A history graduate of Middlesex University, Paul took his PGCE at Kingston University and his Masters in Education at London South Bank University. He has completed his National Professional Qualification for Headship and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education.
During his career, he has worked as a Head of Learning and SENCO, has been an advanced skills teacher of history and was involved in an outreach programme in 12 London secondary schools. He has held senior leadership positions at several schools in the capital (one of them the UK's first parent-promoted school) and he was, for three years, the Deputy Headteacher at Raynes Park High School in Merton. In 2005 he was named London Teacher of the Year by The Guardian.
Paul is also a talented sportsman, having played basketball for England and Great Britain from l994-l998. His mother was a business woman and his father a Professor of Psychology. He lives in south London with his wife and two children, aged 9 and 3.
1 Why did you apply for this particular Headship?
I have been following news about AET in the press and online and I picked up that Richmond Park Academy was one of the group's good secondaries. And I knew Richmond as an area and was attracted by that as well as the school.
2 Did you know about our school before you applied? What do you know about it now?
I knew about the dip in results two years ago and subsequently read that the school was in discussions about a possible MAT with local primaries. The link between primary and secondary schools is very important and useful and I will work to maintain and build those relationships, exchanging local ideas and talent. As soon as I saw the poster in the school about the importance of looking after yourself, looking after each other and looking after your school, I knew I wanted to work here. As I walked around I felt that ethos running throughout the school. The kids are fantastic – polite and welcoming – as is the staff. On my 'getting to know you' visits, I have seen lots of confident students and confidence is an important ingredient for success.
3 What will your initial priorities be?
First and foremost my attention will be on raising standards. Aspiring to be the best will be non-negotiable. Our students are on a journey. What happens here in school is directly related to what happens next – at university, at work. It is crucial to provide the right diet in the classroom to achieve the right outcomes so, regardless of starting points – and they will vary – we must provide the curriculum and teaching which will generate interest, attention and student buy-in. And it is important for our students to take pride in how they look and behave because that is how they will initially be judged, not only at school but throughout their lives.
4 How will you ensure consistency of approach to raising standards?
We will have to unpick accountability, make sure that everyone knows they are part of a team and that we are only as strong as our weakest link. Boxes are easy to tick but we, as a team, need to be able to uncover underlying issues accurately and quickly. We will focus on quality assurance rather than rigorous monitoring. We will put in place systems which are universal throughout the school, which are easy to implement and live with - and which produce results which are immediately measurable We will listen to both student and teacher voices to find out what's working and what's not. Our senior team will have to be reflective, resilient and open-minded. As the Head, all eyes will be on me and I will have to model what I preach.
5 How will you engage students in the importance of sharing responsibility for - and generating interest in – their own learning and achievements?
Education is an inter-connecting, life-long journey. It's not something which happens in blocks. What's happening now in school is directly related to what will happen next. And that all important hidden curriculum of soft skills – manners, behaviour, appearance – will encourage our students to think about their position in respect of the rest of the world. It is our aim that they will be thinking from the moment they join us about further education, university, work. It's far too late at the end of key stage 3 to be making those connections. We must begin mapping out that educational journey early because if you attempt to travel without a road map, the chances are you'll get lost. We need our students to be clear about what they have to do and how to do it - and that education is not something you bear, it is something to be enjoyed.
6 What approach will you take to raise teacher/student expectations academically, behaviourally, pastorally?
Gifted and talented intelligence is not set at birth. There is always room to develop talent, to improve, to do better. Students need to own the possibility of achievement and teachers need to believe in it. We need to make use of case studies of past student successes and keep those links open so that younger students are aware of what can been achieved. Success is not just about what you achieve on paper. To open doors we all need to be able to work with people, to respect their views, to remember to say please and thank you and to put our own opinions across without shouting or losing our temper. We need to be conscious – not only in school but in the world of work - of the importance of time-keeping and consistency of attendance. First impressions are lasting impressions. It is important for our students to know the messages that are being transmitted both inside and outside school by the way they wear their uniform and the way they talk and behave.
