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Forwards, upwards, outwards - a plan for all seasons

posted 25 Jul 2017, 17:45 by Web Admin   [ updated 25 Jul 2017, 17:46 ]

Paul Mundy-Castle
Principal Paul Mundy-Castle reflects on his first year at RPA with governor Mona Adams 

Paul Mundy-Castle is coming to the end of his first year as Principal and it is obvious, since he took over, that Richmond Park Academy has changed, will continue to change under his watch and that staff, students and parents stand shoulder to shoulder on a stimulating, challenging educational journey marked by milestones of measurable progress and achievement. These are indeed encouraging words - and ones that we all want to hear - but where's the proof? Has measurable progress been made in this first year? What kind of year has it been? Has the new Principal imbued the staff, the students and the parents with that 'can do' philosophy which he brought with him when he stepped into the school for the first time? As uncertainty appears to threaten all our futures - Brexit, a hung parliament, new American alliances - can we look at our school, at our students, at our teachers and say with a measure of certainty that here, at least, we know what the future holds?

At the end of his first year Paul Mundy-Castle stands by his assurance to parents - which he made in his interview last February - that, and I quote: 'governments change, policies change, teachers change, but our ambition at RPA - to provide an outstanding local academy - remains steadfast'.

In this most recent interview, he underlines the tangible, measurable, sustainable progress that has been achieved so far and looks at how he and his team can build on that progress for the future. As our new Head Boy so wisely said recently 'there's always something you can do to make things better'. So no resting on laurels - at least, not yet...

1. The big question which occupies parents' thinking at this time of year is - are the exam results going to be good. What, if any, indicators are there that results may improve?

As with any form of testing, rigorous preparation is key to success. For public exams, we have, over the last year, expanded what we have done in the past. We have introduced to all our years 10 and 11 students GCSEPod - an online revision system providing instant, personalised access to key subject information which has been shaped and directed by their teachers. So that class learning can be consolidated, this reservoir of online revision material includes not only two-minute lesson videos but key subject questions, thus enabling both student and teacher to gauge independent learning ability and accurately monitor progress. The enthusiasm for learning and personal development which our students are currently demonstrating can be measured by the number of times (11,929) the Pod has been accessed since it was introduced. The national average for a school of our size and type is 6,800.

Controlled assessments already banked in religious studies, science and ICT are better than the banked grades from last year and, in addition, the last data collection in April was good, indicating improved outcomes for the summer. During the exam season, we provided daily wrap-around care, free breakfasts and bottled water to help our students concentrate on the job in hand and perform at their very best level.

2. When you took over, you immediately laid out a 3-year plan for improvement. At the end of year one, what has been achieved and what not?

Attendance has improved - to over 95% - and, despite a shortage of teachers nationally, we are fully staffed for next year with qualified teachers in all departments. A lot has been achieved in this first year which I have pleasure in sharing with you in this interview - but we still have a long way to go. My focus is on quality first teaching to ensure students are challenged and supported in all lessons and at all levels and my team is consistently monitoring outcomes to ensure that this challenge and support translates into good results.

3. Residential weekends for revision and lesson consolidation have been introduced for year 11 students. Has take-up been good and are they having the desired effect?

We have held three residential weekends - for maths, English and science - and every place has been taken up. Students have capitalised on these experiences to deepen their learning with teachers in a different context and have commented positively on their experiences. In subsequent assessments, improvement has been registered.

4. What strategies have you put in place to make sure that all our teachers are good or outstanding? Are those measures working and how is improvement measured?

We have introduced a new online performance management system which puts self-diagnosis centre stage. All teachers now have the power to evaluate personal performance against national core teaching standards and use that evidence to close gaps and address areas where improvements can be made. Senior management - responsible for monitoring the success of teaching and learning throughout the school - will regularly analyse data and signpost teachers towards areas of support. The system is already having a positive impact as the percentage of good teaching has increased and teachers are telling us how much they value the ownership of their own professional development which the new system gives them.

5. The curriculum has, under your watch, undergone changes. What are they, why were they necessary and are they working?

We have made morning lessons longer, thereby increasing teacher contact time and have also, at the same time, introduced individual learning time (ILT) in the classroom. Teachers are encouraged to give - and support - the tools for self-motivation so that students see the advantages of - and are enabled to - develop responsibility for their own progress. We are already measuring a positive impact on outcomes. In September, we will be introducing individual learning homework projects. This will stretch able students and allow outstanding progress to be adequately measured. We will also be offering the right support to students who need it.

