The Governing Body was recently nominated for a National Governors’ Association Award. I am very proud to be the Chair of this outstanding group of governors whom have overseen the development of Torquay Academy. The following text is taken from the nomination.
Why is the work of the governing board outstanding?
The governing body has led transformation of the Academy from one that was under-subscribed, had an insecure financial future with some of the lowest outcomes in the country to the highest performing coastal school in the country (5th highest in South West), being heavily over-subscribed with a sound financial footing. They have overseen the recruitment of a new Principal and Finance Director, whom they have worked with to restructure the leadership of the school.
Results have leapt from 28% 5ACEM to 62% in two years and in 2016 the school received a Progress 8 score of 0.59. The school has been one of the most improved schools in the country for the past two years. In order to achieve this there has been a significant change in the teaching staff and jump in the quality of teaching and learning in the school. Through their links with senior and middle leaders, governors know the school and are able to place their focus upon areas that require support; this critical approach yields improved outcomes for their students.
How does the governing body fulfil its key functions?
Upon the arrival of the new Principal in January 2014, the governing body wanted to set a clear vision for the future of the school. They gathered the views of all stakeholders and created a Vision 2020 document that outlined the school they wished Torquay Academy to become by 2020. This document detailed the school in twelve key areas. To make the vision accessible to all it was transformed into a piece of art that sits on an 8 by 2 metre wall in the heart of the school.
The ethos is embedded through the school through their answers to Why, What and How. The key words “everyone succeeds” and “students first” are the foundations that decisions are based upon. In order to work towards this vision the strategic priorities for the next three years are set. For clarity these are aligned with the five key Ofsted judgments; in each of the areas a WIG (Wildly Important Goal) is identified along with other key strategic priorities. Again this is prominently displayed in the main atrium of the school to ensure the whole school community is aware of the strategic direction.
The Principal and his team of senior and middle leaders are held to account through the regular governing body meetings and governor visits to the school. The governing body sub-committees were restructured to facilitate this oversight with the creation of three new sub-committees: Safeguarding and Teaching & Learning; Curriculum and Narrowing the Gap; Finance and Estates.
Senior leaders attend meetings and present on their areas of oversight. The Chairs of the committees have successfully fostered an environment where honesty and openness prevails; governors act as critical friends, challenge and ensure leaders are held to account. For their part, senior leaders present governors with a ‘warts and all’ view of the school to enable them to make the challenging decisions that are required of them and ensure the school’s improvement journey is led from the governing body. Middle leaders are called to sub-committees based upon need; quantitative data and more qualitative information garnered from visits inform the decisions of whom they wish to see and question further.
These systems have also enabled senior leaders to better discharge their operational duties as they have access to a wealth of data and information. One example of this is the reporting of student achievement. Governors wished to see a more detailed breakdown of student achievement that would enable them to target their questions and oversight better; as a result of this the school now produces a RAISE document after each data harvest for the Curriculum and Narrowing the Gap committee. This RAISE document is now the key document of analysis for not only leaders at all levels, but also classroom teachers as they are able to focus upon the key students who are yet to meet their very challenging target grades.
The finances of the school have now been transformed with a detailed three year budget being reported six times a year alongside the monitoring report. This has ensured governors have been able to plan spending to ensure the school moves away from the in-year deficit to a balanced budget, whilst ensuring the outcomes of present students are not compromised. Student outcomes are testament to how successful this has been.
What has the board done beyond the above basic expectations to develop exemplary practice?
The governing body are fiercely ambitious for Torquay Academy; they simply are not satisfied with being the “secondary modern” in a small local authority with three grammar schools. There is a shared commitment to ensuring that prior attainment and background are not limiting factors in the achievement of Torquay Academy’s students. This unwavering belief is driven from the Chair and Vice Chair of Governors who ensure all governors share in the vision and values. Governors knew that for them to have a demonstrable impact upon the school they had to really get to know every aspect of the school to enable them to make the required strategic decisions. A new, more focused SEF was requested; this highlighted that there were significant changes that needed to be made. Given the financial situation facing the school, a significant piece of work was undertaken by the governors to ensure that the school could afford the changes that would unleash improvements.
To support the understanding of the school, governors signed up to being part of Challenge Partners. This annual review provide governors with an annual external verification of the school’s judgments. Governors also play an important role in the review by taking part in learning walks and lesson observations; these have been key in triangulating the leaders’ reports. In the last review School Improvement Strategies were deemed to be outstanding; the only even better if identified was “the academy further embedded its strategies for continued school improvement”!
A decision was made that the senior team required more capacity to make the significant changes that the school needed. An increase in the teaching loads of all senior leaders was the creative solution that enabled the expansion of the team. Three specialist Assistant Principals were employed to lead on improving behaviour, teaching and data management. These appointments, in combination with the new Principal and Finance Director, gave the school the team required to make the significant changes. The acknowledgement that significant changes to the curriculum and teaching staff had to be made meant that the governors had to lead on staff restructuring and significant HR issues. Whilst challenging, and sometimes difficult, the relentless drive for improvement ensured the changes continued to be led from the very top.
A JCC was established by the governors and there are strong relationships with staff and local trade union representations. These strong links demonstrate the governors’ commitment to work with all stakeholders to improve outcomes.
The governing body knew that these staffing changes were only part of the solution to improving the quality of teaching and therefore student outcomes; they financed the introduction of the most comprehensive teacher improvement programme. With the employment of the new Assistant Principal they made a commitment that every teacher would have an inclass coaching session followed up by a face to face coaching session. This supports their belief in Professor Dylan Wiliam’s words that “every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better”. This has led to the school featuring heavily in a Teaching Leaders’ book about coaching and as the case study school in Peter Matthew’s new book about coaching. This is another example of bold financial management in order to improve the outcomes of young people.
Improving the quality of the leadership of the school has been another key driver in the success of Torquay Academy. Increased scrutiny of senior and middle leadership has been matched with increased investment in their skills. Leading educational coach and trainer Andy Buck was approached to work with the school’s leaders and governors. Increasing the leadership capability has been as important as improving the quality of the teaching in achieving what have been quite remarkable results.
The Progress 8 score in 2016 was 0.59 (top 5 schools in South West) making Torquay Academy one of the most improved schools in the UK in 2015 and 2016. The highlight of the results was probably the English GCSE results which showed significantly positive value added with 88% A*-C with progress being significantly above national progress: 97% 3 LoP & 67% 4 LoP. Following these results the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, visited the school and met with the leadership team and governing body. Following the visit, Torquay Academy was invited to form a group with 12 schools that he dubbed his race to outstanding group. A meeting for the 12 heads was subsequently held at the school.
This national attention, along with many visits from other schools, demonstrates how far the school has moved in such a short period of time. Ofsted judgments have moved from Requires Improvement to Good (the reality being, from the brink of Special Measures to the cusp of Outstanding), but this doesn’t really tell the tale of the work of the governing body. You feel it as you walk into the school and it is demonstrated by the incredible outcomes of the students who attend the school.