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‘Amazing’ the words of pupils as Crawley school bounces back

Last year the only words to describe Thomas Bennett Community College that were being shared across Tilgate and around Crawley were ‘strike’, ‘desperate’ and ‘cuts’.

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Politicians around the area were up in arms as panic began to slowly set in as parents, students and even teachers began to club together as worry of the schools future was banded around.

It got so bad that a public meeting was called with even the town council leader speaking out saying ‘people are desperate’. What then followed was a call for a strike and even pupils deciding to take action themselves before protesters then marched through the town.

Reports of teachers and support staff quitting their jobs only added to the heated discussions being held. All said it left Thomas Bennett Community College under a very dark cloud.

Fast forward almost a year and it is a very different story and one that needs to be proclaimed with the loudest of voices from the highest of towers.

For a change has occurred within the very fabric of the school and it is evident, not just from details within a new Ofsted report, but also from the energy of both the pupils and the staff.

School should be a safe and happy environment. It should be a place where young people can learn, where staff can help develop young minds in a caring and motivated environment. It should be a place that creates fond memories. Well now all these ‘should bes’ are becoming a reality.

No one person can make such a dramatic change, it takes many, but what it does require is a leader to take hold of the reins and to show belief and this is exactly what the new head Stuart Smith has done.

Headteacher Stuart Smith

Mr Smith only took over as headteacher in January this year but in less than six months the change has been meteoric and this hasn’t just been noticed by those who can be the most critical, the pupils, but also the inspectors.

Three years ago an Ofsted report deemed the school ‘Requires Improvement’ across the board. The key findings pointing out flaws which at the time were then being addressed.

The problem was that with funding cuts and moral falling it was a battle that seemed overwhelming. Whatever the reasons over the course of the following years the resulting impact affected everyone.

In the latest report, whilst most of the findings are still resulting in the same result it is when you delve into the details that you see change is afoot and had Ofsted done their inspection a little later in the year then the result would have been extremely different.

Firstly the sixth form has now been given a ‘good’ standing, something unthinkable when you look back only months to see many of them protesting on the streets with their parents.

Then there are the comments about the new headteacher.

“The recent appointment of a permanent headteacher has improved matters significantly”

“The headteacher has improved the school’s culture so that is more aspirational for staff and pupils.”

“Staff agree that the current headteacher has transformed the school.”

And a comment from one teacher shows just how much of an impact Mr Smith is having with Ofsted even publishing their quote, ‘the headteacher is relentlessly positive.’

But it doesn’t stop there. The report even mentions how there has been a transformation of pupils’ behaviour and how the school has now developed an effective personal and social education.

Dr Karen Roberts CEO of The Kemnal Academies Trust said:

“We are pleased that the inspectors recognised that the school is now making rapid improvements under the leadership of the recently appointed Headteacher. We are fully aware that there is much still to be done and the Trust will provide the support needed to ensure the students at Thomas Bennett received a good education.”

But the real test is not with any government inspector. Nor is it with a board of governors or a Trust or even concerned parents. The real test is with the customers themselves. The pupils.

With no direction or interruption from a teacher we were able to speak with pupils from all years in a round table session where we asked for them to speak openly about the school. What happened was startling.

Normally these interviews can be awkward with pupils conscious of a teacher analysing their words. But they can also be a real insight into what the ‘real’ feeling is amongst those most critical of their environment.

There was a real energy, a positivity that empowered you as you listened. There was pride and they wanted to share it.

After hearing their stories of how the school was such a different place last year they were asked to sum why someone should come to Thomas Bennett and to use one word to sum the school up. These are the actual responses from several of those

“The teachings great. Positive”

“You get so many opportunities. Positive”

“The teachings really good, you can make really good friends here even if they are in an older year. You never feel pressured into anything. We have gone through all the negative things and it’s all turning into positive. Fantastic.”

“You can get your voices heard. Trustworthy

“It’s welcoming, everyones kind and nice. Memorable”

“If you have any worries big or small you can always go to a member of staff and they really help you. Understanding

“The school really helps people with all different kinds of issues whether they are mental health or even something like autism. Helpful

All this change in months, not years and without any unnecessary intervention from politicians or councilors.

Mr Smith knows the school is not there yet but it is certainly on its way and he truly believes within 18 months the words ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ will be used by inspectors.

