Mark Hartley is Head of the outstanding Barnes Primary School. He is a lifetime educationalist with wide-ranging experience of working at both primary and secondary levels. He is a successful author, an Ofsted inspector and he has a diploma in Specific Learning Difficulties.
When I spoke to him some three months ago, he had just been invited to join, for 2 - 3 days a week until the end of the summer term, the senior leadership team at Richmond Park Academy. He was enthusiastic about this unique opportunity to collaborate with interim Headteacher Tracey O'Brien and her team to explore how best he could contribute to raising standards – but was quite firm with this interviewer that he had not – and would not – form any views about the school until he got to know it from the inside.
So here we are at approximately the half-way point of Mark's assigned time at RPA and, as arranged, we met again to see what had been happening. We talked about how his contribution to the team's brief to raise standards was shaping up. We talked about lots of good stuff (and some not so good stuff) and some recommendations he'd made based on what he'd seen both inside and outside the classroom. When I was writing my piece, he was adamant that I should remember his brief was to work in areas which needed improving and revival (otherwise his role would be impotent) and, while he was aware that there was impressive stuff happening around the school - stimulating student trips, impressive PTA events, academic achievement, sports successes, et al, - his focus was not on the widely succeeding but on the 'could do better'. 'One of the strengths of RPA is that it has the ability to see where things could be better and then gets on with making them better', he said.
In collaboration with Tracey O'Brien, Mark has already used his short time in school to good effect. He has spent time observing lessons in the maths, humanities and English departments and, while he has seen some excellent teaching and learning in action, he has also observed and noted some areas where he deemed improvement in lesson preparation and delivery was needed. In consultation with senior leaders, he has offered specific recommendations about how standards in these areas could be raised. He is working with some less experienced teachers to raise awareness of good teaching practices and so valued is his feedback that Tracey O'Brien reports others are asking for him to sit in on their lessons too. In addition, as part of the Year 11 Saturday revision programme, Mark has set up maths revision sessions, galvanising no less than 14 friends to support 15 Year 11 students to raise their predicted GCSE grades - and these very successful sessions are already recording marked improvements.
Tracey reports that Mark has also contributed directly to the academy's leadership strategy, helping to make sure that we are Ofsted ready, has conducted a series of assemblies highlighting inspirational people and has been regularly out and about the school campus getting to know the students. In a very short time, much has been observed, much applauded and areas for improvement pinpointed. One that Mark would particularly like to focus on before the end of term is the quality of student workbooks. These are highly rated by Ofsted as a reflection of student participation and understanding and, at the moment, they are - in the main - below par.
And finally: Mark reports that he is enjoying very much his work here and would, next year, very much like to continue to support the school's journey to outstanding. We have agreed to meet again towards the end of the summer term – so, for a further update on this universally valued collaboration, watch this space …