I spent this morning with people far more intelligent than myself.
Year 11 from Blackheath Bluecoat came in dribs and drabs into the school library. Excited and nervous, they signed in and collected their sealed envelopes.
What makes these pupils special is that they’d been at school during our most turbulent time.
Blackheath Bluecoat had been a troubled school when I first joined as Governor in 2008. The school had a bit of a reputation and a lack of leadership from interim heads.
We’d been in special measures in 2003 and in 2006 only 16% of the pupils were getting 5 good GCSEs including English and Maths.
I found myself becoming Chair of Governors – no-one really wanted to do it – but supported by experienced Vice Chairs, we embarked on a federation with St Cecila’s, a more successful CofE secondary in Wandsworth.
We shared an Executive Head – the remarkable Jeff Risbridger – and a day to day Head in Barnaby Ash.
They introduced a zero tolerance approach to absenteeism and lateness, promoted discipline, started the school day – and finished it – early.
The teaching staff were supported, the pupils responded and the pass rate started to improve.
The council was pleased with our progress and when another school pulled out of a BSF move to Greenwich Peninsular, we jumped at the chance.
Then events conspired against us.
Labour lost and incoming Education Secretary Michael Gove cancelled the move. The three of our pupils were involved in a murder in Welling, out of school hours.
Then the council said they were proposing closing our school for good. Though performance had radically improved, we’d still been unable to convince local parents to send their children to Bluecoat. That led to increasing school debt and in a time of austerity, the council made the decision to close us in 2014.
But in spite of that – and fighting a passionate campaign to stay open – our pupils stayed focussed on their exams.
So today Blackheath Bluecoat Church of England School celebrated record GCSE examination results for the fourth year in succession. 70% of our pupils achieved five good GCSEs including English and Maths – an 11% point rise in a year, when the national average went down by 1.3% to 68.1%.
The national average of pupils getting an English A*-C dropped by 0.5% to 63.6% – ours rose by 17% points to 78%.
And in Maths the national average getting an A*-C grade dropped 0.8% to 57.6%. Ours increased by 12% to 75%
Since the federation with St Cecila’s in January 2009:
· The percentage of pupils attaining five good GCSEs (including English and Mathematics) has more than doubled from 31% to 70%
· ‘Expected Progress’ in English has increased from 56% to 97%
· ‘Expected Progress’ in Mathematics has increased from 50% to 69%
· The school was identified by The Schools Network as being in the top 10% of the most improving schools in England and received a good OfSTED for the first ever time.
Take a look at some of our pupils:
· Brefo Gyasi who achieved 14 A*-C GCSE grades, including 7 A*/A grades
· Diekonifeoluwa Falade who achieved 13 A*-C GCSE grades, including 6 A*/A grades
· Olateju Gbadamosi who achieved 13 A*-C GCSE grades, including 7 A*/A grades
· Raul Bajimaya who achieved 13 A*-C GCSE grades, including 5 A*/A grades
· Sivaginy Sivakumaran who achieved 13 A*-C GCSE grades, including 4 A*/A grades
What I’ve learnt is that in spite of turning a school around academically, parents still take much longer to be convinced of the change.
Unfortunately, thanks to a combination of events, we ran out of time.
But bar fatherhood, this is the most fulfilling and rewarding thing I have ever done. Seeing the joy on their faces when they saw their results, was life-affirming.
So we still hope to get a CofE school open on the Peninsula or possibly develop one on our current site. It would be criminal to lose this drive, talent and comradary forged in the classes and staff room at Bluecoat.
But when we walk out with pupils and staff for the last time next August, we’ll do so with our heads held high.
Safe in the knowledge we did our damned best.