|The Future Looks Bright At Chiswick School|
We speak to Headteacher Alan Howson about engaging pupils, top notch teaching and becoming the focus of the community
Although just 18 months old, the new regime at Chiswick Community School has already been recognised by Ofsted as having made ‘rapid’ progress, a view echoed in the commendations from parents, pupils and staff members.
The man behind the movement is Headteacher Alan Howson. In an interview with ChiswickW4.com, the father of two tells us what he believes are the key reasons for the turnaround and why there is no room in his school for complacency.
“Once people start seeing positive things happening in the school, they start to view the school more positively. For me as a parent I want my child to be safe and I want my child to be happy, they are the two most important criteria for me.
“If a child is bright they will probably achieve in any school and if you’ve brought them up correctly, they’ll know which children to avoid and which children to make friends with. It doesn’t really matter which school it is they go to as long as they feel safe and feel happy. I think that’s a change from the culture that was here in the school before.”
One of his first tasks when he arrived at the school was to deal with the poor level of behaviour amongst certain children.
“We’ve put systems in place which allows there to be consistency in the classrooms across the school and made it clear where the lines are of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour. Now children are working in that way, they are confident in the playgrounds and around the corridors and classrooms. They are going to be engaged and when they are engaged, they are learning.”
“The problem in the past is that we have tolerated students with the wrong attitude in a very caring way to try and help them but this had a damaging effect on other students. I take no pride in the fact that over the last 18 months I have had to permanently exclude 16 students because I needed to show the students that I am not excepting that sort of behaviour. I think once the students realize what is over the line and what is acceptable and they will lose their place if they step over that line.”
“We’ve changed the structure and introduced 10CC - Ten Chiswick Consequences. They are on the wall in every classroom and the children know that if they step out of line there will be a consequence. They are the school rules and they must abide by them. Disruptive children are removed from the classroom to allow others to learn. Maybe these children need help with behavioral management, maybe they need some one to one, but won’t they won’t do is stay in the classroom and disrupt the lesson.”
It’s not just the children’s attitudes he has encouraged change in, “the other part of the system is making sure that the teachers deliver 100% learning focus interesting lessons that are of the highest standard every time.
“We have a ‘Chiswick lesson’ which breaks the lesson down into parts and we expect everybody to prepare their lessons properly, to have a written format of what the lesson is going to include and to make sure it is differentiated for all the different levels of children that may be present in the lesson to make sure that they’re meeting targets etc.
“The teachers’ main focus is prepare their lesson and every time deliver their best lesson – if they’re not happy that it was their best lesson then go away and look at it and work out why it wasn’t their best lesson.”
Alan Howson’s belief in his pupils and staff means sights are set high up on league tables hoping to finish in the upper percentages of all comprehensive schools in the country this year. “Historically school has never made figures like that – even in the glory days I don’t think it achieved what we believe it will achieve over the next couple of years.”
He believes that in order to achieve this, teachers must focus on rewarding pupils as opposed to punishing. “We’ve built in a really strong reward system to try and encourage children to achieve. They want to learn so encourage them by giving them a lot of short term rewards.” Younger pupils can exchange rewards for days out whilst older pupils change use theirs to earn money off prom tickets.
“It’s simple, it really is that simple – sort behaviour out, focus the teachers on teaching good lessons and the children will become more engaged because the lessons are better. Children want the security of knowing that people aren’t going to bend, they are going to give in they want the knowledge of where the line is focus rewards rather than punishment and don’t limit praise."
Planning For The Future
Plans for the future include establishing a charitable trust to enable the school to be managed and run as a foundation school. The local authority would still be involved, but the school is also currently in talks with local organizations Chiswick Park, Brentford Football Club, Met Police and St Mary’s Higher Education Institute.
“All of them are very interested in supporting the school and becoming trust partners. What I’d like to do is make the school a focus for the community. We are a community school but in fact a lot of our students come from way outside the community. That’s no good, I want to make this a community school in the true sense of the word and I want our trust to reflect the needs of the community so that would be a really important part of this development.”
“One of the benefits of becoming a foundation and trust school is that you become your own admissions authority. I would like to name feeder primary schools so that those children can have first choice as opposed to the current sibling policy where a child who lives miles away gets priority over child who lives 100m away simply because they have a sister in Year 11. That’s bonkers! If you send your child to your local primary school, they should have the right to go to their local secondary school. We were oversubscribed last year and again this year and local parents cannot get their children in. If we want to develop the community, it has to be a school for the local community. I want to make this the school where everyone wants to send their children.”
Planning For His Exit
He’s most certainly the man with the vision but he’s clear it’s not all about him. “There is a danger that you build it all around you, I don’t think it is all about me. There’s a guy called Tim Brighouse who’s big in education. I met him at a conference just before I was about to start my first headship. He told me that the first thing I should start doing when I got there was planning my exit.
“When he talked it through it made absolute sense, it’s all about structures and systems it’s not about you. If you build a school all around you and you’re hit by a bus the school falls down. That’s not fair on those left behind, you’ve got to build up your structures and systems and your team so that they are confident in the areas they are needed. They’re all paid good money to be leaders, so let them get on lead.”
March 10, 2009