An interview with Barry Smith

Following the release this week of GCSE results in England, I thought it would be a good idea to catch up with Barry Smith, Head of Great Yarmouth Academy in Norfolk.

Question 1: Could you outline your 2018 GCSE results and how this compares with previous years?

Exam results are only part of the picture. It’s the atmosphere I’m most proud of.

Last year we had 30% 4+ in maths and English. These results were among the worst in the country and by far the worst in the county. This year, that same figure is 58%. That has to be among the most improved in the country.

Exam results are crucial for the kids, but schools need to focus on making every second count. We need to focus on good teaching and using time well. It is important to build relationships, be human and deliberately build a group identity: We are Charter. We are smarter.

Question 2: It’s obviously still very early days, but to what factors do you attribute improvements?

I try to look after the staff and make sure they’re safe and respected. By creating that culture you also save the 90% of kids who crave stability and success

I don’t focus on paperwork. I focus on my gut instincts and what I believe in. I ask people: What would you want for your own kids?

I say to my staff, “Be a proper teacher. Don’t rely on the latest fad to bestow you with an aura of wisdom. Bugger fashion and bugger jargon. Teach like a subject expert who loves being with kids.” And the staff have risen to this challenge superbly.

Question 3: You and your school have been subjected to a lot of negative comment on social media. One Australian researcher even wrote about it in an academic paper. What has it been like to be subjected to this attention?

In the white heat of media attention, it may have appeared that I was under a lot of pressure. I really wasn’t. Rachel [Rachel de Sousa, CEO of the Inspiration Trust, the Academy chain to which Great Yarmouth Academy belongs] supported me 100%.

And, whilst you read the headlines, I just looked around me and saw safe, happy kids. Every lesson was calm. Teachers were beaming. Kids were learning more than ever. Teachers would go home and cry with relief. They couldn’t believe the transformation.

Question 4: Finally, what would you say to someone starting as a headteacher in a challenging school?

Why do you want to be a Head? What would you do to keep your job? Do you believe in box ticking? What would you do if you lost your job? It’s a job. It’s only part of your life. How’s it going to impact on your loved ones?

I’m loving what I’m doing. But I didn’t ever go looking for this job. I don’t pin my self-worth on my job. It isn’t that important to me.

Don’t get me wrong! I love the kids and my colleagues really make me laugh. We laugh a lot every day, to the point my face aches. It’s a really happy school.

I’d like to get a few more years under my belt. I’d like to feel less of a novice. But then again, I’m not sure that the stuff that ‘proper headteachers’ know and do is for me.

Mostly, I would advise a new headteacher to just take it day at a time and try not to take any of it too seriously.

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