Tim’s certainly not second-best

NUMBER two could well have been Tim Hitch s epitaph – although it s unclear whether it was the haircut colleagues might have wished he would aspire to or the position destiny would have him occupy. But the surprise decision by Jo Pallett to vacate the pr

NUMBER two could well have been Tim Hitch's epitaph - although it's unclear whether it was the haircut colleagues might have wished he would aspire to or the position destiny would have him occupy.

But the surprise decision by Jo Pallett to vacate the principal's seat at Neale-Wade Community, March, elevated Mr Hitch, reluctantly, into the hot seat on a temporary basis.

On March 1, he became, officially, principal, heading a staff of 220 and a school roll of nearly 1,700.

His fears of losing touch with the grassroots - he still teaches at least four lessons a week - and his sheer joy at being constantly at the coal face of his profession, has given way to a belief that he might, just, make a damn good principal.

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Whether it was his considered opinion of those who competed for the job that helped (up to 45 candidates applied the second time the vacancy was advertised) or pressure from his colleagues that persuaded him, ultimately the governors recognised in his tried and tested approach the ingredients they sought to take the school forward.

"I suppose I believed I still had something to offer," said Mr Hitch. "My schooldays were undoubtedly the happiest of my life, and I hope for that to be true of pupils at Neale-Wade today."

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Having survived a gruelling three-day assessment by the governors, the proverbial white smoke over March signifying his appointment had hardly time to settle before Government inspectors called.

Barely a fortnight into his new role - and busily creating his eight-strong leadership team - Ofsted inspectors dropped by for a detailed examination of Neale-Wade.

On most levels they found the school to be "satisfactory", number three on the grading scale they deploy. If nothing else, Mr Hitch is determined it should move to at least number two - "good" - before he eventually steps down.

The inspectors found much to commend at Neale-Wade, especially recognising the fact that during his interregnum Mr Hitch had identified most of the problems and was dealing with them.

"The granting of specialist status has helped in the recruitment of new teachers," they noted, and 20 minutes into our interview Mr Hitch was hustling me round to the new computer block to see the integration of 36 terminals, and the promise of even more, into the curriculum.

"Students with learning difficulties and disabilities make good progress, as do more able girls," said Ofsted before adding that "average and lower ability boys make least progress".

Then there is the "challenging behaviour" of a minority of students, and concerns by parents about bullying, although Ofsted reports the college is "increasingly taking appropriate action".

And there is also the pressure on Neale-Wade to conform to national guidelines on specific areas, notably the age-old problem of what to do about religious education.

Remarkably, it still remains compulsory, even for the post-16s who Ofsted discovered were not getting their proper "statutory requirement".

Mr Hitch is aware of the problem, but also hopes Ofsted is aware of the school's limitations: with an increasing school roll, daily assemblies are a logistical impossibility. He has suggested, however, that teachers might read out a daily 'thought for the day' to each class.

"In schools we have to work out what we want them to deliver and, yes, we do need to recognise spiritual ideas beliefs and culture", said Mr Hitch.

But there was no doubting his enthusiasm for pursuing an agenda that will ensure uniform teaching standards throughout the school, a willingness to suspend those pupils disrupting life for others, and his preparedness to ensure teaching of the highest standard.

What follows, he believes, is the "raising of achievement and raising of aspirations" for his students.

With Ofsted noting an information technology lesson at Neale-Wade as being "outstanding", Mr Hitch believes he is equipped to deal with some of the other issues inspectors raised.

Not least will be to halt the drop-out rate for sixth formers, the need to extend careers advice to Years 7 and 8, and ensure, says Ofsted, "all teaching has the characteristics of the best".

Given his philosophy, "if you play, you play to win", there seems little doubt Neale-Wade has little to fear from future Ofsted inspections.

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