Paul Mundy-Castle has been Principal of Richmond Park Academy for just a term and a half but it is already evident that he has ideas to share, goals to reach and plans to augment. He has no time for 'can't do', but readily accepts and encourages the 'can't do it yet' attitude because, he says, that perfectly reflects the educational journey on which all at RPA are travelling from the moment they join us.
In the short space of 5 months, this new Principal has already initiated changes which are recharging the leadership structure, teacher challenge and accountability, student buy-in, progress analysis, time management, lesson effectiveness and learning outcomes. He has also introduced a myriad of 'glad to belong' ingredients throughout the school - like specially designed work benches in dead spaces, a Year 11 progress competition with a tablet for personalised learning as a reward, more comfortable and efficient office spaces, a time-saving electronic visitor check-in system and a student support room specially equipped and staffed to quickly get students through temporary difficulties and back on track.
Lots done. But lots still to tackle. In this recent Q&A, Paul Mundy-Castle continues to show that he is more than willing – and able – to stand up and be tested
Mona Adams (MA): You have now been Principal here for a term and a half. Have your perceptions of the school and its potential (of which you spoke when we last talked) changed during that time and if so how?
Paul Mundy-Castle (PMC): My perceptions have not changed. The students here know how to follow school rules, are respectful to staff, are taking changes on board and are very talented. I've noticed that from the beginning. They are first rate tools which we are using to build this school into a fantastic learning environment. As a Principal, I am in a doubly positive position because my staff see where change is needed and are embracing it. Local families are very knowledgeable. They ask the right questions and are holding me to account. Not only have my perceptions not changed, my belief that we have all the ingredients here to deliver on our aspirations still holds firm.
MA: Is that the view of an insider with a vested interest in painting a positive picture of his school for outside consumption - or is there tangible potential here that is really exciting you as it develops?
PMC: My ability to assess where we are and what potential we have here is based on my 12 years of leadership experience which includes senior management roles in five different schools. Because of that experience, I am in a good position to be able to accurately gauge both the capability and potential of this school. My judgment is that we are in a good place to be able to move forward. In fact, we are already doing so. With the revitalised support of AET and the blossoming of the new relationship with our local Achieving for Children, I am confident that we can, together, capitalise on the educational scope which I see here.
MA: Rightly or wrongly, exam results are how parents will gauge our success. What measures have you initiated to raise standards and to give more of our students a chance to measure up academically in the next set of public exams?
PMC: Good exam results are achieved over years of constructive planning and hard work. It's no good starting to think about exams in Year 9. We will set realistic exam targets at transition in Year 7 and work to increase them year on year as student ability develops. For our current Years 8 and 9, we have introduced Saturday school for maths and English to ensure they are making steady progress. We have restructured the school day, extending lessons to 55 minutes, so that all students now have an extra 1hr 40 mins learning time each week. To support our Year 11s, we hold aSaturday school for science and maths and, to make extra time for both English and science during the week, we have extended the school day on Monday and Thursday by an hour. For Years 10 and 11, we have introduced a GCSE pod - an online learning platform proven to improve subject knowledge.
For teachers, we have installed a new online data management platform (SISRA) which will help them to more easily make use of data to plan lessons and, for those supporting Year 11 learning, we have initiated a bespoke training package delivered on Monday and Thursday evenings to make sure that teacher subject knowledge and practice is of the highest standard.
MA: Are your students up to the challenges which you are setting for them?
PMC: Students are the most fantastic pieces of our educational jigsaw. They have taken on board the changes we have made without complaint. I am very proud of their commitment and fortitude. For example, when we introduced the extra hour two days a week after school, every Year 11 willingly stayed to take part.
MA: Overall, how would you rate the teaching here at RPA?
PMC: We have pockets of outstanding practice here - in departments like music, art, food technology and humanities. Where teaching is not outstanding, we have clear development plans in place to enable staff to improve lesson structure and delivery. AET has provided – and is continuing to provide – support in this area.
MA: How important is it to generate parental support? How would you strengthen that support?
PMC: For this school to be outstanding – which is our journey's destination – it is imperative that parents play a significant role as fellow travellers. Since September, I have held numerous meetings with parents where I have been both challenged and supported. I have been impressed by how well these meetings have been attended, an indicator to me of how involved and interested parents are in what is happening here. Our PTA is a vibrant and innovative organisation which helps to galvanise parental support. To further build on this all-important relationship between school and home, I am hosting a planning event for all parents on 22nd March from 5.30 to 7.30pm which will provide an opportunity for them to work together with staff to review key elements of the SDP (the School Development Plan).
MA: Where would you like to see the school at the end of this academic year? Do you think that's achievable?
PMC: Currently we sit in a progress measure of - .55. The national floor standard for progress is - .5. So we are currently below floor standard, which is just not good enough. My determination is that, by the end of this academic year, we will be reporting a progress measure above floor standard. Over the next couple of years, my ambition is to report solid positive progress. And yes, I think both these targets are achievable.
MA: How would you rate the progress of the 6th form during the last term? How important do you think it is for students to take responsibility and ownership for their own progress and success and if so, how will you promote that involvement?
PMC: Post-16 provision is a very important part of the educational journey for our learners. To enable our 6th form to grow from its infancy, we have taken significant strides to improve resources. For example, we have just employed a full-time 6th form manager who, as part of her remit, is currently focusing on attendance recording - a key student indicator of personal commitment to learning. She is already reporting significant improvement. In addition, we have re-planned a state of the art ITC suite and study area for the exclusive use of our 6th formers, a further indicator of how committed we are to building a strong and effective 6th form experience at RPA.
MA: Given that natural ability and interests differ from student to student – in other words, we are not all the same – how would you make sure that the variations of individual talent are recognised and developed?
PMC: The key to success across the learning spectrum is to ensure that we are personalising the curriculum.To do this effectively teachers need to know the learning needs of their students so that, when planning lessons, they can factor in those individual needs. And students need to be able to recognise their own learning styles so that, with teacher support, they are in a good position to make progress in every lesson. We encourage a mindset here at RPA which gives no oxygen to a 'can't do it' attitude. What we encourage – because it underlines yet again that education is a journey - is 'can't do it - yet'…
MA: How committed are you to getting the school to outstanding on your watch?
PMC: I'm committed to making RPA an outstanding school irrespective of the official judgements of the DfE or OFSTED. My criteria of a first-rate educational environment is one where young learners are cared for, happy and making measurable progress. That is what I seek. I am hopeful that, before long, the DfE and OFSTED will also recognise these essential learning ingredients in their judgements and reward us with an outstanding appraisal. It is my confirmed belief that you cannot succeed if you are not happy and fulfilled. Everything else follows automatically from that.
MA: In my recent interview with John King, our man at AET, he said that RPA is 'on a pathway to excellence'. Given that we were saying that in our magazine back in 2012, do you think our local community can still believe with confidence that excellence is achievable?
PMC: I can, without hesitation, reassure parents that I and my staff will not settle for anything less than the provision of an outstanding academy for this community. Governments change, policies change, teachers change but our ambition at RPA – to provide an outstanding local academy - remains steadfast.
MA: I repeat the question I asked when we first spoke: why should local parents choose RPA?
PMC: RPA is this community's local school and I firmly believe that children should go to their local school. Research reveals that attendance is better when a school is close to where children live. Social relationships are improved when students move together from primary to secondary school. Local schools offer opportunities for local communication and local parental support is important to bind those home/school relationships. And the journey of any school to outstanding is accelerated when local families are behind that ambition. Local children in local schools is a winning combination.