He said:

“This is a very exciting time to be part of Thomas Bennett Community College. The whole community has my absolute reassurance that I am both committed and determined to ensuring that areas requiring improvement are being addressed and the rapid improvement continues. I will also build of the many strengths highlighted in the detail of the report, with the support of staff, students, parents and the Trust we will bring about sustained improvement for the benefit of Thomas Bennett Community College and its community”.

Exciting times it is and none more so than for the pupils themselves. But what comes out of all this more than anything, more than the reports and the PR that accompanies this sort of change is the true belief and support that change is happening and whilst it is fast and dramatic, it is in the description of numerous pupils ‘AMAZING’.

The only way to sum this all up is to leave you with the words of one pupil who said:

“If you want your child to become such an amazing person and to grow then Thomas Bennett is the school for you!”

Education

Crawley pupils reduce local CO2 by Three Tonnes

In just two weeks Crawley school children reduced local air pollution by six kilogrammes of dangerous nitrogen oxide (NOx) and almost three tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) by walking, biking and scootering to school, instead of travelling by car.

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Pupils at Waterfield Primary School with Councillor Geraint Thomas, Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and Sustainability and Patrick Alexander, Bike It Officer at Sustrans.

As part of cycling and walking charity Sustrans’ annual Big Pedal challenge, children from eight Crawley schools used human power for an astonishing 18,284 journeys. 

This comes hard on the heels of two important new pieces of research:

  • Sustrans published YouGov data in March which showed that almost two-thirds (63%) of teachers would support a school gate vehicle ban during drop-off and pick-up times and that more than half (59%) want urgent Government action to improve air quality near schools
  • Public Health England called on local authorities in March to limit transport emissions urgently, banning idling car engines around schools and investing in foot and cycle paths.

NOx can cause breathing problems, reduced lung function and damage teeth. CO2 is a major contributor to climate change. In Crawley children travelled 12,655 miles actively during the challenge, which equates to travelling almost half way around the world. The reduction in CO2 and NOx was calculated by comparing this to the amount generated if all these journeys had been taken by car.

Councillor Geraint Thomas, Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and Sustainability, said:

“It is fantastic to see an increasing number of schools in Crawley taking part in the Sustrans Big Pedal, whilst promoting sustainable travel to young people.”

Children at Waterfield Primary have won special recognition from Sustrans for their Big Pedal achievements, receiving a certificate in a presentation attended by Cllr Geraint Thomas. The Bike It Crew at Waterfield Primary are notoriously competitive. They held a Bike It Breakfast, Bling your Bike and daily assemblies to mass up a total of 4,386 journeys and a total score of 76.91%. 

Justin Moss, the Deputy Head of Waterfield Primary said,

“Our pupils are so motivated when it comes to travelling sustainably; they’re also very competitive. They walk, scoot and cycle regularly so the Big Pedal has been amazing for us over the past few years. We regularly talk about the benefits of exercise with the children in whole school assemblies and because of this the children understand the differences it can make to their moods and their ability to engage in their learning.

“At Waterfield we have an elected Bike It Crew and the Big Pedal is their biggest job during the year. They have worked tirelessly to encourage teachers and children to continue to travel sustainably as well as organising events and judging the Bling your Bike competition. I am extremely proud of them and all of their achievements this year.”

Hot on their heels was Seymour Primary, who organised Bike Days for all children from years three to six. These days provided an opportunity for children to progress their bike skills and have a go on the bike obstacle course. On these days the school was flooded with bicycles, scooters and active children.

Across Crawley eight schools took part, from a potential 35. While we can’t say what the impact would be if it was replicated across Crawley even just for two school terms these findings raise interesting questions.

Sustrans’ Regional Director for the South, James Cleeton, said,

“The children, families and schools of Crawley have shown how individuals can dramatically improve the world around them, by replacing cars with human power for just part of the daily routine.

“These children haven’t just prevented the emission of dangerous, invisible pollutants around their schools, but they’ve improved their mental and physical health, giving all of them a better start to the school day.

“At Sustrans, we’re so grateful to every local authority, school, teacher, parent and child who has helped make this possible. What a great start to summer – and a glimpse of what school mornings in Crawley could be like in future.”

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