We need to make a forensic analysis of what is working and what is not. We need to look at outstanding schools, send senior staff to seek out the whys and wherefores of top performance, including what has gone well in the private sector. We need to strengthen links with our community across the board, taking in any available expertise. We need to compare ourselves with national measures and outcomes and if we are below par, examine what we need to do to get back in line so that we can not only match but out-perform national benchmarks.
7 How important are exam results?
Exams are one of the keys to opening doors. Because society measures capability on outcomes, results matter - and that is why we need to make sure that our students know what their personal targets are and how and when they need to achieve them. The best universities will be looking for the best grades, the best employers will be looking for the best candidates, and so on - and that's why our students will need to start thinking early about outcomes regardless of which life route they plan to take.
8 Is raising exam results the same as raising standards?
No. A school could be coasting on what appears to be a healthy percentage of 5 A-C results when most of those 5 subjects could be C grades, masking the reality that progress is stagnant. It's quality not quantity we will be aiming for. We will be looking at how progress can be meaningfully probed, aided and maintained, regardless of starting point. And, of course, the curriculum for the student needs to be right. For GCSEs and A-levels, subject choice needs to be student motivated, not staff led because subjects that are started without motivation and interest are unlikely to end in success.
9 How would you work to make sure RPA results match or exceed other Borough schools?
We must get the curriculum right. Get the teaching right. Get the right teachers in front of the right kids. Have regular assessments to keep a handle on what's happening. Review and challenge under-performance and highlight good performance. Make sure that homework and independent learning is properly stitched in to class lesson understanding and attainment so that independent learning skills can be embedded in our students.
10 Some students and teachers have natural aspirational DNA. How would you engender whole school aspiration – and to what should all be aspiring?
We must build cultural capital. Enrich personal experiences and get students working outside their comfort zone with enthusiasm and enjoyment. Be aware that 'don't like it' can mean 'don't know it'. Forge regular link-ups with local universities - Roehampton and Kingston - and get their students to come into RPA to talk to ours. Engage parents to talk about their educational journeys - for example, in assemblies – and continue to underline that school is not an isolated experience, it's part of what comes next. What better aspiration is there than our school motto 'to make best better'?
11 How would you measure and maintain progress – individually, collectively – and how would you ensure its consistency across the school?
As a Head, you lead by example. A Head should always be aware of – and highlight - good practice by both students and staff. Being noticed is, for all of us, very important. Public praise encourages buy-in. For example, I would initiate Headteacher breakfasts at least six times a year with students who have shown measured improvement so that they know their hard work has been recognised.
12 Why should local parents choose RPA?
A good question. When you are young, it is good to be at school close to where you live. Local kids using the local school enriches local community life. The whole area benefits if the local school is outstanding, with fantastic behaviour and consistently good results, where individual talent – everybody has talent – is spotted and developed and where a varied enrichment programme feeds a variety of interests and needs.Together, we can make that happen.
13 How important is the way students wear their uniform and how would you get that message across?
Outsiders will initially judge by what they see. Appearance is not just about the personal, it is about the image of the school. Our school has a uniform policy and a uniform code. When students sign up with RPA, they buy into that. Local parents will appreciate that if students are consistently conforming to the uniform policy and wearing that uniform with pride, they will no doubt be conforming to other school rules as well. That collective pick-up by our students of the realisation of the importance of consistency of behaviour and appearance outside as well as inside school will transmit a very powerful message to local parents.
14 What, in your opinion, are the yardsticks which should be used to measure an outstanding school?
Fantastic individual outcomes. A culture of learning - where every development opportunity is seized upon by both staff and students. Where there is no room for stagnation. Where students leave full of pride for school and achievement. Where students want to stay connected because of good experiences. And where students want to validate their success by living it.
15 Are we nearly there yet?
Yes. There are lots of good things happening here – good on all measures. Students are eager to do their best. Staff are skilled and love their jobs. The facilities here are top notch and the building is definitely fit for purpose. The end of this part of our journey is getting closer.
16 What difference, if any, does a Head make directly on improvement?
A Head is the chief motivator for both students and staff. A Head has to keep everyone working towards the collective vision even if sometimes focus becomes blurred. A Head must make sure that all are working towards outstanding and that everyone knows exactly what that means. It is widely recognised that both students and staff benefit if they have a good school on their CV. Good schools make things easier. Good schools make things happen.
Mona Adams, Community Governor