OfSTED report spells good news- finally- for Thomas Clarkson Community College

AN overwhelming sense of pride, progress and possibility – now backed by an official Government report- gives renewed hope to the task of turning around the Thomas Clarkson Community College, Wisbech.

“My prime aim remains to achieve academic success for my students, to make them feel valued and to experience a true sense of belonging,” said principal Maureen Strudwick as she considered the latest report by OfSTED, the schools’ inspecting body.

Just how far she has gone in achieving that is reflected in the report where, for the first time, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Whilst accepting poor attendance is still an issue and that a minority still try to blight prospects for the many, the report concludes that “there is clear evidence that the school has a satisfactory capacity for sustained improvement”.

It says five significant factors have given rise to this optimism:

*Teaching is now satisfactory

*The curriculum is much improved and allows students in years 10 and 10 a wide choice of subjects

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*Attendance has improved steadily

*There is a good means of identifying which students are falling behind so the necessary support can be arranged

*There is a much clearer focus on the performance of all groups of students and this has been used to prioritise improvements.

Alan Alder, the lead inspector who headed the review, added: “The school has engaged students, staff and parents in a fundamental review of its pastoral organisation as part of the planning of the new school buildings.

“As a result there is a clear sense of purpose, shared by all groups, and good strategic planning.

“These improvements have come about because of the determination and vision of the school’s senior leaders, particularly the principal, and their detailed and accurate evaluation of the school’s work as well as the developing expertise and commitment of subject and pastoral leaders.”

And he has much praise, too, for the governors who he says are “influential in establishing plans for the school’s future and are effective in holding those with responsibilities to account.”

Mr Alder says the school’s leaders acknowledge there is much more to do and are aware, for example, of progress needed in supporting those with special educational needs and “much has done to put this right, and with some effect”.

The report is a far cry from 2007 when the county council closed the former Queen’s School on the same site and re-opened it as a Fresh Start school and with its current name.

The Queen’s had been placed in special measures and after a shaky start (heads came and went), Ms Strudwick was installed as principal in March 2009 having spent many years at the school, more latterly as vice principal.

She has become the ‘architect’ of the change agenda and is busy overseeing not only massive internal changes but is also overseeing the school’s �25 million Building Schools for the Future project which will see the complex transformed within the next two years.

Working with her team, students, governors and the community a vision for the future has been laid out at the Thomas Clarkson which will see the campus effectively become three learning centres, each with their own name and each chosen after a school wide ballot.

Pankhurst (named after Emily), Madiba (after Nelson Mandela’s family name), and King (after Martin Luther King) will be the titles for each ‘hub’ and standing for “equality, liberation and leadership” says Ms Strudwick.

There will be three individual heads for each community and newly formed tutor groups and mentoring all with the aim, she says, of raising aspirations and creating a positive approach to learning.

OfSTED has not walked out of the school’s life and will be back to monitor progress and to check if examination results – still well below the national average- improve along with expectations.

But for Ms Strudwick, who believes many recognise “the dark places from where we have come and the journey we’ve been through”, is brimming with confidence for the future.

She is bullish, too, about changing attitudes in the community and encouraging parents to see the Thomas Clarkson as a school of choice and not one of convenience.

“Send children to us,” she said in a plea to parents. “We are heading in the right direction. Now we need for people to trust us and to put their faith in us”.

Before I left she insisted I join her on her daily walk to the first floor and to watch progress on the new buildings fast gathering pace within the school grounds.

“What I find particularly humbling and still can’t quite believe is the fact they are building my school,” she said.

“What a fantastic legacy it will be and for everyone involved, from teachers, parents, students and governors: for everyone, and there have been many, who have gotten involved in this project”.