When rookie principal Andy Burton arrived at Kingswood Secondary Academy in January 2016, the school had been told by Ofsted it required improvement at every inspection since it had opened three years earlier.
Inspectors said teaching was not as good as it should be. GCSE results were well below national average.
But when Ofsted returned in March this year, they finally returned a ‘good’ verdict - noting that: “The principal and other senior leaders have successfully improved the quality of education that the school provides.”
To top it off, on Thursday evening (July 11) Mr Burton elimiated competition from across the county to become headteacher of the year at the Northants Education Awards.
Born in the Isebrook Hospital in Wellingborough, raised nearby and educated at Oakway Primary then Bishop Stopford in Kettering, 47-year-old Mr Burton has a palpable passion for Corby and its generous people.
”It had a bit of a bad press over the years,” he says. “But I’ve always had a great experience in the town. I played cricket for S&L for years and have watched the town grow and it’s incredible.
”There’s nowhere like it.”
Kingswood is Mr Burton’s first headship and he had worked at wide range of schools including one of England’s top state schools Queen Elizabeth’s in Barnet.
“Coming into a school that requires improvement is always a risk but I knew that the support was there from the trust,” he said.
”When I arrived, the behaviour was not good and the expectations of students, both of themselves and also from staff were not high enough.
”We really had so much work to do on aspirations. The lack of ambition was a big, big thing.”
At the last census, Corby had the third lowest number of graduates in the country - at 14.9 per cent it was higher than only Great Yarmouth and Castle Point in Essex. Pupils, it is said, might not consider university because their parents didn’t always go.
”If you asked the pupils what they wanted to be back in 2016, there were a lot of hairdressers and Premiership footballers.
”But the first time last year Kingswood had students going off to do veterinary medicine,” said Mr Burton.
”For a lot of our students they will be the first generation to go on to higher education.
”The fact we had to improve aspirations was obvious from the word go.”
A “Be Inspired” banner was hung prominently in the school, which is overseen by the Greenwood Academies Trust, and the behaviour policy was tightened up. The rewards system was reinvented and rules were more rigorously administered.
It led to an initial rise in fixed-term exclusions, which has now settled.
“We couldn’t have kids running up and down corridors. Now they’re in lessons when they should be.
”Yes we still have some challenging behaviour but there’s been a huge improvement,” said Mr Burton.
Mobile phones are banned during school hours and are confiscated if teachers see them out of bags.
Back in 2016, the school just met the Government’s floor standards for GCSE results. By last summer the school’s results were above ‘coasting’ level. Hopes for this year are higher.
In the sixth form, numbers have risen from 130 students to 160 entrants this September. Students who do not meet minimum A-level standards in year 12 are not now permitted to go on to take the subject in year 13 because it was leading to an acceptance of failure.
Year seven is full for September with 216 students across the eight forms of entry.
”I know there’s pressure on school places in Corby,” he says. “And that’s only going to intensify because this is such a fast growing borough.
”We’d have to build if we wanted to increase capacity but there is space around the building to extend, so who knows?”
Pupils will be wearing smart new black blazers from September, a move that Mr Burton says has been met positively, not least because it allows the new rewards system to have a visible presence on lapels.
”Uniform is important. It’s a leveller. We have a boot room for students who, for whatever reason, come to school in incorrect uniform and we’re happy to lend them what they need so they’re able to come into school and they’re not out of action.
”We recognise some of our families struggle financially so we do help out with the cost of uniform sometimes.
”All of our students get a free breakfast.
”We know that payday loans are huge in Corby so we put on financial management sessions.”
Leadership teams have been totally shaken-up and jobs altered to create cohesion across the five faculties, but the biggest driver for change has been standards of teaching and learning.
”We’ve really focused on the teaching diet that students get in lessons,” says Mr Burton.
”We have a clear policy on what teachers deliver and that’s very important. That’s been backed-up by prudent financial management and we’re in a secure position moving forward.”
Mr Burton swipes away suggestions of serious funding challenges, saying that he has no plans to cut teaching hours or make widescale redundancies, like at some other schools in the county.
“I know there’s enough money to run the school. Yes, it’s tighter than it’s been. We’re not flush but we can still provide a good quality of teaching.
”Funding has risen - though we’ve seen a big increase in the number of our SEN pupils. We’ve also had a large number of pupils moving into Corby and especially coming here from the European Union. They bring a huge amount to our school.
”We also have a reputation for being very good with looked-after children and that’s a great reputation to have.
”Corby was very white British for so many generations and that’s changing which is of huge benefit to our students in terms of their horizons.”
Mr Burton has helped to re-establish the Corby secondary headteacher’s group and says there’s been a marked upturn in communication between the town’s schools.
”The group is really collaborative and that’s good for Corby. There’s a real vision.”
”We are not complacent here at Kingswood. Our Ofsted report was the most wonderful vindication of what we’ve been doing here. We’re still working to change our reputation but Kingswood is once again becoming the school of choice for people.
”We were a lot of people’s first choice for September - not second or third.
”We’re not going to chase outstanding, although that would be great, but it’s about giving students in Corby the education they really deserve.
”We mentioned to some pupils who are more than capable that they might like to consider a career in London and they told us they had never been there.
“So now we take them all on a trip to a university in year seven or eight to break down some of those barriers.
”We know uni isn’t right for everyone but we want them to know that if they want to stay in Northants to work then that’s great but we want to make sure that’s a real choice that they have made.”
And of his headteacher of the year award?
“I was up against Peter Kirkbride from Brooke Weston. Two heads from Corby. That says a lot about education in this town.
”And honestly, this award is not just for me.
“It’s for everyone. I’m just the captain of this ship. We have so much support from staff and parents and of course the pupils.
“It’s a team effort.”