BURLINGTON Danes Academy headteacher Sally Coates and one of her blossoming pupils gave passionate speeches to the Conservative Party Conference this afternoon.
Miss Coates and 17-year-old Quddus Akinwale spoke about the turnaround at the Shepherd’s Bush school, in Wood Lane, which was placed into special measure seven years ago.
Its transformation into an ARK Academy has seen a dramatic rise in student achievement and reputation and was heralded by Prime Minister David Cameron in a keynote education speech last month.
The pair were invited to address Tory party members and supporters at their annual conference in Manchester on Tuesday afternoon (4/10) where Miss Coates described the mood at the school when she arrived in 2008.
She said: “Visitors didn’t want to cross the playground. Children ran down the corridors in lesson time. Ofsted said even pupils called it ‘a rubbish school’. No wonder every year group was under-subscribed. It was hard to get good staff to come.
“Today we have a waiting list of 100 for Year 7 alone. The children are well disciplined, expectations are sky high, uniform is worn proudly and we compare favourably with any school in the country.”
Miss Coates said the playground at the school was like a 'war-zone' when she arrived but a building of respect between staff and pupils has been key.
She said: “Instead of fire fighting, I encouraged the staff to walk calmly and exude positivity. The playground, which used to be a war zone, was filled with table tennis and football tables and I sold table tennis bats to get to know the children.
“Leadership, particularly in inner city schools, and in turning around failing schools, must be strong and visible. I had assemblies with every year group to set out my standards. In my first few weeks I saw over 70 parents with their children to explain these in detail.”
In 2006, only 31 per cent of students at Burlington Danes achieved five A* to C grades in five subjects including English and maths. That total rose to 75 per cent this year.
And inspirational teenager Mr Akinwale, of White City and who has reaped the benefits, also told the conference how far the flagship school has come in such a short space of time.
In the second year of his A-levels in further maths, English and physics, he earned an A grade in maths A-level a year early and hopes to go on and study engineering at university.
“We had a succession of head teachers and a lot of confusion,” he said. “Most of the teachers didn’t even seem to care, and the few that did were stuck dealing with disruptive classes and bad behaviour.
“The students showed up late, but then so did the staff and sometimes they didn’t even bother showing up at all. Most classes were a riot and no-one really saw the point of being there. We all knew it was a poor school, but there wasn’t anywhere else to go.
“It took a while but everything’s changed for the better. Uniforms were reinforced, we became aware of the consequences of behaviour and the lessons were much better.
“You began to feel you mattered and what you did counted. There was this real sense of belonging created in the school.
“Now it’s a great place because the students respect the school and the teachers. People don’t step out of line, not because of the sanctions, but because we value and respect what we have at school.”
The pair's speeches were greeted by loud applause from the audience and they were described as 'admirable' by Education Secretary Michael Gove.
He said: “There are some moments in politics you never forget. And I will never forget the first time I hear Quddus speak at a function earlier this year. I was moved by his story and I vowed that more people would hear it.
“He is ambitious, aspirational and wanting to do well for the future.”