management.

Now if a student breaks one of the five school rules, including punctuality, use of mobile phones, respecting the teacher and peers and doing their work, they are brought in for "correctional conversation" or if they break the rule twice they will have a same-day detention.

"These are really basic things but actually things that needed to be brought into place," Mr Strickland said.

"We found that very few students were in detention but the idea behind the model there's a strict element to it with the sanctions but there's a really warm element to it as well.

“The tutors will call home to engage in correctional calls with parents and will place students on report, to them, to correct their ill behaviour but equally there's support put in place to support them."

One of the improvements Mr Strickland is looking forward to is offering children the opportunity to learn either Spanish, German and French, after Christmas.

He has also helped to train four teaching assistants in maths or English to further help pupils struggling to read and write and has introduced a new house system.

One of the main criticisms made by the watchdog was the quality of key stage 3 and 4 teaching.

Mr Strickland said it was usual practice for new principals to be given a 24-30 months grace by Ofsted before they inspect, instead The Duston School was inspected after 18 months.

"With all the changes that we've brought into place you need the time not just for everything to be initiated but embedded,” he told the Chronicle & Echo.

"For any school that's always the challenge really - it sounds like the age-old excuse but I think it's true.

“With more time you see how changes have further embedded, the greater impact of the students and the trajectory of travel looks really positive for this summer it should hopefully be one of the greatest sets of results in this schools history, but I don't want to tempt fate."

The proportion of disadvantaged pupils who are regularly absent from school, while reducing, is still too high, Her Majesty's Inspector Chris Stevens added in the report.

"As part of our overall student care approach we have non-teaching assistant heads of year and two attendance officers who will go to households in the mornings to check why students are not in school," Mr Strickland added.

"We are looking to bring in our own educational welfare officer, which is something in the days of old local authorities would have provided, but with the state of the local authorities finance that just isn't there anymore and it's very much a case of, in my view, to look after yourself."