Our students' GCSE journeys begin in Year 9 when they will be offered appropriate guidance about possible pathway choices. By Key Stage 4 (Year 10) those personalised learning journeys will be well underway. Early, informed and supported guidance will help wrong pathway choices - and the subsequent waste of precious learning time - to be avoided.

6. Lesson and learning targets: how are they set and monitored?

To make sure that all our students are better prepared for public exams, we have devoted a lot of time to re-writing schemes of learning which are now more closely linked to GCSE specifications. In addition, faculty heads and senior management have a core responsibility to create lesson schemes with associated monitoring to ensure that all our teachers are delivering at the highest level. AET also has a network of subject leaders who will, when requested, come on site in an advisory capacity. We have recently had AET support for English, maths and science.

7. Last time we spoke, you reported that progress was not good enough - was below the national floor standard. Has that improved and can RPA, as was your aim by the year's end, now show a progress measure above that national floor line?

There were a number of reasons why, last year, progress was poor. Those have now been individually been addressed This year, the first thing we did was to make sure that all Year 11 students were taking enough GCSEs to fill their progress buckets. In instances where they were not, additional subject study was added to their personalised curriculum to enable them to increase their totals. The second task was to make sure that no Year 11 student was working on subjects which discounted against each other. For example, there are three buckets to fill. The first contains maths and English, the second science, MFL and humanities (history or geography) and the third - an open bucket - could contain textiles, art, PE, music, etc. As only eight GCSE subjects are allowed to count against progress, it is important to get the mix right. Last year, some students successfully completed GCSEs in both art and textiles but, because they belonged in the same bucket, they discounted against each other. I am confident that, because of the changes we have put in place, progress will now be better than the -0.55 we last reported.

8. What are the school's strongest faculties and where is more work needed?

Music has been consistently good all year. Single sciences, art and textiles have also performed well. My key focus for next year will be core science and I am happy to report that we have appointed an outstanding Assistant Principal to lead the science department. Additionally, we have recruited an experienced KS3 Co-ordinator from the Ark family of schools. Both will join us next term.

9. I know you think it is important to raise expectations both in school - of students and staff and outside school - of parents. Is that happening - and how?

It is important to work closely with families to achieve the success we want. Last spring we held an information evening where teachers and parents met together to discuss and plan improvements across the academy. On the back of that very successful event, we created a page on our website 'You said, we did' so that we could constantly keep under review the practice of working together to improve.

10. You have said that educational success depends not only on good teaching but on student resilience and independent learning. Are students beginning to take ownership of their own learning and success and do they have the tools to do that?

Improving resilience is key to the development of successful learners. We have put all Years 7,8 and 9 students through a resilience course led by an external professional. Participation in the course, together with the newly initiated independent learning tasks being embraced by our students in the classroom, are helping to grow the type of learners who will know what they have to do to succeed - and succeed they will.

11. Another area which parents think important is discipline because it often acts as a litmus test of what is happening in the school as a whole. Can you see any difference between when you took over as Principal and now? And what has caused that difference? 

Students must be given ownership of their behaviour so that they learn to be more reflective about personal choices. We have a behaviour management system in place which rewards the kind of behaviour we want our students to display - and clearly sets out the consequences of negative choices. The students here have been amazing. They've embraced the new systems without complaint - and they are encouraged, through Student Voice, to discuss the value of doing the right thing and to come forward with suggestions for further school improvements.

12. We are in partnership with AET, the Academies Enterprise Trust. Can you tell me what they have done to support you and the school during your first year and how do you rate that support?

As a new Head, it is good to be part of a network which provides opportunities not only to work with other experienced Heads but to be able to speak to them about any issues I might need to share. I also have regular meetings with AET's regional adviser John King who is also always available on the phone for discussion and reporting. We meet quarterly to share information on the quality of teaching and learning at RPA and to monitor progress. AET has insights on pupil premium spending, SEN provision and safeguarding - and they share valuable information with me on how to continue improving things here.

13. Do you think the new leader of the Council, Paul Hodgins, or the proposed secondary school on the Mortlake brewery site will have an impact on our future planning?

Paul Hodgins has recently visited RPA and, setting aside any issues around academies, has voiced his support of what we are doing here, i.e. raising standards to improve. We have the potential to expand our intake to 210 students on an excellent campus without any building modifications and I feel that our school should be filled before any new school is built locally. I appreciate that results have not been what I want or what I am aiming for but with the support of local families, with AET and with the local community, we have made rapid progress over the last 10 months and we will soon be in a position to deliver the outcomes which we - and local families - demand.