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Holmleigh Park High School

Letter From the Head - 17th July 2020

Please note: Paper copies of this letter, which also include online learning reports for Years 7-10 and updates for Year 11 and 13 on their results, have been posted to all families.

Dear parent / carer,

It has been quite a year!  I certainly couldn’t have expected how our first year as Holmleigh Park High School would pan out, but I hope you’ll agree with me that we have taken huge strides forward as a school since September.

I wanted to use my final letter of the year as a chance to reflect on how far we have come, and to consider what will come next for Holmleigh Park. Also attached to this letter is our guide to how we will keep students safe when we reopen in September.

Beaufort has always had a proud place at the centre of our community. Many of you will have studied here, as have many of our staff. Sadly, the school was struggling by late 2018. We were put into Special Measures in December 2018, and the GCSE results which followed were in the bottom 2% of the country for progress. But it was also clear that staff and students cared a great deal about the school. We all sometimes just need the chance to start over, and that was the case for Beaufort.

June 2019 saw the opening of Holmleigh Park High School. Quite rightly, the focus was on setting high expectations for behaviour. And while I’m sure none of us would want to repeat those first few weeks, the progress students made was exceptional. Within days, lessons were quiet, calm and focused – and teachers were able to focus on teaching.

In September, we then launched our three school values: Work hard. Be kind. Take responsibility.

Since then, I have asked students and staff to do all three every week, and I thought I’d look at each in turn:

Work Hard

We have worked extremely hard, and our main focus has been on teaching and learning. Up until we went into lockdown, my Senior Leadership Team and I had carried out 700 observations with full feedback given to every single teacher after every visit – including me! More generally, we think (we weren’t counting!) that we have probably between us visited around 12,000 lessons. We have rolled out a brand new curriculum, with Knowledge Organisers produced for every term of every subject. The progress has been electric – by March, lessons were vastly improved, with teachers now free to focus on delivering high quality explanations.

The students responded magnificentlyWhere previously, most students had taken the whole year to complete enough work to fill an exercise book, we had to order thousands of additional books in November, because some students were on to their second and sometimes even third books! And they did brilliantly with their homework. We set daily homework from the very first day – and after one week our students had answered more Hegarty Maths questions than any other school in the country! We didn’t quite hold on to our Hegarty Top Spot (we lost out to our fellow Greenshaw School Five Acres!), but we have stayed in the top 25 out of 1,800 schools who use Hegarty all year. We did similarly well on Tassomai.

And as a result, student progress really started to speed up. Year 11 in November were already getting better results than last year’s cohort achieved in their actual GCSEs, and in their March mocks they did significantly better. I am confident that they were on track to come in at close to the national average – moving up several thousand places in the overall rankings. Year 13 were on track for a similar improvement. It is devastating that, because of the cancellation of exams, students won’t get the chance to prove what progress they have made – but we will do everything in our power to make sure that our students don’t lose out, and that they get to go on to the courses, universities and apprenticeships that they deserve.

Since going into lockdown, we have provided a full video curriculum. I’m phenomenally proud of the work our staff have put into this – whether creating lessons, giving students feedback, or phoning home. Talking to our students who are in school each day, it is very clear that we have set considerably more work than most other schools. I know that this can sometimes make life difficult, but it will give students such an advantage when we return in September. While some of their peers have been sitting around not doing much work, most Holmleigh Park students have continued to complete five full lessons every day, and we are all very proud of their resilience.

Be Kind

The change I have most enjoyed is watching students becoming happier. Student confidence in September was, understandably, very low. Any change tends to make young people anxious, and they’d been through a huge amount. Slowly but surely, the mood around school started to improve. Students were growing in confidence as they started to do better in class. With phones banned, cyberbullying was drastically reduced, and students started to enjoy talking to each other in the playground much more. The rate of exclusion has declined steadily since September, and in March was well below the average rate from before the school became Holmleigh Park. We’ve introduced weekly Fun Fridays, and we’ve run daily before-, break-, lunch- and after-school clubs to support students who are a little nervous about fitting in.

Our staff are much happier too, and have relished being able to focus on teaching and learning. We have some fantastic new teachers joining us in September, and I’ve been blown away by the interest in each position we’ve advertised. Very quickly, Holmleigh Park is getting a reputation as an exciting school to work in.

Like so many around the country, we lost someone very close to us in this awful pandemic. We still miss Pam Howes deeply, but her loss was eased by the tremendous love and kindness so many of you showed. We are deeply grateful. Many of our staff and students have lost parents, grandparents or children, and when we return to school we will be creating a small memorial garden in honour of Pam, for all those who want a quiet space to reflect on those they have lost.

Take Responsibility

We’ve encouraged students to take responsibility, both inside and outside the classroom. Holmleigh Park continue to excel on the sports field, and we’ve introduced our new houses. The new House Competition will launch in September with a very busy schedule of events for students to get stuck into. We’ll also be unveiling our new Character Curriculum. Students will be able to earn their half, house and school colours for participating in clubs and representing HP, with badges for significant achievements in different fields. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities for personal growth and to discover new passions that students will be given – so much so that I’ve even agreed to coach some Year 7 sport alongside teaching English next year!

But above all, taking responsibility is about recognising what we haven’t got right. I have been clear throughout the year with staff and students that we want to build a culture of continuous improvement – where we always try and get better, no matter how far we think we’ve come. We have more work to do on improving communication and working better with parents. We need to see more students in lessons, and fewer in OSP or being excluded. We need to keep improving the quality of teaching in every single classroom. We need to develop our Character Programme so that every student can find a passion outside of lessons. We need to send more students to the very top universities. And as I highlighted in June, we need to do more to stamp out discrimination – whatever its form.

I know we’re not there yet, but I also know that we will get there. We have a fantastic team of staff, a wonderfully supportive parent community, and an inspirational group of students. For those leaving us in Year 11 and 13, I will always be grateful to you for setting such a high bar as our first cohort of Holmleigh Park students. We will do our best to live up to your example.

I’d like to end by thanking you for welcoming me into your community, for your support of your school, and for your honest and heartfelt feedback when we haven’t quite got it right.

I hope you have a very enjoyable summer.

Best wishes,

Mr Farmbrough