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Parliamentary Review 2014

We are proud to have been featured in the Primary Education Edition of the Parliamentary Review 2014. You can read the full article below, or visit www.theparliamentaryreview.co.uk.

Two years ago, Montgomery Primary Academy was placed in special measures. Located in the heart of Birmingham, with over 660 pupils, nearly all of whom have English as an additional language and are from a Pakistani heritage, the school was required to find an academy chain willing to work with it.

Our first challenge was to restore a sense of pride in the school and to accept the difficulties that the school faced. Not only did the culture of the school need to change, but also the physical environment. Additional cleaners were brought into the school, and were assisted on occasion by the deputy and myself in times of need! Classrooms were painted and, wherever they were needed, new equipment and resources were made available to teachers, as money previously put aside for other projects was made available for front-line activities. 

Every decision was focused on school improvement, and at the heart of all those decisions were the interests of the children. Our mantra was: ‘What would we want for our own children?’ If it wasn’t good enough for them, it wasn’t good enough for the children at Montgomery. Over the past two years, staff turnover has been around 60%, as everyone in the school was held to account for their part in school improvement. It was imperative that everyone had high expectations of both themselves and others. Time was spent refining and sharing the school vision, and ensuring that everyone bought into the moral purpose of the school and its core values. The school values were printed onto anything and everything. Pupils recited the values, and staff made sure their practice reflected them.

The school became a member of the Academies Enterprise Trust. The governing body was disbanded, and a management board, with local professionals, including practising head teachers, was put in place. Alongside the management board, shadow governors were recruited, from parents, staff and the local community, to learn the craft of governance, observing how the management board held the leaders to account, while offering support and challenge.

We put systems into place that were clear to all. Lines of communication had all but closed, and distrust was rife. Honesty and transparency were the key to building relationships. The parents were given an honest appraisal of where the school was on its journey of improvement, and apologies were offered when the school got things wrong. Weekly parent forum meetings were held. Initially, these were an opportunity for parents to vent their frustrations, but soon they developed into working parties where good ideas were shared, developed and implemented.

While continuing with the usual parent newsletter, we introduced a ‘school improvement update’. This provided parents with an honest review of the week, detailed the professional development focus, what leaders were monitoring that week in school, and regularly informed parents of any assessment data we had. Staff handbooks and policies were devised and shared – we knew that consistency was the key to successful change. Staff newsletters were sent every week, detailing our successes, the
support we were receiving and what our challenges for the week ahead were, plus a smattering of positive staff anecdotes. We attempted to lift staff morale by celebrating small achievements and running additional professional development meetings. At the fore of all of this were the children, who remained, and still remain, our moral compass. Alongside a school council, a new pupil-voice team was put together to give the children a direct and immediate voice regarding school improvement. The team was involved, for example, in designing areas in school that they would like to work in and in planning school events.

Pupils, parents and staff were all resolved to make sure that we still offered our children a broad and balanced curriculum. A choir was formed, artists in residence employed, theatre companies invited termly and sports coaches joined the school. Regular trips and visits were arranged, and links with other schools were forged for
children to become pen pals and take part in reciprocal visits. Allotments were developed within the school grounds and the produce grown cooked for family feasts, and learning areas were redesigned and built, with opening ceremonies organised by the pupils.

At the end of the first year, our new staff song had the lyrics ‘Might not be on top of the world but hey I’m on my way’, and we celebrated our successes and invited our partners who had supported us. Pride was starting to return to the school. The second year of our journey was an opportunity to embed our new initiatives, and we were
anxious to bring stability to the children.

In two years we have come from special measures to a school where standards in literacy and mathematics are in line with national statistics. Our data indicate that our progress is above the national average level, with many children having made outstanding progress. Children in receipt of the pupil premium achieve better at Montgomery
than similar pupils nationally. We are not resting on our laurels – teacher recruitment remains an issue – but our aim is to be an outstanding school in three years, and to be in a place where we can share our expertise with other organisations and professionals.

Montgomery will always remain a challenging place to work, but the future for the Montgomery family is looking bright. We’re looking for a new school song now … suggestions on a postcard please.