I make no claims to have inspectorial skills and so rarely visit schools, but to my eye this is a school to be proud of. I began my morning joining a routine Assembly, led by a Deputy Headteacher who appeared to know and have an excellent relationship with every child present. The Assembly was on the school’s values, in this case ‘Responsibility’ and he soon had small groups of children enthusiastically talking about what this meant in school terms. No, nothing special you may think, but I couldn’t help contrasting it with the atmosphere of a few years back. I was especially alert to children not being involved but failed to find any; self-discipline was outstanding.
Later, I had doors opened for me by ever courteous pupils, and dipped into a number of classes, without spotting signs of loss of attention from any child because of interesting lessons being taught by good professionals from a stable staff (high retention being another sign of a well run and happy school). I saw not a single case of indiscipline or a child being reprimanded as there was no need, although in discussion I learned how wisely the school handles such matters (of course they exist).
The nursery has now grown to fill expanded premises because of demand and although I profess no experience to make professional judgements in this area, all seemed happy in informal learning and play. King’s Farm benefits by being the lead school of three in a project by The Goldsmiths Company which has invested £200,000 to improve maths standards over four years by innovative means. The school has a strong musical tradition which was also evident.
There is not a sign of complacency, but a shared determination to do the best for every child whatever their abilities. This is a reminder that primary education is the groundwork to every child’s future, and this is where investment needs to be at its greatest. This is one of the areas where I am approached most often by parents seeking advice on what to do about poor primary provision, although it is usually very difficult to help in such cases.
As I have consistently maintained, the key to a good school almost invariably lies with the leadership, and this website is littered with examples of previously good schools crashing as a result of bad changes at the top, and vice versa. With good leadership comes respect for one’s teaching staff who will be nurtured through positive professional development, rather than bullied on a principle of ‘survival of the fittest’. The latter is a major cause of the current teacher recruitment and retention crisis, brought about primarily by the excessive targets of government forcing many headteachers, often fearful for their jobs, to make unreasonable demands of their staff.
After Kings Farm was placed in Special Measures it fell under an Academy Order to become a sponsored academy, initially under the very Trust that had brought it to its knees. However, the leaders of the Cedar Federation of Ifield and Kings Farm Schools showed a powerful determination to resolve the school’s problems within house. I well remember arguing with an HMI in the middle of this process, in my role as governor representative, at our round up meeting after the Ofsted Inspection that took the school out of Special Measures. My case was that the evidence showed it should be placed in a ‘Good’ category. She agreed with us wholeheartedly in principle but pointed out that ‘the bean counters’ at the DfE would not allow this through, because the school’s rapidly improving assessment outcomes had not yet reached the attainment levels of most schools. The Ofsted Report shows that ambivalence, and the school got there with a rousing ‘Good’ assessment last year: ‘The executive headteacher and the head of school model the high standards expected. An exceedingly positive and respectful ethos permeates the school’.
Kings Farm is now a shining example of what a Local Authority school can achieve with the right leadership and support. Chris Jackson, Head of School, and the leaders of the Cedar Federation have much to be proud of.