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In this series, academy headteachers and principals talk about how they are using academy freedoms to innovate and raise standards.
Richard Sheriff, headteacher of Harrogate Grammar School, talks about being one of the UK’s top performing comprehensive schools.
Previous academies in focus articles can be accessed from this page.
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Harrogate Grammar School, which became the first academy in North Yorkshire in March 2011, is one of the UK’s top performing comprehensive schools. Harrogate Grammar converted as a school rated outstanding by Ofsted, and results show that 91% of pupils achieved 5+ A* to C GCSEs in 2012. Richard Sheriff has been headteacher since January 2007.
My aim right from when I arrived at the school was to put in place the systems and structures to allow Harrogate Grammar to become more autonomous and less dependent on our local authority. Academy status enabled us to do this. As an academy, we are not only free from local authority control, but we have much more control over our finances as well as the ability to source our own services more effectively.
Taking responsibility for our own money did feel like a big step at first, but we have found that it means we can use the funding we get much more effectively to help our pupils to learn and develop. For example, I feel very strongly that children should be prepared for the 21st century not the 20th century, and since becoming an academy, we have been able to invest in the latest technology. Instead of taking pupils out of classrooms to sit in a computer room, as many schools still do, each pupil has a tablet computer. This has transformed the way they learn, as well as making it quicker and easier for staff to monitor performance and progress.
When we converted, we brought services such as occupational health and human resources (HR), previously provided by the local authority, under our own control. Feedback from staff has been really positive because they feel much more looked after by a HR department that is closer to them at the school, and that knows their own needs and issues. We have also taken catering in house and the quality of our school meals has improved markedly. The number of pupils enjoying our school lunches is up 17% this year alone, which is great news.
We do, however, continue to have a very good relationship with our local authority. Their approach to working with us, while tricky in the early stages, is now very positive. We have retained a number of services that the local authority provides, including admissions and SEN support.
We are finding it easier to recruit and reward the best quality staff as an academy. We are seen as a forward-looking, innovative, independent school, the kind of place that high-quality, ambitious teachers want to work in, meaning that we can pick and choose the best staff to work here.
Harrogate Grammar is a lead school in the Red Kite Teaching School Alliance, which provides nationally accredited and bespoke leadership, training, support, research and development opportunities to school staff across Yorkshire and the Humber. The Alliance is formed from schools who have converted to academy status but also those that have remained under local authority control.
For the future, we’re looking into using the Teaching Schools Alliance to take forward our work with other schools, including potentially as an academy sponsor. I have worked in inner-city schools where aspirations are low and the kids don’t think that they can achieve. I think we can help schools to turn themselves around and raise pupils’ aspirations. At the same time, partnering with a school in different circumstances could be a really good learning opportunity for our pupils and staff.
Harrogate Grammar School
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