'There is no magic wand to wave'

PUBLISHED: 13:36 01 September 2006 | UPDATED: 19:47 01 June 2010

Former head Steve McKenna, who resigned just before the summer holidays. The original plan was for Mr McKenna and Mr Cooper to work side by side

Former head Steve McKenna, who resigned just before the summer holidays. The original plan was for Mr McKenna and Mr Cooper to work side by side

Tony Cooper, on secondment for a year from Cottenham Village College, said: My job is to move forward and be positive. We have 1,400 adolescent children in one building, and in a way it s amazing it works at all when you think about it. Fourteen hundre

Tony Cooper

Tony Cooper, on secondment for a year from Cottenham Village College, said: "My job is to move forward and be positive.

We have 1,400 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.

Cllr Jill Tuck Confident’

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

Mr Cooper 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," he said. "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 the school around was 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 and he hoped to create a 'can do' culture at the school.

"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 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."

Mr Cooper said his governing body at Cottenham fell into a shocked silence when he said he was going. "They asked if I was coming back, and 'yes' I am going back," he said. "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."

When he initially received the invitation to oversee the revival at Queen's it was intended he work alongside former head Steve McKenna. At that point commitment to Queen's may have been for only 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 has been at Queen's almost every day, apart from a short break in Devon, and he 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 is "pleasantly surprised" at the level of competence of the people he has met, and the fact that he was not greeted by a wall of despair and despondency.

"If you read of literature on schools in special measures, the first chapter is all about staff feeling frustrated," he said. "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 Mr Cooper pledges that some things will change from day one, particularly concerning issues of behaviour, attendance and all problems raised in 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, fo3r 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.

'NEED FOR SWIFT INTERVENTION'

THE Queen's School, placed in special measures this summer, where the governors were fired, and where the head quit on the eve of the summer holidays, has confirmed some of the worst GCSE results in its history.

The school has announced that the percentage of students achieving five more GCSEs at grades A* to C is just 21 per cent - well under half the national average.

And only 14 per cent of students gained five or more GCSE graded from A* to C, including English and mathematics.

Councillor Jill Tuck, chairman of the Queen's School's interim executive board, which replaced the governing body in July, said: "These results are not unexpected, but will naturally be disappointing for students and their families and the many capable staff who have worked so hard throughout the year.

"They confirm the county council's judgement that the school is in need of swift and decisive intervention. There is a large amount of work to do, to raise aspirations, reform the curriculum and provide the standard of education the students expect and deserve."

Cllr Tuck was hopeful, however. "The school is entering a new era and we are confident that the leadership arrangements now in place will ensure the school sees a rapid improvement. Cambridgeshire County Council has a clear vision of what needs to be done at the school, and work has already started to address its significant weaknesses. I am confident that with executive head teacher Tony Cooper and the new Interim Executive Board now in place, the school is well placed to make significant progress over the next 12 months.

"A number of students at the school did exceptionally well in their GCSEs this year, and I send them my warmest congratulations for their dedication and hard work.

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