Queen's School head hopes to move school forward

PUBLISHED: 16:14 29 August 2006 | UPDATED: 19:47 01 June 2010

Tony Cooper

Tony Cooper

TONY Cooper, the head drafted in to turn around Queen s School, Wisbech, after it was placed in special measures by OfSTED, warned there is no magic wand to wave over it. My job is to move forward and be positive. We have 1400 adolescent children in on

TONY Cooper, the head drafted in to turn around Queen's School, Wisbech, after it was placed in special measures by OfSTED, warned "there is no magic wand to wave over it.

"My job is to move forward and be positive. We have 1400 adolescent children in one building, and in a way it's amazing it works at all when you think about it.

"Fourteen hundred adolescent kids, teenagers, in one building and we need to be positive. Most of the children, most of the time, want to be here and work.

"A recent survey of students showed more than 90 per cent agreeing they know how to behave, they enjoy school, and we now have to work with those kids and move them forward."

He added: "I am not one given to despair and despondency. I'm not one to give up easily."

Mr Cooper, on secondment for a year from Cottenham Village College near Ely, hopes his legacy will be to have "helped the staff to move the school forward, and to have improved the education of the children.

"Let's be honest, there's no shying away from the GCSE exam results that came back this week. They are among the worst in the country, probably the worst in the region. It's the poorest performing school in East Anglia."

He said the notion of the super head "parachuted in single handed to turn around the school is a nonsense.

"What you can do is help move the culture, the climate, the ethos and all those sort of things but you have to do it with people such as my deputies and assistants.

"It might look good on a TV programme with the head walking round the corridors and the sort of stuff we've seen; wonderful Hollywood stuff but this isn't Hollywood."

Mr Cooper said his policy was for an "incremental, step by step improvement. What I hope to create is a 'can do' culture and I will do the best I can to help this school improve.

"Special measures are a very cliff edge sort of thing. You can be very close to it, and you can move a school up a long long way and still just be inside special measures. I need to make sure I am going in the right direction."

Mr Cooper believes constant reference to the school being in an area of high economic deprivation offers no excuse.

"So what if it is," he said. "The school is as it is. The school is the children, they are the raw material, and they are what they are. It's no good saying these kids are like this, and they should be like that. These kids are how these kids are and we need to provide the appropriate education for them." he said.

Mr Cooper said he would be concentrating on leadership at all levels at Queen's "which is about creating opportunities, creating excitement, so you make people want to succeed."

For a year he will swap Cottenham - where he has been head for 17 years- for Wisbech but he will be returning once his 12 months are up.

"My governing body at Cottenham fell into a shocked silence when I said I was going. They asked if I was coming back, and yes I am going back. Secondment is very different from applying for a post. What Queen's needs is someone to give 10 years of their life to it.

"I'm 53, and I am not going to work till I am 63. Let's be realistic about it. I would like to go back to Cottenham. I have to be fair to Cottenham. I asked to be seconded for a year and the governors agreed. If they thought I was going to be away for longer than that, I think they would have said, 'look Tony, either you go or you stay."

But for now it is back to the task in hand, a task he knows is not without difficulties.

And he's keen to mention the challenge came to him - not the other way round.

His invitation to oversee Queen's revival came in a telephone call and he recalls "that moment when someone asks you to do something and you think well actually I really want, and ought to do so. I had to be careful not to be flattered into it."

With a series of good OfSTED inspections at Cottenham and year on year GCSE improvements (this year the school gained 69 per cent of 5 or more A* to Cs compared to 21 per cent at Queen's), he felt confident enough to relinquish control for a year to his deputy head.

He said if he had been at Cottenham for only a short period, or if his family had raised objections, he would not have considered the challenge.

Initially it was intended he work alongside the former head, Steve McKenna, and at that point the commitment to Queen's may only have been for two or three days a week.

"When the news came through of Mr McKenna's resignation, I was actually away on a school trip in the Lake District, so had time to reflect on it then."

He decided it would not be possible to be head of two schools, and so handed over the reigns at Cottenham to his deputy.

Since the beginning of August he's been at Queen's almost every day, apart from a short break in Devon, and thinks it may have been fated he should take on the job.

"This is the first year we have not booked a fortnight abroad for as long as I can remember," said Mr Cooper who has been able to use the past month to introduce himself to many of his new staff.

"What's been happening is that staff have been popping in and out, and I would say I have met a good third of them, and, of course, all the senior team," he said.

"What's impressed me, too, is that when I have pulled into the school car park during the holidays, invariably there have been a lot of cars here already. It's been their choice to be here, their commitment."

He added: "If I'm honest, I would have I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of competence of the people I've seen. You might think going into a so called failure school in special measures to be greeted by a wall of despair and despondency and if you read of literature on schools ion special measures, the first chapter is all about staff feeling and frustrated. Truthfully I've not felt that at Queen's. I have felt things are OK, what's happened has happened, and now we move on."

Changes at Queen's are imminent "and there will be some things that will change from day one, particularly on issues of behaviour, attendance and all those issues which have come from the OfSTED report. It will be a case of prioritising and a question of dealing with the heart of the problem, and not the symptoms. If I am good at anything it is cutting through the mist and saying what is the problem here.

"And if, for example, the problem is someone in post who would be better if they were doing something different, then we'll analyse it, and change it and do something different.

"Its been made quite clear to me I am the head and there is no one else pulling the strings. I have made it quite clear I am on secondment for a year to help the school move forward, to help the staff move forward."

FACT FILE

# Has been a teacher for 32 years

# Began his career in London comprehensives before moving to Bretton Wood, Peterborough

# Was one of Cambridgeshire's youngest heads when appointed to Cottenham, aged 36.

# Is a strong defender of comprehensive schools "in age of where the word can sometimes be a bit of a dirty word. The comprehensive principle is not a question of watering it all down so it all comes to some slushy middle ground."

# Is proud of challenging the "inflexibility" of the national curriculum and piloted teaching key stage 3 in two years rather than three.

# Is keen to dispel notion of Cottenham "as some form of middle class, Cambridge suburb. We have a lot of children at the school who have been excluded from other schools. There is a large traveller community and a large army base in our catchment area- and actually we have had students excluded from Queen's come to Cottenham."

# Doesn't believe his own education at a West Midlands Grammar School was that special: "you were told to sit down, copy it off the blackboard or get caned."

# Is planning a parents' consultative group as soon as possible

# Is proud that Cottenham was one of the first schools in the country to take Down's Syndrome children 15 years ago

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