DE MONTFORT School Headteacher Guy Nichols has been in charge of the Four Pools Road school for three years now and in that time major changes have been made, from a new name, new uniform, and now the move to one site.
Our reporter Joshua Godfrey sat down with Mr Nichols to discuss his long-term vision for the school and his desire to see Evesham have two ‘outstanding’ high schools.
“Evesham is a lovely place and it has a lovely community. It needs two outstanding schools, not one,” Mr Nichols said.
“We owe that to the community and that’s why I’m here and the staff are here.”
That is Mr Nichol’s target and one he has set out to achieve since he first took charge of the school in September 2014.
He had some big challenges to face from day one in the job. Not least, in his own words, the ‘perception that the school was second best.’
“There seemed to be an acceptance of that,” Mr Nichols said.
“One of the things I did quickly was to speak to parents, students and staff and say to them are we happy with this? Are we happy we’re teaching, working and have children in a school where there seems to be this acceptance we’re going to be second best? Or are we going to do something about it?
“That’s when the journey started and the journey is about the highest expectations and a genuine sense of pride.
“If we start setting ourselves really high expectations and have pride in our school well then we’re not going to do the kind of things a second best school would do.
“We’re going to take more pride in our appearance and in our conduct and in our effort. If we do that then we’re going to send out a message that our school has students that are aspirational and people are going to want to employ them. “
Mr Nichols said he has already noticed a change in the attitude of students since he first started at the school.
“We’ve now got children who are much better behaved, they are getting more aspirational, their expectations and expectations of parents and staff have definitely risen in my time – there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“The expectation of what should be happening I think is much clearer and we’ve got some incredibly committed staff.
“The school has always had committed staff, but I think what we’ve managed to do in the past three years is retain those staff and to help them sprinkle their magic on others.”
However, the ambitioustious headteacher has acknowledged the challenges he still faces to get the De Montfort School to where he wants it to be.
“We’re trying to build a school for the future and in the interim we know we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“I think there’s been tremendous progress in certain areas.
“We haven’t realised the outcomes we want in terms of exam results. However, our GCSE results went up by 18 per cent in the old A* to C system, including English and maths, which must have been in the top five per cent nationally. But, with the new Progress 8 measures, we were pretty average.”
A major step Mr Nichols is taking to improve the education of his students is to move the school into one site. From September, all students will be taught from the High School site.
“It’s a massive step, but the right step because the absolute fundamental reason for this move is that educational provision will be improved,” Mr Nichols said.
“We’ve got fantastic facilities, we’ve got enormous amounts of space and what’s happened is over the past year more and more students have wanted to take advantage of those facilities.
“They’ve been having to travel up and down and in the absence of a travelator it takes a lot of time away from learning.”
Last month, Ofsted published their findings following an inspection of the De Montfort School and found that it ‘requires improvement.’ It was the first inspection under Mr Nichol’s leadership and the first since he began his plan to turn around the school.
Although the report highlighted areas in which the school needs to improve, inspectors did recognise the school is moving in the ‘right direction.’
“We haven’t got an excuse culture, we know that the Ofsted judgment was accurate and we are a school which requires improvement,” Mr Nichols said.
“We’ve said all along that we need to get better.
“But what Ofsted said is that we’ve got everything in place we just need to be doing them faster, but we don’t need to be changing lots of things.
“The inspectors very much affirmed the direction the school is going in, which is why we didn’t get put in a category. We were put into ‘right direction but could do better’. I don’t mind that.
“Ofsted talked about a relentless drive to improve and I think in the time I’ve been here, it’s not just me who has a relentless drive to improve, I’m surrounded by staff and students who have a relentless drive to improve.
Following the report, Mr Nichols is now looking to the future and to take his school ‘beyond outstanding.’
“I like to use the word exceptional which some people might think is crazy because how can you talk about that when the school requires improvement,” he added.
“But actually the vision is to be beyond outstanding because outstanding is obviously already outstanding, but exceptional is just that little bit better.”