New principal aims to create whole new culture at Corby's oldest school
A total mobile phone ban, tough new rules on behaviour, a chicken coop and lessons in respect and tolerance.
They’re all part of a new regime being introduced by a Corby headteacher who wants to create a new culture at the school she admits has been allowed to stagnate over recent years.
The town’s oldest secondary school, Lodge Park Academy in Shetland Way, has recently been through turbulent times.
After the departure of five headteachers in five years, exam results that were not up to scratch and parental disquiet about the behaviour of pupils, Ofsted told bosses at the school that they needed to make urgent improvements.
Meena Wood, who took over as principal in the spring, sat down for a frank chat with the Northants Telegraph to talk about her no-nonsense approach to ensuring the school regains the respect of the town.
She has already started making huge changes that she says will demonstrate rapid progress to Ofsted inspectors who are due to return at the end of this year.
Two new vice principals are in post and a fresh governing body will be in place by September to replace the academy improvement board installed by the David Ross Educational Trust to help turn around the school.
Miss Wood is well-placed to tackle some of the resistance she may face - she has a breadth of experience in tough schools that were plagued by gang violence in Lewisham and Newham as well as a stint as an Ofsted inspector.
Placed around the school are posters reminding pupils that mobile phones are banned, an irony not lost on staff at the school which is overseen by the DRET trust set up by Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross.
He is said to be supportive of the ban.
Miss Wood said: “They children are talking to one another. They’re much more sociable.
“They don’t even take their phones out when they leave school. They’re still chatting away!
“People told me it wasn’t a good idea to do it at the end of term, it wouldn’t work, but I said no, I want to do it now. I want to see them talking!
“We had eight who brought phones out of their bags in the first week and by last week it was just one. I think that’s a real testament to the children of Corby. I am so impressed.”
On starting at the school, Miss Wood discovered that parents were keen to air their grievances on social media. She said: “One of our biggest issues was communication with our parents which wasn’t happening in the right way.
“I’ve now held three or four parent forums.
“I felt it was important to connect with the parents and so we’re going to hold them monthly.”
Three parents will be a part of the new governing body which will ensure much-needed accountability from the school staff.
Miss Wood also admitted that there had been a divide between staff who supported the ‘old’ way of doing things, and staff who are on board with the changes that have already been made. About 25 new staff have been recruited to replace those that have recently left.
She said: “My challenge is to create an integrated staff body from those who are established and some coming of those now coming in.”
She also said there had been a few issues with racism in the school and that she was tackling those head-on by teaching children the values of respect, tolerance and resilience.
“Ninety-five per cent of our children are white British. We have a small number of eastern European, black, Caribbean and Asian children,” she said.
“Our population here is not very diverse but I want to say to children that you are not going to stay here for the rest of your life. You might go to a big city and have a host of people around you and you have got to learn tolerance. We are preparing them for life.
“We also tell them that they must have respect for the law.
“There are children who think they can do what they want, when they want, because they have been able to get away with it.
“They must become leaders of their own learning.
“We’re teaching them they must carry on learining despite what’s going on around them, when they’re in a lesson and other children are kicking off.
“They’re beginning to know that now and they’ll do it.”
Punishments have also been overhauled. When she arrived at the school, Miss Wood found some children had spent detentions sitting staring at a blank wall, which she says was unacceptable.
Out is traditional detention, and in is reflection time or community service.
Miss Wood said “I had a group of kids messing about at lunch time and I could not establish any child who was not part of the melee.
“So I basically said I was going to get them all back in after school.
“The kickback from parents was not good but I wrote to them explaining that I wanted to talk to the pupils about my expectations. I said to them to write down why its important we work together as a community and the importance of teamwork.
“I then had a year seven assembly where I gave out prizes for the best piece of work I received. There were some really impressive pieces that came our of it.”
The pupils are also excited about some of the new schemes that will be introduced to the school next year. Chickens will arrive alongside an allotment to be looked-after by pupils.
Empty classrooms have been turned into rooms where able students who may not be reaching their potential can get private-style tutoring in very small groups from specialist staff.
“Miss Wood said: “You’d pay £40 per hour for private tutoring but this is free.”
Pupils talk with genuine affection about their new principal.
Year 10 pupil Jay-Z said: “I think Miss Wood has made changes already.
“She’s made promises that we know she’ll keep.”
Year ten pupil Kai said: “The no-mobile phone policy has made students more social during break time and concentrate more in class.”
Their aspirations are high - Kai wants to be a pilot, Jaz-Z wants to study engineering.
Students who missed out on sports day because of lateness or behaviour were asked to get together to write lesson plans, about which they talk enthusiastically.
Staff are also broadening the curriculum to encourage students to stay on for the sixth form.
This year will be the first for several intakes that year seven is full, and a recent survey showed that 99 per cent of parents would recommend Lodge Park - perhaps displaying that parents have a renewed confidence that things are changing at the school.
One of those parents, Marie Gordon, who has a child already in year seven, said: “My youngest goes to Woodnewton and everbody there is quite excited about coming to Lodge Park. Theres’s a real buzz about it.
“Lodge Park is being discussed everywhere.”
Mum Kim Findlay, who has children in year 11 and year seven, has previously been publicly vocal in her criticism of the school.
But she says she is impressed with Miss Wood’s no-nonsense approach.
“Meena’s one of those chiefs who’s prepared to sit with the Indians,” she said.
“She’s gained a lot of respect.
“She’s willing to come down and be among it all. She’s preparing pupils for life and not many people in a school take responsibility for that.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to come to this school but I remember going past on the bus and seeing Mr Rumbelow outside the school. He was a man who was really respected in Corby and Lodge Park was considered to be the best school because of him.”
Miss Wood says she aims to help to change the whole culture of the school.
That’s already evident at hometime, when staff descend on the schoolgate to ensure high standards of behaviour and uniform are upheld even outside of the school.
Miss Wood added: “We get out there and patrol.
“These children are representing the school.”
“It’s about providing children with life chances and the right opportunities. These children have shown me what they’re capable of, their potential and what we can realise.”
The shadow of Neville Rumbelow may loom long, but Lodge Park appears to be finally stepping out from under that shadow and into a new era.
Lodge Park history
Lodge Park is the oldest existing secondary school in Corby - it was opened in 1964 a year ahead of Kingswood School.
It was one of the first wave of new specialist schools that were re-branded in 1994 when it became a technology college
In its first 45 years in existence, it only had three headteachers: Neville Rumbelow, Richard Parker and Tom Waterworth
It has several notable former pupils including war heroes Craftsman Alex Shaw (REME) who died on the final day of the Falklands War and VC James Ashworth who was killed in Afghanistan.
Professional footballer Billy McKay, of Ross County and Northern Ireland, also went to Lodge Park