Ixworth Free School headteacher says first-ever GCSE results have improved reputation
A small school which cares about every individual. That’s the motto espoused by Mark Barrow, the relatively new headteacher of Ixworth Free School.
The school, which opened in September 2014, is a member of the Woodbridge-based Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, established to help communities in Suffolk set up and run free schools.
School leaders enjoyed a promising first set of GCSE results last summer. For the seminal Progress 8 measure, the school recorded the seventh best mark in Suffolk. Its score of 0.44 meant each child performed almost half-a-grade better than expected when they left primary school. In total, 71% of students left with the expected standards in English and maths.
Mr Barrow, who joined from Hertfordshire academy Haileybury Turnford School last September, believes the benchmark data will further improve the school’s reputation.
He said: “The school is establishing itself. Parents tell me at parent evenings and parent mornings that they have seen the fantastic GCSE results and they can see the progress of the school. There is now a set of results. We are working with local primary schools and their students are coming in for master classes. The many strengths that the school has are getting out there.
“The GCSE results meant something (to parents). As you walk round the school and in my room, there are pictures of students from last year’s Year 11 holding their certificates, and that helps parents to see ‘yeah, I could see my child here’.
“I recognise it’s a big choice going from primary school to secondary school, and therefore you want all the information you can have. The GCSE results from 2017 are clearly helping parents make that choice.”
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Free schools are a type of academy, funded by the state but not controlled by a local authority. They have freedoms over areas such as pay and the curriculum.
Mr Barrow, a politics graduate from the University of Bristol, was head of sixth form at Bishop’s Stortford High School before becoming deputy headteacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford.
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When asked if free schools can outperform private schools, he said: “That’s wasted energy. Each school has a core purpose; a moral purpose. I know what work we need to do here at Ixworth. It was set up with a particular ethos and vision, and that’s not about comparing us to other schools. It’s not saying this school is better than that one. It’s not about saying this type of school is better than this type. It’s about meeting the needs of your community and your individual students.
“I was asked that very question when I went to a grammar school – staff asked me what it was like working in a comprehensive. Everybody is commenting on different types of schools. We’re here for the students.”
Mr Barrow was appointed after the school was rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted in July 2017. Inspectors said school leaders had not ensured that students had made good progress (the inspection took place prior to the published GCSE results). They said the quality of teaching varied too widely and expectations were not high enough.
But they described the school as a “safe, friendly and enjoyable place” with a new “rich, stimulating environment”.
Mr Barrow said: “The Ofsted report didn’t capture the school well. It clearly identified areas for the school to improve upon. We accept we need to work on those areas quickly.
“We are working really hard to improve the quality of written feedback for students in their exercise books. Every teacher wants to keep improving their practice. For me, that’s about sharing practice and having colleagues reflecting ‘this worked really well for this student, and less well for this student’. That lesson might have been great for that class, but have you thought about this student and that student. That is the next step. That’s why we’re set up.
“It’s also really important for me – and it came out in the Ofsted report – that the progress of disadvantaged students relative to their national counterparts was below where it should be, and that’s an absolute priority for me, because nationally those students underperform. I want this to be an outstanding school for every student. We want to say with confidence that when you come here, you will get that truly all-round education. We also want to build on the strengths which Ofsted identified. As headteacher, I am taking responsibility for how we move forward.”