In September 2017, Great Yarmouth High School in England became Great Yarmouth Charter Academy (GYCA) under the leadership of Barry Smith, as part of the Inspiration Trust chain of academies. I have never met Barry, but I have known him for some time through Twitter and blogging. He is a powerful voice arguing for explicit teaching and strong behaviour policies.
Almost immediately, Barry and GYCA were subjected to an online shaming campaign (I won’t provide links to Twitter trolls). School documents were published on Twitter and the minutiae of school policies were pored over by commentators who took little account of context. On the other side of the world, an Australian behaviour expert took the time to blog an attack on the school and on Barry.
No doubt, this is linked to the fact that Barry Smith previously worked at Michaela Community School, another school subjected to an online shaming campaign for its refusal to conform to the expectations of educationalists.
It is now clear that innovative schools like GYCA face constant pressure to water down their approach, even if it is working. Prompted by the online campaign against the school, Ofsted, the English schools’ inspectorate, initiated an unannounced visit.
The results of Ofsted’s visit have now been published and they are a credit to Barry and his team. Some quotes:
“A large number of pupils told inspectors that, prior to the introduction of the school’s revised behaviour policy at the beginning of the current academic year, they often felt unsafe at school. They described ‘dangerous’ behaviour in corridors and during breaks from lessons, including regular fights, and said that abusive language was very common. Pupils explained that, very often, serious disruption during lessons prevented them from learning anything at all. Some said that in the past, they had ‘dreaded’, and in consequence sometimes avoided, coming to school because of these fears. Teachers and other staff told inspectors that they often found it difficult to teach because behaviour was so poor, that they were frequently the target of verbal, and occasionally of physical abuse, and that at times they too felt unsafe.
During this unannounced inspection, all of the large number of pupils who spoke with inspectors said that they now feel safe at school. Pupils moved around the school site in an orderly manner and behaved very politely and respectfully to their peers and to adults. They wore their uniform with pride, arrived at lessons promptly, and settled down to learning quickly. In all lessons visited, learning took place in a calm and orderly environment. Relationships between pupils and teachers were positive, and consequently pupils had the confidence to ask and to answer questions. Pupils behaved well, both when interacting with their teachers and when working on their own. As a result, they worked hard, completing tasks in a focused manner. During break periods, pupils socialised with each other amicably.”
I would suggest that keeping staff and students safe is the first priority of any school.
The report goes on to discuss the falling number of incidents of repeated disruption and severe misconduct. It says that exclusions, although still high, are falling. Apparently, ‘Staff and pupils attribute the improvements to leaders’ introduction of a new behaviour policy at the start of the current academic year.’ This is the same policy that drew such ire from armchair critics. In particular, it seems that GYCA had, and still has to some extent, a problem with attendance, both with students coming to school and with students skipping lessons. In this light, it is understandable that the school sought to keep students in lessons as much as possible as part of the new behaviour policy.
It would be good to think that this will quieten the critics. I doubt that. If being proved resoundingly wrong had ever had an effect on the proponents of flawed educational ideas then we wouldn’t be in the mess we find ourselves in today. No doubt Ofsted will be an enemy now that it has found the wrong things.
For its part, GYCA will need to stay alert. Critics will be looking out for any lever they can pull to exert pressure on this heretic school. But, for now at least, staff and students can congratulate themselves on the end of the beginning and on a job well done.
End note: The report also states, ‘Teachers and pupils told inspectors that in their view, the behaviour policy is applied with due regard to individual needs. Such an approach was evident during the inspection.’ This is why I think it is mistaken for proponents and critics to refer to these schools as ‘no excuses’.