WISBECH: Joy as the tide begins to turn for the Thomas Clarkson Community College

By JOHN ELWORTHY YOU would not have heard the champagne corks popping but there was in the air a quiet celebratory mood as the 1,370 students at Thomas Clarkson Community College began to realise the tide was turning. Maureen Strudwick, the understudy wh


YOU would not have heard the champagne corks popping but there was in the air a quiet celebratory mood as the 1,370 students at Thomas Clarkson Community College began to realise the tide was turning.

Maureen Strudwick, the understudy who unexpectedly found herself as acting head of the Wisbech school, is being widely credited for having helped turn around the school's fortunes.

"The acting head teacher is exerting a strong influence on the development of the school and has good strategies to bring about improvements," said a report published this week by Ofsted.

The Office for Standards in Education report - compiled over a two day inspection last month- believes Ms Strudwick has an "accurate understanding of the school's strengths and weaknesses. "

The report also offered confirmation that provisional exam results for 2008 are the best for three years.

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"Similarly the provisional outcomes of the school's best eight examination courses show a significant improvement. "

And inspectors reported that early indications for the large numbers of year 10 and 11 students taking vocational qualifications "are positive with all those involved on target to secure a pass grade."

Staffing has stabilised, new behaviour policies have been introduced, parents have been consulted, pastoral support teams set up, and truancy targeted.

Ms Strudwick, former deputy head who has been at the school for 18 years, says the one time Queens School was placed in special measures "for all the right reasons, but if ever there was a wrong reason it was for the children of Wisbech. Wisbech needs to be proud of Thomas Clarkson -and I for one am going to be singing the praises of many people at this school."

Ms Strudwick, appointed as caretaker head after John Bennett's surprise resignation this summer and a candidate for the permanent headship once interviewing takes place next year, has put "Team TC" at the heart of her strategy for improvement.

"If someone comes to me with bad news, I insist they find two pieces of good news to accompany it," she says. With a bulging 'good news' stack of comments and thank you notes from staff, students, parents and visitors the folder is slowly getting bigger.

Ofsted, she insists, told her "nothing we didn't know". Their reporting of an "unacceptable" numbers of racist incidents, for example, had been gleaned from the school's own data, and it remains a priority for her team.

Likewise behaviour issues, which Ofsted noted was showing improvement, is being tackled through a new 'I behave' computer software programme which means teachers can easily comment on poor behaviour "but more importantly comment on good behaviour."

Ms. Strudwick says the student council was working with the teachers on a rewards programme for good behaviour and feedback from parents and pupils was being encouraged.

Oftsed hit on punctuality - an issue also being addressed- and Ms Strudwick has insisted a tough line be taken on parents who take their pupils out during term time for holidays.

"Students come to be educated and that must mean we insist they are here for the duration of the term" she says.

The school is also addressing other issues raised by Ofsted ranging from their observation that of lessons observed "one in five was inadequate" to erratic marking of students' work to many lessons finishing early and representing "lost opportunities for learning."

There's also the "sizeable deficit" in the school's budget which Ofsted noted that needs remedying.

But for the future Ms Strudwick is confident the team she has put together is capable of bring about the changes needed and is relishing the prospect of being at Thomas Clarkson for the long haul.

Last week she visited schools in Sheffield to see how the Building Schools for the Future initiative was working out there (Thomas Clarkson is getting its re-building programme soon).

And she is now studying the Ofsted report and bracing herself and her team for their next visit, likely mid way through next term.

"It was an absolutely fair report but it would be wrong to say we are anything more than satisfied so far," she said. "We are not by any stretch of the imagination resting on our laurels."

The head, who had taken a remembrance assembly for 300 students before we met and was preparing for a presentation night for year 11 students that evening, remains delighted and still surprised by her unexpected elevation to the headship.

She says she has a "level of humility" that meant she was uncertain what to expect when the job came along.

"That's not to say I lack confidence, far from it," she says. "I am passionate and determined to work for the future of this school. And there were a significant number of people who had the confidence in me to do so."

She added: "Challenges remain, and will always remain in Wisbech. I'm not papering over any cracks but its all about confidence in reaching out to those parents who have made the decision not to send their children to this school.

"We want to ensure the community is working with us- and we'll do everything possible to make that happen.

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