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Schools need to focus on more than just exam results, says long-serving headteacher

Harleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer outside the school.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Harleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer outside the school. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

As headteacher of Archbishop Sancroft High School (ASHS) in Harleston for the past 10 years, Richard Cranmer knows better than anyone the increasing pressure on schools to deliver good results. Here, he tells ANDREW PAPWORTH why he thinks exam results are important, there is more to teaching than just grades.

Harleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer with year 11 students during a science lesson.
Picture: Nick ButcherHarleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer with year 11 students during a science lesson. Picture: Nick Butcher

Schools today are often judged on their students’ grades and Ofsted ratings, with many headteachers surviving or falling by their school’s results.

But today one headteacher who has stayed at the top for a decade while delivering great results fears that increasing pressure on academic outcomes is affecting schools’ ability to create well-rounded young adults.

Focusing on students’ personal development and the softer skills that will help them succeed in life, while also achieving good grades, is one of the key values that has guided Richard Cranmer throughout his 10 years as a headteacher.

Having been at Archbishop Sancroft High School (ASHS) for the past 10 years, the keen sailor has steered the secondary not only to strong results – including an outstanding Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS) inspection last year – but can point to strong evidence of helping students’ overall development.

Harleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer with year 11 students during a science lesson.
Picture: Nick ButcherHarleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer with year 11 students during a science lesson. Picture: Nick Butcher

But he said: “It’s been increasingly hard over my 10 years to keep focus on your core values because there are challenges which occupy more of your time.”

Part of that, he said, is down to the financial constraints facing most schools.

However he also cited the “change in accountability measures from the Department of Education”, with an increasing focus on exams.

“That isn’t to say that trying to improve standards isn’t important,” Mr Cranmer said – but said school leadership nationwide can become too focused on that,

Harleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer outside the school.
Picture: Nick ButcherHarleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer outside the school. Picture: Nick Butcher

He added: “The creativity of teachers is being constrained into too narrow an approach and I think that is having a significant impact on the well-being of teachers and students.”

Mr Cranmer added: “The challenge for senior leaders and governors is to ensure they’re delivering a curriculum that suits the students as oppose to a curriculum that meets academic measures.”

For example, ASHS offers drama and music lessons even though many students elsewhere are under pressure to pursue a narrower academic timetable.

“The big moral question is whose way is right,” Mr Cranmer said.

Harleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer with year 11 students during a science lesson.
Picture: Nick ButcherHarleston's Archbishop Sancroft High School headteacher Richard Cranmer with year 11 students during a science lesson. Picture: Nick Butcher

“We’re not the highest performing school in terms of academic outcomes and that concerns me.

“However I do feel we’d be in amongst the highest performing schools in terms of valuing the whole person and ensure we’re preparing them for life beyond the school in a more rounded way.

“Clear evidence for this is that 99pc of our leavers last year have gone into full-time education or training.”

Mr Cranmer began his career in farm management, working on the Blenheim Estate, before taking a PGCE teaching qualification in Oxford aged 27.

He eventually returned to Norfolk and became head of science at Notre Dame High School. He still teaches science lessons to this day.

During his eight years there he played a major role in the recruitment and training of new teachers and became an assistant headteacher.

The example set by then Notre Dame headteacher John Pinnington, as well as his father’s role as principal of a teacher training college, inspired him to consider school leadership.

But it wasn’t something he was prepared to do at any school and his application for the headship at ASHS was a “deliberate choice”.

As a committed Anglican, he wanted to lead a church school – which he believes have an ever-more important role in today’s society.

“The challenge for me is that the vast majority of our students have had little or no experience of growing up in a church environment,” Mr Cranmer explained.

“However coming here, what they experience is a community founded on church values.

“In this current world we’re living in, I think being part of a church school provides a dimension that’s missing from the wider world – the opportunity, for example, to reflect and have quiet periods of time to understand the true meaning of respect and trust.

“We’re encouraging people to find out who they are.”

Mr Cranmer has faced a number of key challenges during his time at the school – not least the devastating loss of former students Kyle Warren and Dominic O’Neill, along with their friend Billy Hines, in a car crash in Pulham Market last year.

That, he said, deeply affected many at the school and still feels raw today – but also showed the very best of its community spirit in supporting the boys’ families and their friends.

The school is also due to become part of an academy later this year and he has helped make the school a greater part of the community, for example by changing the reception area when he first joined to make it more welcoming.

The key to being a long-serving headteacher, he said, is an enduring passion for the job and wanting to see new teachers and young people succeed.

“Headship is a people business,” he said.

“Many heads have found that, for reasons outside of their control, the management side has taken over.

“The whole challenge of headship is about building and leading teams, recruiting the best staff and ensuring they feel valued and empowered to carry out their work.”

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