I couldn’t think of a snappy title or any incredibly deep and meaningful quotes to put in this post (poet laureate I ain’t), so I am just going to share a snippet of honest detail about my trip to Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. The truth is that it’s extraordinarily ordinary: all pupils are polite, happy, safe and can learn, and all teachers can teach. This is how it should be in every school, shouldn’t it?
Barry breezed into the reception area where I was waiting and then all of a sudden we were practically Olympic walking through the corridors and into the classrooms to see how the children and staff were doing. One of the teachers was accosted en route and was asked to tell me how things used to be: teachers were afraid to go into the corridors because it was so unsafe, it used to take 20 minutes just to get pupils to write the date and the learning objective and pretty much every simple request would be met with defiance and rudeness. Staff used to be told that if they made their lessons engaging enough and if they got the differentiation right, then children would behave and would want to learn, but no matter how hard the teachers tried, it was hellish to work there – I was told of a teacher who would throw up on their way to work on a Monday morning, such was the anxiety, and of how the school was blacklisted by supply agencies because it was too dangerous to send supply teachers there.
And if it was that bad for staff, imagine how it was for those pupils who had SEN, or who didn’t look quite right, or who were in any way unconfident or different.
The expectations are very high now. Your typical educator or Ofsted inspector might look at what is going on and think that the pupils are being prevented from being creative, from being ‘themselves’, but when you think about it, they’re actually liberated, set free from the typical teenage experience (that frequently descends into chaos) and given unfettered access to higher level thinking that comes from knowing more and more. There are now many rules and routines that require the pupils to control their own inherent distractions such that in any lesson you will never hear the errant tap of a ruler or see pupils look pretty much anywhere other than at the teacher or their books (after clear instructions). There is no space for opt out of any kind. Many adults would struggle to conform in this way because they have had a lifetime of slouching, tapping, whispering, ignoring, fiddling and interjecting without thinking first, but these children have been given the keys to the kingdom of the best that has been thought and said – you can hear it in their full sentence replies to teachers’ questions and you know that those interesting words, phrases and concepts will trickle into the local community such that even everyday conversations will evolve. Imagine the happiness that will result from that.
Charter is a very civilised place now and yes, this even includes the canteen! But the magic isn’t really in what is happening in the corridors and the classrooms, the magic is what is happening inside the children’s heads because of what is happening in the corridors and the classrooms. Barry and his senior leadership team bring a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm to GYCA and it is a very positive place to be, so if you’re an intellectual teacher or aspiring leader who wants to, shock horror, ensure that children learn, then I recommend you get in touch with Barry. You won’t regret it.
Who’s with me?